Santa Catalina, Panama

Relaxed Tropical Village Life Overlooking The Pacific Ocean

A 5-hour drive from Panama City is Santa Catalina, a small surfing village starting to make big waves as a travel destination. The definition of village is sometimes loosely applied in a travel sense. Moderately sized towns are often labelled as villages in an attempt to sound more appealing to the unknowing traveler. In the case of Santa Catalina though, village is the correct term. The local population is approximately 300 people, swollen to 350 when expat numbers are included.

Santa Catalina has a slow pace of life and most people are here to relax. If you are looking to spend your days in a hammock, sipping cold drinks overlooking the blue Pacific then Santa Catalina could be ideal. There are unspoiled rainforest all around and which add to the relaxed atmosphere. Crime rates are low, especially major crimes. As with any tourist destination there is a chance of pickpockets or other petty crimes, so take the same precautions you would anywhere else.

Getting There

Located in the region of Veraguas, Santa Catalina is at the end of some very Panamanian country roads, so if you are driving, take care to arrive during daylight hours. You can get to Santa Catalina by car or bus in around 5 hours from Panama City. From Coronado and David it takes around 3.5 hours. The bus service from Panama City is regular and reliable with 5 or 6 busses most days. You can expect to pay up to $15 for a bus and they all have air conditioning. However, toilets are not included and neither are rest stops so make sure not to embark with a full bladder. The bus service from David is less frequent but you will find at least 3 busses a day.

What to Do

Surfing

Santa Catalina is one of Panama’s best surfing destinations and the waves here compare with anywhere in the world. There are tropical water waves suitable for all standards, from beginner, up to the professional. There are three main breaks, Estero which is a river mouth break, La Punta which is strictly for advanced surfers and Punto Brava which is a reef break and also for advanced surfers. Surfing lessons are available at Playa Estero with board hire to get you up and running.

The spots with the better waves are more difficult as they break over volcanic rocks, unforgiving on boards and bones. You can hire a boat to take you to Isla Coiba or a few other secret spots around the area. The biggest swells arrive between March and August and a few Santa Catalina surf spots can hold over 20ft waves.

Scuba Diving and Isla Coiba Tours

Santa Catalina, has some of the best Scuba Diving in Panama. Instructors offer a full range of PADI courses from beginner through to expert, and the chance to become a fully certified diver. Although you can dive throughout the Santa Catalina area, Isla Coiba is by far the most popular spot to dive. Boats leave Santa Catalina in the morning, take you out to Isla Coiba, and return in the evening.

The underwater world here is spectacular. You can see reef and nurse sharks, dolphins, turtles, devil and sting rays, jacks, barracudas, snappers and a host of other tropical fish species. From January to April you might see a whale shark, and from July to September you have the chance to see humpback whales who arrive into the warm tropical waters to raise their calves.

Isla Coiba used to be a high security prison and is now a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Book a guided trip here and you can expect to see some huge crocodiles as well as iguanas and plenty of birds and butterflies. The isolation of being an island has led to great diversity including 17 species of crocodile and over 70 different species of ants.

Sport Fishing

Hire a boat and head out to sea where you can take advantage of some of Panama’s best fishing waters. Day trips usually include all equipment as well as food and a plenty of cold beers and sodas. Ice filled coolers are provided for any fish you fancy cooking and eating when you return ashore.

Black Marlin are the biggest draw, and the waters close to Coiba are one of the only areas where you can find an abundance of these fish. The average size is around 300 lbs. but during the peak season fish of over 700 lbs. are not uncommon. Yellowfin Tuna are another popular fish and there are plenty to be found. They can reach 300 lbs. early in the year and make excellent sport fishing.

Food and Drink

There is a growing restaurant scene in Santa Catalina. There are arrange of different cuisines available but the Panamanian food is especially good. Naturally enough there is some excellent, freshly caught, sea food available including some great ceviche with hot sauce.

Apartment or House Ownership Budget (for a couple)

Expense Item Cost Notes
Mortgage Not included here as too variable
HOA Fees N/A
Property Taxes: 1.75% to 2.1%
Transportation (bus, taxi, etc.) N/A No transport needed within town.
Gas (cooking/heating) US$5 For cooking
Electricity US$65 Slightly more if using air conditioning and not fans.
Water US$8
Telephone US$70
Garbage collection Included in water fee.
Internet Bundled with telephone fee.
Cable TV Bundled with telephone fee.
Household Help US$80 Four visits a week.
Entertainment US$350 Couples’ cost for eating out and drinks twice a week.
Groceries US$400 Basic items for a couple
Gym membership N/A
Medical appointment US$25
TOTAL 1,003 Property tax fee not included.

 

Apartment or House Rental Budget (for a couple)

Expense Item Cost Notes
Rent US$500 Unfurnished, two-bedroom, comfortable house.
Transportation (bus, taxi, etc.) N/A No transport needed within town.
Gas (cooking/heating) US$5 For cooking.
Electricity US$65 Slightly more if using air conditioning and not fans.
Water US$8
Garbage collection Included in the water fee.
Telephone US$70
Internet Bundled with telephone fee.
Cable TV Bundled with telephone fee.
Household Help US$80 Four visits a week.
Entertainment US$350 Couples’ cost for eating out and drinks twice a week.
Groceries US$400 Basic items for a couple
Gym membership N/A
Medical appointment US$25

TOTAL

 

US$1,503

Penny-Pincher’s Budget (for a couple, bare minimum costs for all)

 

Expense Item Cost Notes
Rent: US$100 Cheapest part of town, most basic kind of rental
Transportation (bus, taxi etc.) N/A No transport needed within town.
Gas (cooking/heating) US$5
Electricity US$20 No air conditioning.
Water US$8
Telephone US$70
Garbage collection Included with water fee.
Internet Bundled with telephone fee.
Cable TV Bundled with telephone fee.
Entertainment US$ 160 Couples’ cost for eating out and drinks twice a week.
Groceries US$200 Shopping in local stores only.
TOTAL US$563

Map Of Isla Contadora

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