7 BEST BEACHES IN SANTA CATALINA, PANAMA
Santa Catalina is a fishing village come surf town on the Pacific Coast of Panama. The chill, laid-back vibes of Santa Catalina along with world class waves, attract surfers and beachgoers from around the world. Classed as one of the best waves in Central America, La Punta is the most popular surf break for the gurus. Playa El Estero is the perfect spot for beginner surfers with its small to medium sized rolling waves. However, there is plenty more to explore along the coast of Santa Catalina. So I did. These are the best beaches in Santa Catalina along the coast.
SANTA CATALINA BEACHES
La Punta has built a reputation as one of the best waves in Central America due to its year-round offshores and consistency seen nowhere else in the region. It breaks right every day between April and October. With a tide sweeping in and out by quite some distance, surfers wait for high tide to paddle directly out from Hotel Santa Catalina or nearby entrance points.
The most popular section at La Punta surf break is the outside section. It gets dispersed down the long point, especially during high tide. The offshore winds get strong in the afternoon.
Hotel Santa Catalina has direct surf access to La Punta or ‘The Point’ break but there are also a lot of surf camps and smaller properties with ladders and stairs down to access La Punta.
La Punta is also a great spot to launch your kayak or stand-up paddleboard for a kayak trip to Isla Catalina.
Just next to La Punta is a beautiful little rocky outcrop called Casa Maya that is worth checking out.
If La Punta break looks a bit too crazy or advanced for you, that is no problem in Santa Catalina. Just down the hill at the other end of the village is Playa Estero. This huge stretch of beach is home to some kinder, rolling waves. These are perfect for beginners of all ages. Kids and first-timers can be seen catching their first ever waves here all-day long.
You can rent a board for $5 right on the beach from local surf vendors who also offer lessons. If you have never surfed before I suggest taking at least a half hour lesson so you have your feet right and your technique under your belt.
At high tide, there are only a few meters of sand at Playa Estero. However, at low tide, there is well over a hundred meters of black sand, which offers some beautiful reflections. At low tide, you will see local soccer games getting into full swing on the smooth sand. It is one of two beaches in Santa Catalina to have black sand.
You can also book a horse riding tour, which will take you along Playa Estero and down to La Coquita. Because of the reflections and long stretches of sand, it is a really beautiful place to go for a horse-back ride or even to rent a bicycle and cruise down the coast on the sand.
PLAYA SANTA CATALINA
Playa Santa Catalina is the second black sand beach of Santa Catalina. It is the hub of activity as it is situated right in the heart of the town. Cafe’s are situated nearby as well as scuba, kayak and snorkel rental stores.
During the day the beach is a great place to hang out and it never gets too busy. Groups of locals take to the volleyball court in the evening with fun social games that even tourists are welcome to join. Down near the water, the soccer games get into full swing on the slick black sand.
It is also the jump-off point and return-point for most tours to Coiba. The river that cuts through the middle of Playa Santa Catalina is where all of the tour boats head in and out for their day-trips to Coiba National Park.
The other purpose the beach is used for is to launch kayaks for paddles out to Isla Catalina. You can rent a kayak in the town and they will help you take it down to Playa Santa Catalina for your paddle out to Isla Catalina. You can read about my kayak out to Isla Catalina and see the drone photos HERE.
The final activity for Playa Santa Catalina is that this is where the trail for Punta Roca begins. Down the far-left end of the beach are some palm trees and a short path. The path leads to Punta Roca Viewpoint, which I detail below.
Punta Roca is a little trail that starts at the far-left part of Playa Santa Catalina. It takes you through some farm fields and along the coast for about thirty minutes until you end up at Punta Roca. It is an area along the coastline with lots of tight coves, inlets, and secret beaches. I walked out to Punta Roca once and it was kind of a strange. You had to pass through what seemed like private farms but the fences had a little gap made for you to pass through. The trail wasn’t clear the whole way but I ended up getting there in the end. When I arrived it was a huge storm. I decided to fly back with the drone the next day from Playa Santa Catalina to explore the region from the air.
La Coquita is one of my favorite beaches in Santa Catalina because of the reflections. It reminds me of Bali beaches, which give epic black sand reflections every night. When the sunset gives you some color you want to be at La Coquita.
It is one beach further on from Playa Estero and you just walk down Estero and then go across the rocks at the end of the beach. This is easiest at low tide and when the reflections are the best.
Because of the huge stretch of sand, it is a popular spot for horse-back riding and we even took the cruiser bikes all the way down here. On our visit to La Coquita, we watched an insane storm come straight past us as the horses were riding through. It was a pretty surreal ten minutes and the storm never even touched us. La Coquita would have to be one of my favorite beaches in Santa Catalina for sunset beacuse of the reflections.
If you walk down Playa Estero and then all the way down La Coquita you will then cross over the rocks to Punta Brava. It will take you about thirty or so minutes to complete the walk. It is a very rocky beach and this is evident at low tide. It isn’t at all like Playa Estero or La Coquita when considering how much sandy beach they have.
At high tide, it is a great surf spot where the waves can grow well beyond 6 feet. There are a right and a left wave. The right can be hollow and the fast left begins to work when there are more than 6 feet of well.
Santa Catalina Island or Isla Catalina is it is known locally, is a beautiful island sitting just off the coast from Santa Catalina in Veraguas. Snorkeling and a virgin white sand beach are the highlights of the island. You can expect a peaceful afternoon with tourists rarely venturing out to the island. You can either rent a boat to drop you there in a few minutes or head out on a kayak adventure to Santa Catalina Islands as we did. For me this is one of the best beaches in Santa Catalina if not the best beach. However, it takes some effort to get out there.
The back side of the island is all rocks and the front side is a long sandy beach. It was a great place to grab a tan and hang out in the sun for a while. We explored along the shore keeping our eyes out for a trail we had heard about. Apparently, the local fisherman had cleared a nature path to the top, which offers a viewpoint of Santa Catalina and even to Coiba. We didn’t search too hard but didn’t find anything that resembled a trail. Keep your eyes open you might just stumble upon a great viewpoint! Let me know if you find it!
Read the full blog post: KAYAKING TO SANTA CATALINA ISLAND IN PANAMA