My family from California recently visited from California and one of the places I took them was of course Boquete. We decided to go river rafting with the John Miller’s Boquete Outdoor Adventures, an outdoor adventure tour operator specializing in custom adventure travel vacations including river and ocean kayaking and rafting. John is a well known American river runner, who fell in love with Panama when he started running river trips in Boquete for 10 years. The 8 of usage 10 to 59, rafted the Gariche River where in 4 hours we went through an incredible 80 rapids. It was non- stop fun. The rapids were just big enough to thrill but not scare. At several points our rafts we got stuck on rocks and the highly skilled team had to get out of their kayaks and manually unstick us. John runs a world class operation- his crew are attentive and well trained, his rafting equipment first rate. We felt relaxed and happy in their in expert hands.The river scenery was beautiful with lush vegetation all around this being Panama’s green season. We all agreed this was one of the best afternoons our life and we are a well traveled family So I ask you- for family fun what does Disney World have on rafting in Chiriqui?
This guide will tell you basic information about surfing in panama: how to use the inter-provincial bus system here, minor tips which are good to know, and some detailed information about some good beaches in Panama.
This guide is more for the low budget surfer who can’t rent a car and stay at a five star hotel, but it has information useful to anyone looking to surf in Panama and get around.
If you are traveling to
If you like, you can party hardy, and it’s not a bad idea because wherever you want to surf in panama you are going to spend at least an hour on the bus/boat/plane, if not 8. It will be a quick and painless trip if you spend your time on the bus passed out from not sleeping the night before.
It sounds bad—but being in a crowded Panamanian bus on the highway listening to traditional Panamanian music on the radio is part of the experience. You never know who you will meet.
Whether you spend the night in Panama or want to depart from the get go, head to the Albrook Terminal. Part of this huge monstrosity is a shopping center, so don’t get lost or confused. The bus terminal is in the back—you will notice where that is because there will be a ridiculous amount of crazy looking buses heading in that direction. There you can find a vehicle able to take you either to or closer to any nook and cranny in the country.
This terminal is your gateway to beaches in panama, if you don’t have access to a car. In the terminal there is a set of booths along the wall, categorized mostly by province or popular destinations that working Panamanians take every day. So you need to know the name of the province and place you are going to.
What to do:
The people at the booths either speak a bit of English or will surely understand the name of the place in Panama you are headed to and that the name is probably where you want to go (in case you don’t speak Spanish). Just let them know the name of your destination, pay and they will point to where you need to go. Next to the booths there will be a little toll to get out to the buses, a nickel. Pay that and go to the corresponding bus. There are usually people out there directing people to the right bus, but if there isn’t just ask anyone there, tell them your destination and show them your ticket and you will eventually find it. Save your ticket because they will ask for it on the bus.
If you are going to a far away province like Bocas del Toro or Chiriquí don’t necessarily expect one bus to take you there. Buses in
You will probably need to strap your surfing equipment to the bus, I recommend you do it yourself with some ropes or personal straps so that you feel at ease. Sometimes they will want to charge like 1$ or something extra for surfboards.
Once in your destined province bus station, depending on how far your final destination is from there, you will probably need to take a taxi. So here is the thing about taxis here: they usually do try to charge tourists more, that’s something I think is true. But the truth is that taxis here are soooooooo cheap compared to other places like
If you want to save some bucks ask for a lower price but get his number telling him that you might call him again the next time you need a cab (for example to get back to the bus station). Also be friendly—taxi drivers know a lot about the area they live in and your taxi ride to your hotel could turn out to be an expert tour of the area, if they speak English or you speak Spanish that is. But I highly recommend asking them any questions you have, they will either know, or know someone who does.
Shack up in your hotel/hostel/resort/camping site of your choice and enjoy the Panamanian weather and waves. Food here is cheap at local spots, but you will get a more aesthetic meal at your hotel or the tourist targeted businesses in your area.
When surfing in panama it’s always important to ask when you get to a beach how the surf is and if there is anything you should know. Are there jelly fish in the water? Is there a rip tide that day? Etc. If you can, surf with a buddy or make sure you are not the only one out surfing.
Playa Venao is in the
But if you are not being stingy I would recommend staying at La Playita or some other resort there on the beach, or camp out there. If you stay on the beach you are likely to catch the waves when they are good and it beats the hassle of getting to the beach everyday.
The reason why I like this beach is because it is a very long stretch of beach so it is hard for it to be crowded. The scenery is great and the beach has a sand bottom, no worries about the rocks.
Right in the front of the beach there is a small Panamanian restaurant/kiosk. There you can buy inexpensive snacks, food or soda. Gas prices are up but the last time I was there I could still eat a full meal for under 5$. So chill there all day surfing if you like, get out and each lunch or whatever.
There is also a pay phone there if you need to call anywhere. People often camp here next to the Kiosk and make it a livelier place. Camping at the beach in panama is always a great option. As far as I know it costs nothing—nothing to camp on the beach and maybe around $10 to put your tent under the roof of the kiosk. Nobody should bother you if you should decide to make a camp fire on the beach.
There are occasional back packers or vagabonds of the Latin American world passing through and it’s probably the best place to chill at night besides Pedasi itself. Besides the bars and local restaurants it can get a tad desolate at night, so bring a book or plan something to take up your time at night.
Whatever you do however, check the sky if it isn’t cloudy. The lack of city lights allows a breathtaking view of the Milky Way Galaxy we live in. Gaze long enough and you can probably see a shooting star, the skies are that clear.
The beach responds to swells variably, but its right on the tip of the Panamanian peninsula, so if there is any swell at all it will show here. If the wind is too onshore the waves will just close out with big swells but the waves there are usually fun and uncrowded.
I have not personally been stung or bitten by any sea life in this area but jelly fish stings do happen from time to time. The current usually takes you left down the beach but it varies.
El palmar is about an hour and a half outside of Panama City. Take a bus from the Albrook Terminal that goes to
Palmar hosts a small community of locals, a couple restaurants, bars and a surf camp. The surf camp is a good option for lodging; or rent out a straw hut for about $15 and set up hammocks for 5$ a pop or camp free on the beach. In addition to huts, hammocks and rooms, El Palmar Surf Camp at this beach rents out boards, leashes, sells food and they help sponsor a local youth surf team, so all contributions are very appreciated.
This beach has some rocks at the bottom but I’ve rarely had to worry about them unless the tide is really low or if you are surfing at the point.
This beach actually has three surf breaks:
The front break is all the way down the street that has Bay View Restaurant at the end. This break is very rocky at low tide and is less popular than the next two.
On the right of that, in front of the Surf Camp is the next break. This is where good waves usually are. You want to catch it on lower tides because when the tide get goes up completely the waves crash too close to shore.
If the tide goes all the way up, Palmar turns into a choppy basin of water and it is tough to surf. But if there is a good swell then on the right of that, next to some cliffs at the end of the beach, is a good spot.
This is the point. This part of the beach only breaks if the swell is about 3ft or higher on magicseaweed.com. If you can catch it at 3ft or higher you will notice the beautiful waves there that peel nicely towards the left, while the middle break has become un-surfable at higher tides.
A little off shore wind and presto, you are going to get some killer waves. Just keep an eye out when the tide gets lower. Most of the locals know when to get out, when your group mysteriously goes from 10 surfers to: just you, it’s probably time to move out. It means the tide is getting too low or too high and the waves will stop soon.
It is usually more experienced surfers who surf this point because the rocks and cliff are intimidating and bigger waves break here. If the tide is all the way up and the point isn’t breaking then the front break is the only option, the last resort; but I would just switch beaches if possible.
Hit up the surf camp, the bar down the road, “El Cangrejo,” or Bay View Restaurant for food and drinks. Also this beach can get uber crowded on holidays and weekends. But if it’s crowded be careful because there is a decent number of beginners who surf here. Remember to be friendly to the locals; they are pretty friendly too, so it’s not hard.
When its time to leave you will probably need to walk up the street to the highway with your stuff or catch a lift; it’s about a 15-20 min walk. If you want to get back to the city go to the bus stop outside
You could hire a little bus or taxi to take you where you need but it will cost more. The bus to panama should charge about $3. Taxis will charge much more.
I would recommend this beach for the more experienced surfer. The currents at this beach can be a pain because there is a river that flows into it. But on a good swell with offshore winds there are some pretty good waves peeling to the right.
This place is also near Palmar and Rio Mar, so ask the booths at the Albrook Terminal that say
The waves can break a little close to shore and the water is a bit dark from the river, with occasional debris. The entrance has a short fence, some houses on the beach, campers, and some little straw huts. On the weekend there is usually a row of SUV’s lined up on the beach. When the surf is good there can be a good audience there and photographers. This is about the best place near
Jelly fish and such sometimes, ask the locals.
This is a good beach for beginners when the swells are medium. Ask the guy at the
The bus might take you in but if not just follow the road and eventually you will hit beach—getting down to the beach is a little tricky they have mixed things up a bit there recently; building a large condominium building there where I used to park the car. Just head for lower land and for that glorious costal breeze and you will eventually find it.
This beach is called “
Most of the surf you will get right in the front there. If there isn’t anything there then it’s either really really high tide or there just aren’t waves. If there is a good swell and you are an experienced surfer, head down right all the way down the beach past the cliffs and that is the point of Rio Mar. There are some great waves here with a decent swell but there are rocks that can stick out in some parts, make sure you know where.
There is a surf camp here too, but camp on the beach if you like.
It’s a bit rocky, especially at low tides, so your feet might have some cuts at the end of the day but it’s no biggy. Jelly fish sometimes appear and I think I was actually stung by a sea urchin once. My whole leg started burning and I couldn’t walk for an hour, but then I was fine and surfing again, nothing serious.
Bocas del Toro
The hurricanes in the Atlantic can really pay off in Bocas del Toro; all those storm formations can slam this area with some of the biggest waves that
The easiest way to get to Bocas del Toro is by plane in the
The plane will probably take you to the main island,
In addition to world class hotels and restaurants in the area, a number of hostels have sprung up which harbor a great surf atmosphere and good people. The night life is active almost every day of the week.
At first this place might sound like a
There are a plethora of beaches here to take your pick from so we can run through them kind of quick.
Carenero is close by, has sea urchins and a rough bottom, but good surf like anywhere in Bocas does, with a good swell and wind. Punch is a reef bottom break, but a lot of fun. Dumpers has a reef break but good waves too. Bluff is a good beach with great surf but the wave is powerful enough that the beach is notorious for breaking surfboards—at your own peril.
Red frog beach, also known as wizard, is a sand break and better for beginners but the currents can be rough, people not surfing have drowned there by being pulled out by the riptide. But it’s actually a very nice secluded beach spot and usually uncrowded—a good alternative.
Silverback probably has the biggest waves in panama with a good swell, reaching up to 25ft or bigger. Only for experienced surfers.
To get to all these areas you won’t be able to paddle out, except for maybe carenero. You need to hire what is called a “lancha” or a launch, which is what they call the boats there. I can’t really tell you who to hire, but it’s always better to hire a boat from one of the several official businesses that are on the main road of bastimentos. Freelance people are harder to trust and less reliable.
There are several surf shops there in case you need to fix your board, get a new fin or buy wax. Remember to be nice to the locals, they have taken it pretty well that tourists have taken over their island but don’t test their patience. Tourists and locals need to maintain a symbiotic relationship and there is a little tension there already. Check www.magicseaweed.com for swells as it can get flat during parts of the year.
Morro Negrito is an unreal private island off the coast of Chiriquí. There are always waves here; I mean it’s hard not when you are privy to about 10 individual breaks on the island. I truly envy whoever owns it. I have never been there but they are not hard to find on the net. The cost is about 600 per week per person. They limit how many people are on the island at once so the beaches can’t be crowded. Definitely worth it if you can do it.