Destinations - Things to Do
Santa Catalina (Veraguas Province)
Situated in the Veraguas Province, along the country's pacific coast and just west of the Azuero Peninsula, Santa Catalina is synonymous with surfing. As well, it serves as a gateway to Coiba National Park, which offers intrepid travelers world class scuba diving, snorkeling and white sand beaches, in addition to numerous other outdoor activities. Once a small fishing village off the beaten track, the town of Santa Catalina is still relatively small, but it's growing quickly.
Arguably Panama's most famous surf spot, local and international surfers frequent Santa Catalina to enjoy its consistent and powerful surf, not to mention its relaxed, laid back atmosphere. Budget hotels, surf board rentals, and surf camps offering all levels of instruction, help ensure a steady flow of surfers in search of the perfect break.
Santa Catalina has two beaches, Estero Beach and Santa Catalina Beach, but which is which? Well, it all depends on who you ask. The road that leads into town, if you follow it to its end, will take you to the ocean's edge, which on most maps in referred to as Catalina Beach. Some call it Town Beach and others Estero Beach, but regardless, there is no surfing done here. Rather, it is most frequently used by dive/tour operators as a departure point for trips to Coiba National Park. There are several small islands just off the beach, one of them being Santa Catalina Island.
The second beach, most commonly referred to Santa Catalina Beach, is located just a few minutes east of town, but oddly enough the maps have this labeled as Estero Beach. If you ask any local or surfer where Santa Catalina Beach is, they'll send you here. The beach itself is long and crescent shaped, with just one small section that extends outward, about midway to its end. To get there, you can either walk along the road that runs from town (turn left off the main road in front of the supermarket) or, if the tide is low, you can walk along the rocky coastline that separates both beaches. The rather uneventful walk along the road takes approximately 10 minutes, whereas the walk along the coastline could take 20-30 minutes, or more. If the tide is out, normal sneakers or sandals will do, as the rocks are round and smooth.
The town of Santa Catalina covers a short distance, and the road is lined with residential homes, hotels, restaurants/eateries, dive shops, fishing outfitters, and numerous tour agencies. There is only one intersection, near to the ocean, and on the far corner you'll find the local supermarket. But don't expect too much here, this is a small market for last minute items only - most of the shopping is done in Soná or Santiago.