Panama is better known for its canal and hats than it is for its surf—but that doesn’t mean it’s not holding. While Nicaragua and Costa Rica have been practically overrun with gringos, Panama is still relatively empty, even though it enjoys the same warm water and swell season as its Central American neighbors. One can only imagine that Panama will be the next country to fall to the ever-increasing American surf appetite, so our suggestion is to get while it’s good.
The Surf: With coastlines on both the Pacific and Caribbean, Panama has a lot of potential. The waves break predominantly over reef, although there are also a number of beach breaks and points. Panama should be considered an intermediate to advanced destination, but certain spots on certain days definitely qualify as expert only.
Five Waves Worth Surfing:
- Playa Santa Catalina: The best wave on Panama’s Pacific coast (and arguably the best right in Central America), this reef a-frame has a long hollow right and a short bowly left.
- Bocas del Toro: A region rather than a single wave, this is the most wave-dense stretch of coast on the Caribbean side, and is holding numerous advanced to expert waves.
- Punta Roca: It seems as if every Spanish-speaking country has a Punta Roca, and Panama is no exception. This hollow left reef can get a bit crowded, but is worth it if you score.
- Morro Negrito Island: Located off the Pacific coast of Panama, Morro Negrito Island has a number of quality setups.
- Sebaco: A quality reef with both lefts and rights, this wave is located on an offshore island in the Playa Santa Catalina region. You’ll most likely need a guide to find it.
The Water: Beautiful and clean outside of over-developed areas, and very warm. Surface temps hover right around 80 F (27 C).
The Season: For the Caribbean coast, late fall and winter (November through April). For the Pacific coast, late spring and summer are best (April through August).
The Vibe: There is a well-developed local surf scene in Panama, plus a consistent crowd of visitors, especially in the more popular areas such as Playa Santa Catalina and Bocas del Toro. It is definitely possible to get off the beaten path and find empty waves, but if you want to surf Panama’s marquee spots, you’ll have to deal with a crowd.
Things To Do: Party down in Panama City. Tour the famous canal. Lounge on the beach and drink cervezas after an all-day barrel fest. What more do you need?
Where To Stay: Fortunately (or not, depending on your perspective), surf camps and hostels are proliferating quickly in Panama, which means you—and everyone else—will have no problem finding a place to stay.
What To Bring: A shortboard, a step-up, and a minigun/gun if you are a serious charger. Boardshorts and upper body sun protection. Mosquito repellant. Spare leashes if you are planning to surf the heavier spots. A dose of respect for the locals will go a long way towards getting you waves.
Getting There: Tocumen International Airport is a short 25 km outside of Panama City, and receives frequent flights from the US East Coast and California. Tourist visas are unnecessary for citizens of many countries. Airport code: PTY.