Santa Catalina - surfer's paradise on the Pacific coast of Panama. Coming from Bajo Boquete, after a short detour at the canyon Los Cangilones de Gualaca, we headed south on the Panamericana. The small sleepy town of Santa Catalina has made a name for itself among surfers in recent years due to its optimal location. In 2013, the international surfing world championship even took place here. The omnipresent surfer style gives the local stores and hostels a relaxed flair and it is impossible to imagine Santa Catalina without it. But also in terms of nature the place can score, because in the surrounding forests live numerous exotic animals.
The complete way, coming from Bajo Boquete, takes about 5 hours according to the navi and leads you mostly over the Panamericana. This is a system of highways that connects Alaska with Tierra del Fuego with a few gaps. However, some of the side roads are not in good condition and accordingly the journey can take a little longer. In addition, it must be noted that only the signposted and larger exits should be taken. We left the highway one road too early and after 20 minutes of driving through the hinterland of Panama we were standing in front of a river that was insurmountable with our car.
The town of Santa Catalina itself is a small village with a handful of accommodations, restaurants, diving schools and at least as many dogs. It must be said, however, that there is no ATM or gas station in the village. Also the only supermarket carries a very manageable assortment. So take enough cash with you and stock up on some sweets in advance. There is only one road through the town, so you can't get lost. Some of the hostels are a bit hidden, so keep your eyes open. And here we were, on the Pacific coast in the surfer's paradise Santa Catalina. Now the only question was which of the two beaches we should visit.
PLAYA SANTA CATALINA
To reach Playa Santa Catalina, you just have to follow the road you came from to its end. On both sides of the road you can already see the first diving and surfing schools. When you reach the end of the road, you will be at the sea. At the small sandy beach you can surf and chill. However, we always went to Playa Estero during the day. But the sunset at Playa Santa Catalina is magical! The surfing local kids in the setting sun and in the distance Isla Santa Catalina in the open ocean make for a breathtaking atmosphere.
You will reach the larger beach Playa Estero via the road again. However, you do not follow this road to the end, but turn left at the only T-junction. Here is a small fruit store on the corner and on the right side a small diving school, which is run by Germans and to which we have paid a visit, but more about that later. We have to climb a hill and then follow the road again. After about 15 minutes of walking you will reach the end of the road and find yourself in front of a river. You have to cross it. The ankle-high river water can usually be crossed without problems, but at high tide it rises extremely and in case of need you may have to swim. Once this last obstacle is overcome, nothing stands between you and a wonderful day at the beach.
Santa Catalina, as already mentioned, is considered a surfer's paradise in Panama. The waves break here all year round in the warm water and the beach is also ideal for surfing beginners. The wide sandy beach leads shallow and far into the sea and so the first breakers can already be surfed in the waist-high water. Along the beach are some accommodations that offer both surf lessons or a surfboard (~$15 / day). We were actually almost the only tourists on the complete beach and accordingly in the water. From noon on we could watch the local pros doing their tricks on the waves. If you don't feel like surfing, you can also spend the day relaxing under the shady palm trees. But beware of falling coconuts! Besides the constantly breaking waves, the beach offers another spectacle that you should not miss. Due to the shallow course, a thin layer of water forms on the sand, which reflects the complete sky like a mirror. And so we enjoyed the hours on the lonely beach and shared the view only with the passing turkey vultures and the local dogs, which romped in the shallow water.
After relaxing days at the sea, we went on to Santa Fé! But I still owe you the detour in the diving school. When checking out at the hostel, we noticed that we had a flat tire on the driver's side. I didn't want to admit it at first and asked the staff of our accommodation for a gas station to pump air back into the tire. He only said that it looks difficult in Santa Catalina. But we should try the diving school on the road. But after the first meters we noticed that the tire must really have a hole. So at 30° Celsius we had to change the tire. It was 09:00 in the morning.
After the work was done, I was drenched in sweat and found to my regret that the air pressure in the spare tire was also extremely borderline. Since the way to the next town would take over an hour, we decided to pay a visit to the diving school. It turned out that the operator was a German, which of course made it easier to describe our problem. Increase the tire pressure in the spare wheel. No sooner said than done, one would think, because there was no compressor here either. With a diving bottle we tried to solve the situation, but the valve of the bottle was broken and instead of inflating the tire, more and more air escaped and so we almost had a flat tire on this tire again. Fortunately, a helpful neighbor came by who had the appropriate spare part ready, with which we finally got the tire pressure under control. And so we continued a little late to Santa Fé.
PS: We were a bit panicked afterwards because we thought we would need a new tire and accordingly would have to fork out several hundred dollars. But when we arrived at the next garage, it turned out that the repair cost only $3!