Santa Catalina is a popular surf and island-hopping destination in Veraguas, Panama. Most tourists take a boat tour to Coiba Island, which has beautiful islands, snorkeling, and marine life. However, it is quite popular and can be a little crowded. Less than an hour away from Santa Catalina by boat is another amazing destination for whale spotting, snorkeling and island hopping. Cebaco Island is a beautiful palm tree-laden paradise and the best part about it, you will be the only one there!
WHERE TO STAY ON CEBACO ISLAND
There is only one hotel on Cebaco Island called Cebaco Sunrise and there are less than 300 locals living on the island. I spent 48 hours on Cebaco Island and didn’t see another tourist or even another local. From Cebaco Sunrise we were completely isolated in our own little paradise. I walked up and down the coast in solitude, exploring lagoons, waterfalls, and caves. It’s not often you feel like you have an entire island to yourself!
To check the price and availability you can click here: Cebaco Sunrise
ABOUT CEBACO ISLAND
Cebaco Island is located in the province of Veraguas, the Gulf of Montijo, and is part of the buffer zone of Coiba Island National Park. The island is over 8000 hectares (19768.2 acres) and it is the third largest island in Panama (after Coiba Island and Isla del Rey, respectively).
Cebaco Island has a population of about 500 people, mainly distributed in communities along the north coast. The communities, The Bonguito, El Ranchito, El Roble, Tiradero, La Chonta, El Centro, El Jobo (the largest and most developed), Los Almácigos, Platanares, and Playa Grande, are mostly engaged in agriculture, livestock, fishing and craft and trade activities.
HOW TO GET TO CEBACO ISLAND
To get to Cebaco Island you can charter a boat from Santa Catalina if that is where you were staying. This would be the most convenient option but can cost between $70-100 for the boat. If you have a family or a group of friends it may be the best option. The other options are to depart from Playa Malena, Playa Torio, Puerto Mutis (in the Gulf of Montijo) or from or Playa Reina.
Playa Reina is the official jump-off point of Cebaco Sunrise and can be included in the package with the hotel room or is $20 per person return. To reach Playa Reina Hotel for the jump-off point you first go to the city of Santiago and then take the detour to the right to get to Mariato (LasPlayas) and from there you must get down for 45 minutes along the road to Mariato, a town south of Veraguas. From Mariato there is a paved road of 5 km to Playa Reina, where you board the boat at the mouth of the Río Negro. It takes about 30 minutes by boat to reach Cebaco Sunrise from Rio Negro/Playa Reina.
CEBACO SUNRISE ACCOMMODATION
Cebaco Sunrise, owned by two brothers who are from Panama, is located on Cebaco Island and is ideal for nature lovers. You can walk a few meters to the beach and admire the magnificent mountains, the surrounding islands, the peaks of Cerro Hoya National Park, and the majestic landscape of the Pacific Ocean.
There is no WiFi on Cebaco Sunrise and this combines perfectly with the atmosphere. It is a place to connect with nature, go for walks on the beach, watch the sunrise over the ocean, and most importantly connect with your family and friends during meals. Without the distractions of technology, social media, and phone calls you can really hang out and enjoy each other’s company during the nights with dinner and drinks. Cebaco Sunrise forces people to unwind until they leave Cebaco Island relaxed having enjoyed nature and their company.
There is solar-powered electricity, and showers with constantly running water. It is definitely a luxury island living.
The food was prepared for breakfast, lunch, and dinner by Mr. Felix and Bernard. The food was excellent with fresh fish and lobster for dinner while fruit, coffee, and local-style breakfasts got out day started on a great note after sunrise.
THINGS TO DO ON CEBACO ISLAND
There’s plenty to do and endless exploring on Cebaco Island. These were my favorite adventures during my stay.
WATCH THE SUNRISE AT ENSENADA EL PAJAL BEACH
The first thing you will want to do while on Cebaco Island is to set your alarm clock nice and early. Right out in front of Cebaco Sunrise is a beautiful beach called Ensenada El Pajal. Each morning I would grab a chair and a coffee and watch as the morning light slowly crept over the mountains of Cerro Hoya. The layers were beautiful and the clouds moved so quickly.
ISLAND HOPPING TRIP
Load up into the boat and head along the coast of Cebaco Island. It was amazing checking out this coastline because of the extreme rock formations along the way. There are some really unique rock formations that have a single growing on top of them. The day I cruised the coast it was overcast and a bit stormy but still very beautiful. On a sunny day, this coastline would be absolutely epic by boat. Beaches are crowded by palm trees and there is never a person in sight. There are several waterfalls that run out of the jungle straight onto the beach. Cebaco Island is just wild in all forms.
We cruised down the coast and eventually stopped at the beautiful Tintorera Island. As if we need to escape from our own island, Cebaco, we were now on a smaller private island. There was, of course, no one here either! Palm trees, white sand, and beautiful water. All we needed was a bit of sun but that didn’t stop us from swimming around, having lunch and a few beers, and exploring the island.
LOOK FOR WHALES, DOLPHINS, AND RAYS
Out on the boat we encountered it all. We spotted large pods of whales, playful dolphins, and even curious stingrays. The beauty of this region is that even when you are island hopping or just cruising around you never know what animals you might spot along the way!
COASTAL CAVES, RIVERS, AND WATERFALLS
From Cebaco Sunrise, I wandered down the coast exploring the edges of the jungle and the beaches. All alone, I felt like I was the first person to ever visit the island. There are in fact, 300 locals who live on the island. However, they are living on a different end of the island for the most part so I never met any locals on this coastal walk. I found some epic little caves, jungle rivers, and waterfalls flowing out onto the beach.
THE CEBACO LAGOON AT PUNTA GUAGARA
As I wondering along the coast I found a river inlet that led to a perfectly still lagoon. It was quite amazing and I managed to capture just how beautiful it is to have a lagoon right next to the ocean like this. I really loved this spot and it was my favorite part about Cebaco Island. Hanging out here by myself was just surreal and such an adventure. There is apparently a small alligator who lives in the lagoon but I didn’t see him when I visited.
TOURS OFFERED BY CEBACO SUNRISE FOR CEBACO ISLAND
These are a few of the available tours if you do make a visit to Cebaco Island.
I didn’t have enough time to take on the hiking tour but Cebaco Sunrise offers the experience to cross the island. Cebaco Island has approximately 8000 hectares with a rich biodiversity full of secluded beaches, cliffs, rock formations, forests, bays, many freshwater springs, streams, small fishing villages, and timber workers.
On the hiking tour, you cross through the Natural Reserve of Chaperno, taking in the scenic beauty of the place in our trip to the local community of Platanares. The return to Cebaco Sunrise is by boat.
The discoverers and first inhabitants were indigenous. It is said that the name of the island comes from the indigenous cacique “Cemaco” since the time of the European invasion. The majority of the houses are near the coast and according to the national census of 2010, its population was of 474 people who lived in 114 houses.
With the local population, you can better understand the history of the occupation of the island and find answers to essential questions of the reality of a sector of particular importance for conservation in the Panamanian Pacific. The round trip to Cebaco Sunrise is by boat.
Cebaco Island has a rich biodiversity and its marine life is enormous. Shelter of beaches and secluded bays, this wild paradise is full of life, including hammerhead sharks, whales, and dolphins.
The areas around Cebaco Island are filled with Makarel, Dorados (Mahi Mahi), Wahoo, grouper, yellowfin tuna and a variety of different types of snapper are some of the many species that can be caught in these waters.
WHAT TO PACK FOR CEBACO ISLAND
- Hiking shoes
- Bathing suit or swimsuit
- Long and baggy trousers for evenings
- Long-sleeved shirt for nights
- Flip-flops or sandals for the beach
- Hat or cap
- Photos or video camera
- Insect repellent
- Flashlight for walking at night along the beach
ADVENTURE BAG FROM CEBACO ISLAND
This is an adventure bag. It is full of trash. Every time I go on an adventure I collect one adventure bag full of trash. It’s my small way of saying thanks to mother nature for allowing me to enjoy her beautiful creations. If we have time to go on an adventure we have time to collect an adventure bag on the way back out of the trail once we have enjoyed the waterfall, the hike or the beach. Adventure hard!
HAVE YOU CHECKED OUT MY OTHER PANAMA GUIDES
- 70 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN PANAMA: The ultimate guide to exploring the whole country!
- 26 AMAZING WATERFALLS IN PANAMA: The ultimate guide to waterfall chasing in Panama.
- 6 BEST CLIFF JUMPING SPOTS IN PANAMA: The guide for thrill-seekers and adrenaline hunters.
- 37 AMAZING HIKES IN PANAMA: All of the best hiking trails. Many you’ve never heard of!
- 18 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN BOQUETE: Hiking, waterfalls, and volcanoes.
- 12 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN EL VALLE DE ANTON: My favorite place to base in Panama.
- 10 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN SANTA CATALINA: Surf, hike, swim, kayak, and explore.
I hope you enjoy my guides and have a great time exploring Panama!
3 MOST POPULAR TOURS IN PANAMA
These are the three most popular activities for tourists in Panama. Personally, I love the San Blas Islands boat trip!
- San Blas Islands Boat Trip: Explore the tropical paradise of the San Blas Islands, the most beautiful region in Panama. Easily the most amazing activity I did in Panama.
- Taboga Island Catamaran Cruise: Admire Panama from the water on a sightseeing catamaran cruise to Taboga Island. Admire the city skyline, dive from the boat for a swim, relax on a beach in Taboga, and enjoy snacks and an open bar.
- Half-Day City Tour & Panama Canal: Connect with the beautiful and modern Panama City on this shared or private city tour. Stroll the narrow streets of the Old Town and watch ships sail through the Panama Canal