Beautiful beaches on the islands of Panama
With countless islands and coastline on both the Caribbean and Pacific, Panama literally has so many beaches to chose from of which 99% are practically empty so if you like the beach but not the crowds, this is the place for you.
With white sand and often a lush green backdrop Panama’s coast, particularly on the myriad of islands, is gorgeous and the diving, snorkelling, surfing, fishing and kayaking are world class.
Beaches Near Panama City
Although Panama City is on the coast forget finding a place to swim in the bay there, the water is far too polluted unfortunately.
However, along the Pacific coast just outside Panama City begins a string of pristine beaches with sapphire blue waters including Coronado (with its golf course) and the fantastic surfers’ paradise at San Carlos as well as beautiful Santa Clara and Farallon.
This lovely coastal area of Panama is the preferred location for wealthy Panamanians to spend their weekends as it is accessible by road and takes about an hour and a half to drive. You can also take a small air-conditioned bus from the bus station at Albrook Mall for about $3 each way. There are several vacation/retirement communities here and an increasing number of Americans are buying homes here.
You can stay at the Coronado Hotel and Resort (www.coronadoresort.com), The Royal Decameron Resort (www.decameron.com), the Playa Blanca Resort (www.playablancaresort.com), Las Sirenas (www.lassirenas.com) or any of the smaller lodging options.
The Pearl Islands, Panama
Just 40 miles offshore from Panama City, Isla Contadora (Contadora Island) awaits visitors looking to enjoy the beautiful Pearl Islands Archipelago. You can get here from Panama City in just 20 minutes if you hop on a flight, and it’s just such an ideal compliment to a few days spent in the city. Many of the Pearl Islands are uninhabited, with Isla Contadora figuring as the most highly developed.
CBS’s series Survivor was filmed here consists of 130 islands of lush vegetation surrounded by warm tropical waters and coral reef. You can enjoy some of the best snorkelling and scuba diving here, and just looking out to sea from one of the many beaches will often reward you with glimpses of interesting sea creatures. For those interested in adding some fishing to their Panama vacation, the sport fishing excursions available at Contadora Island Panama are sure to make for a wonderful fit. There are plenty of tour companies on Isla Contadora, so arranging interesting side trips is always an option.
Perhaps you will choose to find your way to one of the inhabited islands found within easy reach of Isla Contadora. Once you get caught up on Contadora Island information at one of the tour agencies, you are likely to quickly find an island that is ideal for you. Maybe a romantic picnic is in order, or perhaps you just want to get away from the world for a bit, surrounding yourself with nothing more than Pacific ocean breezes and a paradise-like setting.
Contadora Island information regarding weather shows that it tends to be drier here than in much of the rest of Panama. As such, even if you come during the low season, which is generally May through December, you shouldn’t expect lengthy downpours to ruin your trip. Plus during these months, the hotel rates are known to drop considerably, and you will also have more of the islands to yourself.
You can stay at the Hacienda del Mar (haciendadelmar.com), an eco village by the sea, the Punta Galeon Resort, the Perla Real Inn (B&B) or the Casa del Sol (B&B).
Coiba Island National Marine Park, Panama
Coiba Island, also off the Pacific coast of west Panama is the largest island of Central America.
An unusual set of circumstances makes this island one of the most virgin nature preserves in the world. For nearly 100 years it was home to a penal colony which meant no one but the inmates ever set foot in it. Even as recently as Noriega’s time it was used as a torture camp for his opponents. With that now all gone, what remains is a fabulous nature reserve for snorkling, bird watching, nature observation and sport fishing. It has an amazing coral reef. There is no where to stay the night on the island.
Santa Catalina is the best place to plan any trip to Coiba. The town is one hour from Coiba by boat and is known for having the best surfing beach in Central America. The town is just starting to lay the infrastructure for tourist development. We stayed at the Hotel Oasis; the Hotel is run by an Italian who has decided to make Santa Catalina his home.
The Hotel – which advertises itself as a surfers camp – has 8 or 9 cabins that cost only $10 a night per head: our excellent Italian meal cost only $4; there was no menu; the pasta and fresh salad were made by the owner and his family; both were excellent.
Bocas del Toro, Panama
The 9 main islands of Bocas del Toro are one of Panama’s top tourist attractions, and for good reason. Where else can you enjoy beautiful beaches with hardly a soul in sight fringed by incredible pristine rain forest? Add to that the charming, laid back Caribbean town of Bocas with its English speaking population, historical ambience, lively nightlife and you have Paradise.
Guide books are touting the Bocas Islands as the Galapagos of the 21st century. Hundreds of species of fish, parrots, toucans, sloths, frogs and monkeys live on the islands which have a national marine park to protect endangered manatees and sea turtles that lay their eggs here.
The surfing on Bluff beach is wonderful and Bocas del Drago is well worth the half hour bus ride out to it on Isla Colon, You should also go and see the poison dart frogs on Red Frog beach on Isla Bastimentos as well as the beaches of Wizard Beach and Playa Larga.
Cayos Zapatillas, or the “Slippers Islands” (so-called because they resemble footprints), not only fulfil the beach lover’s fantasy with their soft sand backed by a tangle of jungle; they are also surrounded by a rich display of coral that attracts hordes of fish, providing good snorkeling. For more information go to the Islands of Bocas del Toro
In addition to the tourism boom (backed up by recent grants for infrastructure), Bocas is also experiencing a real estate boom. Prices have sky rocketed but are still a great buy with land available for building your dream home right on the ocean. More people are buying farms in the area too.
We recommend Swan’s Cay and Hotel Angela but for other places to stay in Bocas go to Panama Hotels
Portobelo and Isla Grande (District of Colon)
The Caribbean coat is just two hours from Panama City and has some lovely beaches with black and white sand. Portobelo is a small picturesque bayside town with the ruins of 4 old Spanish forts and a restored treasure house dating back to Henry Morgan. The ruins of Fort San Lorenzo lie on a promontory overlooking the Chagres River.
Isla Grande is an exciting and popular place in Panama that people simply know as “La Isla” (The Island). The island is inside the Portobelo National park, just 5 minutes by motor boat from the small town of La Guaira on the mainland that makes its living out fishing and tourism.
Isla grande has a population of about 300 inhabitants and it is covered with plants and trees and its shoreline is surrounded by coral reefs. It is one of the favorite Panamanian tourist destinations and on public holidays it receives many visitors that fill its small beaches and its narrow streets. To the west of the island is “La Punta”, which is the really the only real sand beach left in the Island. There is a small hut where you can buy beer and delicious and cheap local food.
Isla Grande is very popular with many places to stay. Try Bananas Village Resort (www.bananasresort.com) and the Melia Panama Canal Hotel (www.solmelia.com).
Also try Restaurante Cabañas Cholita, Villa Ensueño, Cabañas Candy Rose and Hotel Aguamarina Eco Lodge for cheaper options.
San Blas Islands
The San Blas Archipelago has islands of stunning beauty where you can also visit the island villages of the San Blas Kuna Indians and learn about their culture and way of life. The beaches here are picture perfect with white sand and palm trees looking out over aquamarine waters. You can stay in their simple but comfortable huts thatched with palm leaves. The snorkeling here is fabulous with coral gardens of all shapes and colors just under the water.
Stay at Coral Lodge (www.corallodge.com) or Sapibenega Kuna Lodge (www.sapibenega.com) or tour the area by yacht with San Blas Sailing (www.sanblassailing.com).
Lodging on the other islands of San Blas
El Porvenir: El Porvenir Hotel: 13 rooms. Tel: 221-1397
Nalunega Island: Hotel San Blas: 31 rooms, kuna style, 3 daily meals, tours around inhabited and uninhabited islands. radio communication. Tel: 262-5410
Wichub-Wala Island: Hotel Anai 20 rooms, Wooden floor and cane walls.Tel:239-3025. and Kuna Kishua Hotel. Five basic rooms. Tel:227-5308
Ailigandi Island: La Palmera One story concrete building, With restaurant and bar. It belongs to the Town Cooperative Society and Hotel Nargana 10 rooms; communication by radio. Hotel construction Kuna style.
Achutupo Island: Hotel Uaguitupo Cabins, restaurant, Bar. Kuanidup Cabins, restaurant, bar.(Sidra River), Iskardup Cabins, restaurant, bar and Kwadule Eco-resort. 6 stand-alone cabinas and large restaurant. Tel: 269-6313
Comarca Kuna Yala
This is the premier beach destination in Panama, with 350 islands scattered off the Caribbean coast that offer picture-postcard beaches with powdery white sand, coral reef, piercing turquoise water, and clusters of swaying palm trees.
The colorful Kuna indigenous population administers this province, and their fascinating culture is part of the reason to visit the region, too. The glitch is that scuba diving is prohibited, and lodging is mostly Robinson Crusoe rustic, but all you’ll want to do here anyway is swim, sun, and swing in a hammock drinking a pina colada made from fresh pineapple and coconut cream.
Las Lajas, Chiriquí Province
It may jot be the most beautiful beach in Panama, but the water is the perfect temperature, and produces just the right amount of waves for bodysurfing — though there’s little current.
All of which means that Las Lajas is ideal for swimming, and since the beach measures more than 13km (8 miles) in length, you can walk forever. Rustic shacks and cheap restaurants are clustered on the beach at the end of the road, but it’s best to bring your own snacks.
If you’re looking for a beach closer to David (and Boquete), try La Barqueta. Strong currents at this black-sand beach mean the water is not ideal for swimming, but it is lengthy like Las Lajas and good for walking, and there is a nature reserve here, too.
Playa Los Destiladores & Playa Venado, Azuero Peninsula
Of the multitude of beaches lining the coast of the Azuero Peninsula, these two are the cleanest and the most attractive, and they are within a 20-minute drive from each other. However, given the deforestation in the area, they are less “tropical” than other Panamanian beaches.
Currents will occasionally churn up the water along the golden sand at Playa Destiladores, but a protected cove at Playa Venado means it’s calm enough for a toddler, and farther east crashing waves have converted the beach into a surfing hot spot. A major bonus here is the nearby picturesque town of Pedasí, and three beautiful lodges.
A Word of Caution
Panama is renowned for its riptides. No matter how refreshing the water looks, analyze conditions, stay out of choppy water, or head to a beach known for calm water.
We jumped off the dock at our hotel in Bocas Town and found ourselves being pulled along the coast. It took as all our strength to swim back.