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Surfing in Panama: Tips, Spots and Cultural Insights

Jan 26, 2024

As the morning sun casts a warm glow over the Pacific Ocean, surfers eagerly gather at the water’s edge, their boards glistening in anticipation. Along the picturesque rocky coastline of Panama, a surfing revolution is unfolding, drawing wave-riders from around the globe to experience the perfect blend of sun, sea, and surf. In recent years, Panama has emerged as a hidden gem for surf enthusiasts, with its pristine beaches and diverse range of surf spots, making it an ideal destination for both beginners and seasoned riders alike. But it’s not just about the surf – it’s about the fusion of local culture, the warm hospitality of the Panamanian people, and the off-the-beaten-path experiences that make surfing in Panama an unforgettable adventure.

In this article, we will delve into the heart of Panama’s surf culture, exploring the top surf spots across the country and providing valuable tips for surfers of every skill level. We’ll uncover the hidden gems, share insights into the local culture that surrounds the Panama surfing community, and guide you through a Panama surf map for an unforgettable surfing escapade. Wax your board, don your sun hat, and get ready to ride the waves of paradise.


Best Time to Visit Panama

Its tropical climate, diverse geography, and Pacific and Caribbean coastlines mean the Panama surf season is year-round.

The Pacific coast experiences its dry season from December to April, creating ideal conditions for surfing. Waves are consistent, and the weather is sunny, making it a prime time for surfers of all levels. Santa Catalina and Playa Venao shine during this period, offering impressive swells and a lively surf atmosphere. While the green season, May to November, brings occasional rainfall, it also ushers in larger swells, attracting advanced surfers seeking more challenging waves. It’s an excellent time to explore breaks like Morro Negrito and Punta Chame.

Unlike the Pacific side, the Caribbean coast doesn’t experience distinct dry and wet seasons. Surfing is possible throughout the year, with consistent waves and warm waters. Bocas del Toro, with its vibrant atmosphere and reef breaks, is a perennial favorite.

December to February and July to August typically see an influx of tourists. While the weather is inviting, popular surf spots may become crowded. For a more intimate experience, consider planning your visit during the shoulder seasons, such as May to June or September to November.


Best Surf Spots in Panama

The country’s unique geography and varied sand and rocky coastlines create a tapestry of surf regions, each with its own character and charm. As you plan your surfing adventure, understanding the key differences between the two main regions – the Caribbean and the Pacific – will guide you to the perfect wave and best surfing in Panama.

While the Caribbean Coast boasts the charm of reef breaks and a laid-back vibe, the Pacific Coast captivates with its powerful waves, rocky point breaks and diverse surf scene. Each region is a surfing microcosm, with distinct spots waiting to be explored.

For a more in-depth look at Panama’s surf regions, including hidden gems and popular breaks, delve into our comprehensive Panama surf guide, Panama’s Surf Scene: Exploring Hidden Gems and Popular Breaks. Discover the nuances of Playa Venao, Punta Chame, and many more, as we take you on a journey through the heart of Panama’s surfing culture.


Local Surfing Culture and Etiquette

Surfing is more than just a sport in Panama; it’s a way of life deeply intertwined with the rich coastal culture that defines the country. Take the time to connect with the local surfers. Share stories, smiles, and maybe even a post-surf meal. The cardinal rule of surfing anywhere holds true in Panama – respect fellow surfers. Wait your turn, don’t drop in on someone else’s wave, and share the breaks harmoniously. Practice Leave No Trace principles by picking up your trash, respecting wildlife, and being mindful of the delicate balance between the surf and the environment.


Surf Lessons and Surf Camps in Panama

Panama’s coastlines also offer a welcoming embrace for surfing in Panama for beginners and intermediate riders eager to catch their first waves or refine their skills. In the province of Bocas del Toro look out for schools like Bocas Surf School and La Loma Jungle Lodge & Surf Camp, both renowned for their patient instructors and personalized attention. In the province of Los Santos, Venao Cove Surf Camp and El Sitio Surf & Stay are stand-outs, offering immersive experiences for all levels. In the province of Veraguas, Santa Catalina’s surf schools like Santa Catalina Surf Point and Surf in Santa Catalina emphasize environmental awareness and sustainable practices.


Planning a Surfing Trip to Panama

As you gear up for your surfing trip, this section serves as your compass, guiding you through the essential logistics and travel considerations that will ensure a seamless and unforgettable experience.

Best Time to Book

To strike a balance between availability and favorable prices aim to book your flights around 2 to 4 months before your planned departure. If you’re planning to visit during peak tourist seasons it’s advisable to book on the earlier side of the spectrum. If you’re flexible with your travel dates, off-peak seasons can offer more affordable options. Consider booking during flash sales or promotional periods for additional savings.

Accommodations in popular surf destinations tend to fill up quickly, especially during peak seasons. Secure your lodging in advance to ensure you have a variety of options.

Travel Logistics

Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your planned departure date from Panama. Check for any additional entry requirements, such as visa pages and specific regulations for your nationality. Ensure your routine vaccinations are up to date before traveling to Panama. Invest in comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and other unforeseen events. Confirm that the policy includes coverage for activities such as surfing.

Budget Planning

With strategic planning and a keen eye on your expenses, you can enjoy the waves, culture, and natural beauty without breaking the bank.

Budget travelers can aim for $20-$50 per night, while mid-range options may range from $50-$150 per night. Prices vary based on the location and season.

Budgeting $10-$20 per day for meals is reasonable. Higher-end dining options may cost more.

Public transportation costs can range from $1-$20 per day. Car rental expenses vary based on the type of vehicle and rental duration.

Surf Related Expenses
If you’re a beginner, factor in the cost of surf lessons. If you don’t bring your own gear, budget for equipment rental, which can range from $10-$30 per day.

Accommodation Options

Panama’s diverse surf destinations cater to a spectrum of travelers, from budget-conscious surf enthusiasts to those seeking a touch of luxury.

Budget Hostels
With locations in Bocas del Toro, Santa Catalina, and Playa Venao, Selina offers a vibrant atmosphere, communal spaces, and budget-friendly dorms and private rooms. Bambuda Lodge in Bocas del Toro provides an eco-friendly and affordable option for travelers.

Mid-Range Surf Lodges
Mondo Taitu in Bocas del Toro, Playa Venao Hotel Resort, and Hotel Playa Cambutal all offer the perfect blend of comfort and surfing convenience without breaking the bank.

Luxury Resorts
For those seeking a luxurious escape, Red Frog Beach Resort in Bocas del Toro and Sansara Resort in Playa Cambutal combine upscale accommodations with proximity to surf breaks for an indulgent surf getaway.

Packing Essentials

Tailor your packing list to the unique conditions of Panama’s surf spots, ensuring you’re well-equipped for the waves, climate, and cultural exploration. Keep in mind that while some surf gear can be rented or purchased locally, more remote or less developed surf spots may have limited options.

Consider packing all your surf gear, including board, leash, wax/comb, and wetsuit. Lightweight and breathable clothing, rash guards, and casual wear. Pack both sandals for sandy beaches, and comfortable sneakers for exploring. Don’t forget sun protection and repellent. Also consider a waterproof phone case and camera to capture the stunning landscapes and your surfing adventures.


Getting to Panama

Located near Panama City, Tocumen International Airport (PTY) is the primary international gateway. It’s well-equipped with facilities and services for international travelers.

As Panama’s flagship carrier, Copa Airlines offers extensive connectivity to major cities worldwide. Copa Airlines is known for accommodating surfboards, usually with a separate fee. Operating numerous flights to Panama, American Airlines is a popular choice for travelers. They generally permit surfboards as part of checked baggage, subject to size and weight restrictions. Delta provides multiple routes to Panama and typically allows surfboards as checked baggage, with specific regulations on size and weight. United is another major carrier offering flights to Panama. They usually allow surfboards as part of checked baggage, but be sure to check their policies regarding size and fees.


Traveling Around Panama

Getting around Panama, especially when seeking out remote surf spots, requires a mix of local transportation options

Panama’s public bus system is extensive and economical, connecting major cities and towns. For surfers, this is a budget-friendly option to travel between popular Panama surf towns like Playa Venao, Bocas del Toro, and Santa Catalina. Some surf towns offer shuttle services catering to surfers, providing a convenient and comfortable option for travel between surf spots and airports.

Renting a car provides the flexibility to explore remote surf spots at your own pace. Renting a car provides the flexibility to explore remote surf spots at your own pace. Major rental companies operate in Panama, and you can pick up a vehicle at international airports or in major cities.

Domestic flights are available to airports near surf destinations like David (for access to Santa Catalina) and Bocas del Toro. Air Panama and other local airlines operate domestic flights. While this option may be pricier than buses, it’s efficient and convenient for reaching remote areas.


Language and Communication

While Spanish is the official language, English is widely spoken, especially in tourist areas. In more remote or less developed areas, proficiency in English may be limited, so having some basic Spanish phrases can be beneficial.

Basic Spanish Phrases for Surfing:
Hola: Hello
Gracias: Thank you
Por favor: Please
Como estás?: How are you?
Dónde está la playa?: Where is the beach?
Cuál es la mejor ola?: Which is the best wave?
Cuánto cuesta el alquiler una tabla de surf?: How much does it cost to rent a surfboard?

Embracing a few basic Spanish phrases not only enhances your ability to navigate but also enriches your cultural experience as you surf the waves and engage with the vibrant local communities.


Environmental Awareness and Sustainability in Panama

When surfing in Panama, where the beauty of the coastlines meets a rich tapestry of biodiversity, embracing sustainable practices is not just a choice; it’s a necessity.


Panama Health and Safety Information

From the waves to the shore, here are general tips for staying healthy and safe on a surfing adventure in Panama:


Other Things To Do in Panama

From vibrant cityscapes to serene natural retreats, Panama beckons with a myriad of experiences beyond the surf. In Panama City you can explore the historic Casco Viejo, witness the engineering marvel of the Panama Canal, or experience the juxtaposition of nature and urban life at Metropolitan Natural Park. Visit an indigenous village or museum to learn more about Panama’s rich cultured history. Get into nature in one of the many national parks where you can get an up close and personal look at flora and fauna, coffee plantations, and lost waterfalls. Join a wellness retreat to rejuvenate mind and body, and experience the holistic benefits of a combinedsurf and yoga practice. Whether you’re drawn to cultural immersion, outdoor adventures, or moments of relaxing tranquility, Panama has something to offer every traveler seeking to explore its captivating landscapes and rich cultural heritage.


Discover Panama’s Hidden Paradise with Sansara Resort

Consider Sansara Resort for an unparalleledexperience surfing in Cambutal. Explore oursurf vacation packages, blending world-class surfing with holistic wellness. Contact us at Sansara Resort and let us help you plan a truly authentic and personalized surf experience in Panama

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