Not that long ago Santa Catalina was the kind of place only hardcore surfers used to go. It all changed after an international surf competition when the road to get there was significantly improved. Maybe hardcore surfers are not too happy with the changes… Or maybe they are, who knows? The one thing they must be happy about is that less time on the road means more time riding waves. There are also nicer places to stay, more restaurants, etc.
However, this is still an undeveloped destination. Those traveling to Santa Catalina must have a clear purpose, otherwise that’s a very long journey to walk on the beach.
Besides being a great destination for experienced surfers, it is also great for beginners surfers. So, definitely surfing is a good reason to go. The other one? None other than Coiba Island National Park, the best snorkeling and scuba diving in Panama.
What to See & Do
Snorkeling & Scuba Diving. Coiba National Park is an amazing group of 38 islands including Coiba Island (the largest island in Central America) and the waters surrounding them, covering 430,825 acres. A UNESCO World Heritage Site offering rich and well-preserved natural beauty.
Surfing. Santa Catalina offers consistent waves, excellent for both beginners and experienced surfers. And because it is a remote location, unless you travel during a popular holiday weekend, it is rare .
Where to Stay
Santa Catalina is a very small town. You have basically three distinctive areas to choose from, the town, which is everything around the main road leading to the beach where all the boat tours to Coiba depart from, the other end of the road where the river meets Playa Estero, the good beach for begginer surfers, and then everything in between those two.
Most of the stores are in town, the buses are in town, and the boat tours depart from town. It is the most convenient location, but also the least attractive or interesting. The other areas are nicer and more quiet, but you will need to travel back and forth when you need something from town. It is not crazy distances, but still, it is something worth considering and putting some thought into it when planning your trip.