Panama is one of the best-hidden secrets of Central America when it comes to surfing. This gorgeous isthmus is ripe with the best beaches facing the Caribbean and Pacific. It’s among the best, most beautiful paradise on this side of the world, offering a cloud nine for surfers around the world.
With over 1500 miles (2400 km) of coastline flanking it side to side, Panama is a surfing gem. Its beaches can compete with the best surfing spots in the world, including its neighbor Costa Rica. With its narrow neck and easy access to everywhere, Panama has the potential to be the best in the world.
Are you looking to surf in Panama? You’re in luck. Take a gander at this guide that showcases the best beaches the isthmus can give. We’ll list all the best surf beaches in the country, together with some secret surf spots we’re sure you’d love.
Surfing Around Panama
Before you start traveling around Panama, you need first to understand a few things. We need to learn first what is the current status of surfing in Panama. We also need to know what’s happening soon and how you can benefit from it.
For starters, Panama is one of the best places that you can surf because of its geography. Panama links Central America to South America, being a narrow land flanked by two oceans. Panama’s connection to the Pacific Ocean to the west and Caribbean to the east puts it in a perfect spot.
Panama has an overabundance of surf-worthy waves for different levels of surfers. Every surf enthusiast can find themselves a beach that provides the best breaks for their skill level. You can find one for beginners who are learning to stand up and even spots for the pros.
Why so? One side of Panama receives the waves that come from the Atlantic on the northwest. Many of these waves are powerful and gnarly because of the strong ocean fetch from this direction. These types of waves are great for people looking to get their adrenaline pumping.
The Pacific side of Panama, on the other hand, has many open bays with islets around it. While the Pacific has a bigger ocean fetch, the isthmus has a further break zone out into the sea. This break zone is the broad continental shelf, which dissipates the energy of waves. This makes the Pacific side of Panama have more forgiving waves most of the time.
In contrast to Panama, Costa Rica has a more exposed Pacific shelf, getting better swells. This makes Panama’s Pacific side more conducive for people learning to surf. The swells can be easy to manage, given the right guidance.
Reasons Why You Should Go To Panama Surfing
Another superb reason why Panama has great surfing beaches is the accessibility. Panama is very narrow, which means it has highways that can access most of the country. While transportation was a problem in the past, this is adjusting well because of the influx of eco-tourists.
There are many beach breaks near Panama City itself, and almost every major locale has a surf beach nearby. You can go around and find beach breaks from Punta Chame, Farfan Beach, to even Playa Venao. All you have to spend is a few hours of your time, and you’re ready.
The entirety of Panama Bay is a great place to surf and bodyboard, making it a great place to beach around. Even if you want to get out of the city, there are high-speed highways all over the country. Access to more remote areas of Panama will only be a few hours at most.
Panama is one of the safest countries in the world. People here are very friendly, with many used to dealing with foreigners. The near-constant foreign presence in the country makes it feel that you’re not too far from home.
You can surf, roam the streets, play around, and even party without a care in the world. They have decent internet, and most resorts have good Wi-Fi in them. Communicating with loved ones while you’re on your surfing trip is quick and easy.
Many surf spots will also have surf guides who take care of their patrons. If you go on a surf retreat, guides and instructors will be there to watch over you. They will teach you how to handle waves and even note if there are any changes in the weather than usual.
When Is The Best Time To Surf In Panama?
So, when is the best time to visit different surf spots? When is the best period to surf in Panama? This depends on what you want with your waves and your experience level.
The dry season in Panama is between mid-December to around Mid-May. When you’re surfing, and you want to get the biggest, most powerful waves, surf at the end of a season. The weeks in November before the rainy season ends and May when the dry season ends generate big waves.
You can surf around during the entire dry season, and this is a very popular time in Panama. People will flock the beaches, play with their kids, and even take surfing lessons. You will notice larger crowds around this time, which can be bothersome if you want to surf in peace.
If you’re discerning enough, however, Panama has surfable waves all year round. It’s only a matter of getting the right conditions on a day to day basis. During the rainy season, there are still good waves to be had. You would want to survey the locale where you’re at and give the local wave conditions a good survey.
During the dry season, famous surfing spots like Santa Catalina mellow out. This mellowing allows for beginners to enjoy the smaller swells, but pros leave wanting. If you want to surf big waves during the dry season, go to islands around the north and northwest.
Expect the best waves once the dry season starts to transition to the rainy season. You’ll get stronger winds from the impending change in the current weather system. Afternoon surfing sessions will be a fun, enjoyable experience for the more experienced surfers.
If you have no time to go to Panama around the dry season, July to August is also a great time. Even if it’s rainy, the prevailing weather systems at the opposite parts of the oceans make the waves viable.
Hurricane swells from one side of the Pacific, for example, give off large and consistent waves. You can expect overheads, some as big as double or even triple overhead in big breaks.
Where Can You Go Surfing in Panama?
Now that you know when to go to Panama to surf, the next question is where. Panama has one of the most extensive options for bays and beaches, so you will find yourself wondering. Where are the best places to surf in Panama?
There are so many beaches and surf spots that you can visit if you want to surf in Panama. Not counting specific surf spots, these are:
- Pacific Coast along Panama City
- Los Santos, especially Pedasi, Cambutal, and Tonosi
- Veraguas, specifically Santa Catalina
- Islands of Chiriqui
- David, Chiriqui
- Bocas Del Toro, especially Isla Bastimentos and Isla Colon
As you can see, these are almost all the bays around Panama. This only proves further that you can surf almost anywhere in Panama. Even then, the list that we have is still a generalization.
Let’s take a look at the beaches we listed and break them further into the best beaches in Panama.
Why People Don’t Surf In Panama City
If you’re wondering, there are also some breaks near the city itself, just along the bay. The problem comes from the different issues that plague these surf spots. The rapid industrialization of Panama City itself destroyed most of the great surf spots.
For example, Las Bovedas has a great break with large swells, but the water is quite appalling. The quality of the waters is questionable, making it a problem to surf in. While it is improving over the past years, it can still be problematic.
Boca La Caja, on the other hand, has two of the best breaks nearby. Nuevo Loco can be a fickle right at times, while La Zurda is a nice, barreling left that can break only on the highest tides. The problem with the area is general safety, as the neighborhood has questionable elements. It’s best to visit the area only if you have someone local guiding you.
Panama Viejo is the mud break in the locale – a rarity in Panama. The local government reclaimed most of the sand and terrain, with highway pillars making the breaks weak. On a good day, you can find some great waves here, but those are few and far in between.
The Pacific Ocean beaches near Panama City are one of the best beaches in Panama, with the nearest beach breaks to the city itself. You can find yourself traveling here often if you live in the city. It’s around 2 hours away from the city, making it super accessible from the capital itself.
Some of the best surfing beaches include:
- Playa El Palmar
- Playa Malibu
- Isla Chepillo
- Playa De Jaque
- Playa Serena
- Playa Teta
- Playa Rio Mar
As you can see, these beaches go far northeast from Darien and go west. Some of these locales are the best places you can visit. Here’s why.
1. Playa El Palmar
Playa El Palmar is a beautiful beach, with both white and black sand shores and pristine waters. The waves that come to this locale are robust right-handers, with the ones in Hawaiisito taking more lefts. Much of the waves are easy to handle, with the point break taking south to west swells. El Palmar is great for all skill levels, with the beach break being great for beginners looking to learn.
2. Playa Malibu
Playa Malibu is surfable at all tides, with a nice river mouth break the gets a solid swell. Expect a good tubular action from the Chame River, but beware. There are some rough obstacles on the bottom like underwater trees and some pebbles that take you by surprise.
3. Isla Chepillo
Isla Chepillo has waves breaking left to rock faces, with superb swells and robust waves. The problem comes from the lack of facilities on the island. You would need your own boat or rent a boat to the island, which should be around $40 – $50.
4. Playa De Jaque
Playa De Jaque is the literal wildlands, found in Darien. It’s a small town of the same name, but many veered away because of the old rebel threat. It’s a black sand beach break going left and right, with surfable waves at all tides. It’s off the beaten path – you won’t find any other tourists here with you.
5. Playa Serena
Playa Serena provides a fantastic pointbreak going right, going hard and hollow from the start. It develops into a long wall, perfect for surfers with intermediate experience. If you find the right spot, you can also surf around here as a beginner because of the sand bottom.
6. Playa Teta
Playa Teta has 3 point breaks, namely Frente and Punta de Teta, and Rinconsito. The Frente is fickle, with long lefts during low tide but going all over the place during high tide. The Punta provides superb tubes and long rides, ridden best during intermediate to high tides. Rinconsito is a long right break that gives superb rides that go up to 200 yards (183 m).
7. Playa Rio Mar
Playa Rio Mar has two breaks, with Frente Rio Mar and Punta Rio Mar. Frente Rio Mar is the beach break, giving very consistent swells perfect for beginners. Punta Rio Mar offers a point breaks with some extreme rights. It’s best to visit the Punta on a low tide, going along the rocks, and try to ride the strong waves.
2. Los Santos (Pedasi, Cambutal, Tonosi)
Los Santos has some of the most famous and best surf spots in Panama. It’s smack in the peninsula, getting as much of the waves as possible without many breaks. Their most famous locales are also some of the most profitable.
Pedasi, Cambutal, and Tonosi are the best locales to stay. Many of the local beaches, some of which are the best in the business, are near these towns. These include:
- Venado (Venao)
Many of the above beaches we mentioned have more points in them. It’s best to access some of these locales with a big pickup truck or 4×4 because of how remote they can be. Some beaches need exploration in the area, so it’s up to you to play around and go on an adventure.
The best surf spots among these are Venado’s Venao, Cambutal, Horcones, Playa El Toro, and Playa Lagarto.
1. Venado (Venao)
Venado is one of the best surfing beaches in Panama. It has several breaks nearby which have different skill levels. These beaches include Playa Venao, Playa Madrono, Playa Raya, and Playa Guanico. There are different experiences here, depending on where you go.
Playa Venao is the most famous surfing beach out there, with many different types of swells. Depending on the season, waves here change and go over 10 feet (3 m) before closing out. The locale is great for all types of surfers. People who want more challenging waves can come here when seasons are in transition for bigger waves.
Playa Madrono and Playa Raya can be a headache to visit, with lots of access issues. Both are almost secluded, which can be enticing to some surfers. Go here early morning to get hollow tubes and a right point break near the sidebar.
Playa Guanico is the furthest beach from Venado and has different point breaks. It has two rock bottom breaks and one beach break, making it great for different skill levels.
Cambutal is full of different surf breaks, with some of the most technical beaches in Panama. Swells here can go as big as 20 feet (6.1 m) and never go down below 5 feet (1.5 m). Visiting the breaks need proper transportation, however, with at least a 4×4 because of the muddy roads.
The breaks in Cambutal are the Cambutal beach break, Punta Negra, 411 (Quatro-Once), and Dinosaurious. Cambutal beach break is the most wholesome of them all, great for newbies. The most technical among them is 411 and Dinosaurious, best for experienced surfers only.
3. Horcones Beach
You can find Horcones Beach a little bit after Dinosaurious, with three breaks within its vicinity. They are the Horcones Beach Break, Corto Circuito, and Dos Rocas. Much like Cambutal, the beach break is great for beginners trying to learn their basics of surfing.
Dos Rocas is a rock bottom point break, made obvious by two rocks. This break is superb for intermediate surfers, giving solid rights. The Corto Circuito is at the end of the road after Dos Rocas, putting out powerful swells. These go far and long, as much as 100 yards (91.44 m), and gives you many great options.
Veraguas (Santa Catalina)
Veraguas is downright among the most popular surf spot in Panama and also among the best in Central America. Many of the best breaks are close to Santa Catalina, making it a mecca to surfers in the region.
The best beaches for surfing in Veraguas include:
- Playa Santa Catalina
- Playa El Estero
- Isla Cebaco
Each of these beaches has its surf breaks that are great for surfers with different skill levels.
1. Playa Santa Catalina
Playa Santa Catalina is the most famous beach in Veraguas, attracting many tourists all year. The beach itself has some of the most incredible waves, and you can get fantastic ones all year. Depending on the time of the year, it generates different waves for all types of surfers.
The break for the beach goes left and right, with the main wave going right. It generates awesome tubes and super long rides, great for advanced surfers. When you’re getting bigger swells, you can even ride it at low tides, making it great for beginners too.
2. Playa El Estero
Playa El Estero is a wide beach beside Oasis Surf Camp, 15 minutes away from Playa Santa Catalina. It has a super long beach break going in both directions. Most people who can’t handle the waves in Santa Catalina walk to this area.
Apart from the beach break, Playa El Estero has Punta Brava and Punta Roca nearby to the east. Punta Brava is a very advanced rock bottom break, with the lefts so powerful that beginners should never try it. Punta Roca is a left point break with big hollow tubes but super short rides that can break boards by accident.
3. Isla Cebaco
Isla Cebaco has many breaks that are still local secrets. It would need some prying around to find the best breaks in the area. There are three famous breaks on the island itself, which don’t have names. There is one beach break with rights and lefts, one left point break, and another is a right point break over rock bottom.
Facing behind Isla Cebaco is Playa Mariato, with a soft rock bottom breaks. It goes left and right, so it should be an easy break to conquer.
Chiriqui Islas are the different islands on the Pacific Coast, some with the best surf in the locale. These locations can be remote, so you can either rent an exclusive boat or access via yacht. We removed Isla de Coiba because it’s a very hard surf to do, almost impossible for any skill level.
The best surf spots in these islands are:
- Morro Negrito
- Isla Silva de Adentro
- Isla Montuosa
- Isla Silva de Adentro
- Isla Silva de Afuera
Among these places, Morro Negrito is the best pick. The other islands are reachable from here, with many reef breaks and some beach breaks. These breaks are the best for intermediate to advanced surfers who can handle powerful reef breaks.
Most of the breaks in this area are rock break, but they are robust and consistent. Big swells can go as big as 25 feet (7.62 m) and give different ride lengths. The break near Silva de Adentro, for example, gives out a super long ride with lots of power. The one in Silva de Afuera, on the contrary, is short and sweet.
The David area of Chiriqui has some spots that are worth a look if you’re looking for the best. The waves go the way of the Islas Chiriqui and the Peninsula itself. The general area needs further exploration, with only three surf breaks. They are:
- Punta Burica
- La Barqueta
- Playa Las Lajas
All these locals have beach breaks going left and right, but can be seasonal. You need to go there at the right time to enjoy superb waves that can be better than Costa Rica’s Playa Pavones. The locale is desolate, so it’s great to camp around, surf, and enjoy it alone or with a small group.
Bocas Del Toro
Bocas del Toro is the premier destination for surfing in Panama. Many of the best surfing spots and surf beaches in the region offer the best experiences for different skill levels. It’s best to surf in the area during the dry season, between December to March.
Much of the swells and waves in the area are there almost all year long. Some of the best beaches and surf spots include:
- Red Frog Beach
This place is the most exciting locale to go for any surfer in Panama. Here they are.
Silverbacks are among the most consistent and most powerful swells in the area, with an exposed reef break. It’s surfable at all stages, but only the experienced and pro surfers should go here. Be ready to face waves of up to 25 feet (7.62 m) with some of the most powerful rights.
Carenero offers one of the best surfs in the area, with some lefts going as far as 200 feet (61 m). It will break once it hits a shallow reef with the right conditions. You would want to protect yourself with some surfing shoes or booties. The sharp reefs and sea urchins can be a problem on shallow waters.
3. Red Frog Beach
Red Frog Beach has one of the best sand and reef breaks in the area, but the further from Bocas Town. It’s on the central-north side of Isla Bastimentos, which is around 45 minutes. This surfing spot is awesome for beginners to intermediate level surfers who want to play around.
4. Isla Colon (Bocas Town)
Isla Colon is the capital island of Bocas Del Toro, containing Bocas Town, among others. It contains many different beaches and breaks, including some of the most famous. These spots include Playa Paunch, Playa Dumpers, and Playa Bluff. These surf spots all have powerful breaks that are best for experienced surfers.
The tubes on this island are incredible, so much that they pose the danger of breaking boards. Newbies who want to experience the local waves would need to have instructors around. Among these breaks, Paunch is the most forgiving.
Panama has one of the most numerous surfing spots in Central America. Many of them are world-class destinations that we’re sure will be a great experience. Whether you decide to go here because you want to learn how to surf or you want to challenge yourself, go for it!
Going on an adventure around Panama gets better if you can surf. If you know what to do and know where to find them, Panama is one of the best beach destinations. Why not surf today and experience the beauty of Panama?
You’d like it, for sure!
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