Santa Catalina, to the West on Panama's Pacific Coast, is one of Central America's top surfing destinations. The waves here are excellent, and suitable for all standards of surfers. Santa Catalina itself is a rather scruffy, dis-organised town - in reality there's only two reasons to travel here. The first reason is that this is Panama's best surfing location. The second reason is to visit the quite amazing Coiba Island, an idyllic island often compared to the Galapagos.
Santa Catalina & Hotels
Sol y Mar - the most upmarket hotel in Santa Catalina, rooms are housed in individual cabins. The Sol y Mar Hotel is located just off the main road as one enters Santa Catalina, and it's location on some steep slopes make it unsuitable for the elderly or those with walking difficulties.
Oasis Surf Camp - Playa Estero is the main surfing beach in Santa catalina, and Oasis Surf Camp is the only accommodation on / near this beach. There's cabins to rent, or you can pitch a tent, but it's a bit of a walk to the town itself.
Punta Brava Surf Lodge - comfortable air conditioned rooms overlooking the sea.
La Buena Vida - friendly staff and one of the few places one can find a restaurant that is actually open during the day.
Cabanas Rolo - great, good value backpacker option, with shared rooms (or you can negotiate your own private room).
Hotel Santa Catalina - competitively priced and newly renovated eco hotel.
Coiba Island - Isla Coiba
This is undoubtdely one of Panama's top travel highlights, but it's rarely shouted about or written about. Huge Coiba Island is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is still a functioning prison island, and you can even meet some of the few remaining inmates (who'll probaly try to sell you a necklace they've made from beach-combed materials). The island is completely undeveloped and very unspolit. White sand beautiful beaches are all over the place, and the diving some of the best in Latin America. Whilst snorkelling, expect to see sharks, turtles and all manner of other marine life. Local guards can show you around the derelict old prison, plus there are also a few jungle trails on the island. All in all a trip to Coiba Island makes a truely brilliant day tour from Santa Catalina. The National Park is administered by ANAM - contact their offices in Santiago (Panama) if you want to stay overnight on Isla Coiba in one of the cabins they manage (highly recommended). There are no other hotels on Coiba Island.
Reading some of the well known Panama travel guidebooks implies that the journey to Coiba Island is long and complicated to organise - this couldn't be further from the truth. To travel by boat from Santa Catalina to Coiba Island is remarkably easy, and takes just 2 hours (not the six hours that Panama's Bradt travel guide suggests for example). Organised tours leave daily at a cost of $50 per person plus $20 park entrance fee. Alternatively, it's easy to charter a boat for $250 that will accommodate up to 10 tourists - and it's easy to find others wishing to share.
Visit Coiba Island - you won't reget it! This is one of Latin America's most beautiful islands.