Surfing in Panama
Panama is the country that links Central and South America together. It has borders with Costa Rica to the West and Colombia to the Southeast. The country has a coast on the Pacific and Atlantic ocean, and thanks to the narrow geography it was possible to build one of the biggest human engineering constructions of all times: the Panama Canal. This channel links the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean creating a fast and essential shipping route for any kind of vessel.
With an amazing mix of beach, point and reef breaks, Panama is still a very uncrowded destination mostly because it’s overshadowed by the famous neighbor country Costa Rica. The country has waves all year round and has many offshore islands to be explored. It doesn't matter if you are a beginner or a gnarly surfer, you will find some amazing surf spots in Panama.
Why surf in Panama?
Panama has some of the best surf spots in Central America. There is a big variety of reef, point and beach breaks that will suit your surfing skills perfectly. The country has many offshore islands with amazing tropical scenery and world-class waves that will blow your mind. Surfing in Panama still remains a “secret”, especially on the Pacific Oceanside. This means that it’s not hard to find empty breaks that you can surf alone or with your buddies only. The waves are consistent and the water is warm all year.
Climate in Panama
Panama has a wet tropical climate with warm water (27-30 degrees celsius) and temperatures all year round. The humidity is very high, especially during the wet season that goes from May to December. During this time there are intense downpours, especially during the afternoons, but the temperatures remain warm.
The dry season is shorter than the wet and happens from January to April. This is when the winds come from the North and the water temperature can drop to 24-25 degrees celsius.
Best time to go
Surfing in the Pacific side in Panama
The best swell season for the Pacific Side is from April to October (wet season). That’s when the strong 3-12 ft South or Southwest swells are more consistent and produce the best waves. The winds are predominantly offshore in the morning and onshore during the day. Glass offs in the evenings are very common.
Surfing in the Caribbean in Panama
The surf season at the Caribbean side has two major seasons. The main one is from December to April (dry season). That’s when the big hurricane season happens to send massive swells (4-12 ft) to the coastal islands of the Bocas del Toro. The second season is shorter and it’s from July to August. The average size of the waves is not as high as in the main season but the weather is more tropical and the winds coming from the mountains are favorable for many breaks, especially in Bocas del Toro.
Main Surfing areas in Panama
Pacific Ocean Coast
This world-class break can handle any swell. During the high season (March to October) it’s not unusual to see this break with triple overhead waves. There are waves breaking for both sides.
This heavy barrel surf spot is a long point break about 30 minutes' walk from the northeast of Santa Catalina. The best tides are medium or low.
This break can get twice as big as Santa Catalina. It’s a hollow left-hander wave that breaks on a rocky bottom. It’s located 30 minutes walking from the southeast of Santa Catalina.
The island has a beach break and a point break. The waves break for both sides and usually have similar size to Santa Catalina.
Located at the Azuero Peninsula on the southeast coast. This long brown sand beach has consistent waves good for intermediates and beginners. There are waves breaking for both sides all over the beach. It can get crowded on the weekends but it’s pretty quiet during the week.
Located in the northern part of the Azuero Peninsula. Because of the remote location, this beach remains mostly uncrowded. There are beach and point breaks scattered along the beach. Other breaks worth a check in the area are 411, a long right-hander that breaks on top of a rocky bottom, and the amazing point break of Punta Negra.
Playa El Palmar
This spot is mostly surfed by locals and it’s suitable for all kinds of surfers. The set up is at a small beach on the west of San Carlos. There are three surf breaks: Frente Palmar, Punta Palmar, and Hawaiisito. These breaks offer a nice variety of waves. Best tides are medium to high and the swells come from west, southwest, and south.
One of the most consistent surf spots of the Pacific side. This break has long right-handers breaking on a sandbar made by a river mouth (Chame River). Watch out for debris in the water, especially after heavy rains.
Morro Negrito: These islands are located in the southwest of the country, in a mangrove area. The access is very hard and only by boat. There are a few breaks in this area:
Sandbar: This break has long leg-burning waves mostly to the left. The sandbar is formed by a river mouth. It’s one of the best waves in the area. Extremely consistent with waves from 1-6 ft.
P-Land: This is a heavy left-hander located at Isla Silva de Fuera. The wave has a similar shape as G-Land and also has a few sections. Needs bigger swells to start working (6-10 ft).
Also located at Isla Silva de Fuera, this wave wraps around the corner just after P-Land. With epic conditions and a lot of luck, you may be able to connect both waves and have a really long ride. This wave is super fun. Recommended for intermediate and advanced surfers. The break is pretty consistent (average wave height 3-4 ft) and it is better to surf on mid to high tide. Gets really shallow on the inside when it’s low tide.
Nestles: This short peak has a steep take off that takes it straight into the barrel. This wave can hold some massive 20 ft plus swells. Experts only!
Sebastian's Right: Located on Isla Silva de Fuera, this right-hander breaks along the rocks on the south side of the island.
Located at the Morro Negrito Island. It’s a heavy left-hander that breaks on top of a rocky bottom near the shore. Needs a bigger 6-8ft swell to come alive.
Emily’s: Super fun and rippable left-hander in front of the Morro Negrito Surf Camp. This wave is better on higher tides and with a solid 4-6 ft swell.
Bocas Del Toro
Located at the north side of the Island, this is a left-hander that breaks on top of a reef. Recommended for intermediate and advanced surfers. The backdrop scenery is amazing.
This surf spot is a very strong shore break. The waves are powerful so be careful with yourself and your equipment. Located at the end of Colon Island.
This surf spot is probably the most famous of Bocas Del Toro. It’s a heavy right-hander located at Bastimento Island. It’s often compared to Hawaiian waves like Backdoor and Sunset Beach. Former world champion, Sunny Garcia, described it as one of the heaviest waves that he ever surfed!
What is your traveling style?
Luxury / Nice / Upscale Surfing in Panama
If you want to lay low and relax in an amazing tropical destination you have to visit Bocas Del Toro. At Bastimento Island you will find the best option for a sophisticated accommodation that will allow you to have the best and most relaxing vacation of your life. The island is surrounded by nature and the scenery is breathtaking. You will find yourself at stunning beaches and witness monkeys swinging in the treetops. Trails through the rainforest will lead you to hidden waterfalls with turquoise lagoons. The flora and fauna are abundant and untouched. Add to that the hospitality of the Panamanian people and the surf breaks of the area are amazing. You can expect nothing but good times here.
Prices per night are from 220-530 USD.
Budget Surfing in Panama
Panama is a relatively cheap country compared to the neighbor country Costa Rica for example. There are many hostels on the most famous touristic destinations that will suit your budget perfectly (15-20 USD per night). The food is tasty and also cheap. If you don’t want to go to fancy restaurants every day you can easily survive with 12-20 USD per day. Since you won’t need to rent a car to surf in most towns like Santa Catalina or Bocas Del Toro, you can save a lot of money going around the country by bus. After all, all you really need to enjoy your vacations are perfect waves and the Caribbean island lifestyle.
Kids and Teen Surf Camps
Panama has waves for everyone. If you want to learn how to surf there are many surf schools scattered all over the country. They will provide you with the right equipment and the best surf instructors to make the most of your time. Surf lessons usually take 3 hours (1h theory at the beach and 2h practice at the ocean) and cost 50-80 USD.
If you are traveling with a group you should definitely consider going to Panama. Surfing in the country is still way less crowded than the most famous neighbor Costa Rica. You will be able to find empty line ups that you will share with your friends only. All you have to do is to look for a lonely beach or an offshore island. You will have many options for uncrowded, warm water, perfect waves. There are many accommodations that will provide comfortable rooms for everyone and all you need to have an amazing time with your best mates.
Panama Travelling Guide
What should I pack for a surf holiday in Panama?
Panama has warm weather all year round so don’t worry about heavy jackets or pants when you pack your bag. You will need lots of shirts and a few boardshorts/bikinis. The water is also warm so leave your wetsuit at home. Try to pack light if you are going to travel around a lot, especially if you are already carrying a big board bag.
Panama adopts the same electrical plug standards as the US. So if you are not from North America you will need an adaptor to charge your electronic devices.
You can get a sim card at the airports. A sim card is always a good idea since it makes it easier to move around, and also to make your friends and family jealous with all the amazing pictures you will be posting.
Basic Info for Panama
Panama is a Spanish speaking country. Tourism is one of the biggest activities in the country so many locals speak fluent English. The local currency is Balboa, along with the US Dollar.. 1 PAB is equal to 1 USD, so no need to exchange your dollars, although you might get some change in the local currency.
Before Going to Panama
Visa / Documents
- US citizens do not need a visa if they are staying for less than 180 days. They only need to provide a passport with two blank pages that are valid for at least 3 months after the day of departure.
- Australians as well do not need a previous visa to enter the country. A valid passport for 3 months and at least two blank pages in your passport are enough to enter the country.
- Most European countries do not need a visa to enter Panama. Only a valid passport with two blank pages and valid for at least 3-6 months after the departure of the visitor. Please check the list at the embassy website: https://www.embassyofpanama.org/visas-1/
Vaccines / Health
- The CDC recommends the following vaccines for those who are going to Panama: typhoid, hepatitis A and B, yellow fever, rabies, and influenza.
- Malaria tablets are also recommended but not necessarily required.
- The heat can get really intense so don’t forget to drink lots of water and use sunscreen constantly while surfing.
Getting to Panama
The international airport of Tocumen is located in Panama City and it’s the most common gateway to arrive in the country. A flight ticket from Miami to Panama City and return is around 700 USD. If you are flying from Brazil, the ticket from Sao Paulo to Panama City is about the same price (700 USD). From Sydney, you can find flights from around 1,500 USD. Be careful with which airline you choose. Some of them only allow you to bring two surfboards inside each board bag.
If you are on a trip around Central America you might cross the border by car or bus through the north side of the country. You can also come to Bocas Del Toro by boat from the Caribbean side of Costa Rica (ex: Puerto Viejo to Bocas Del Toro by boat costs 35-45 USD).
Moving Around Panama
The roads in Panama are one of the best ones in Central America. The Inter American Road crosses the country from east to west and is very well paved. If you don’t have time for a road trip you can fly from Panama City to David to have quick access to the west side of the country. You can also fly directly to Isla Colon International Airport if you are going to Bocas Del Toro.
If you want to explore the country and stop in different spots along the coast you can easily rent a car at the capital. All the big rental car brands can be found in Panama City and in other famous touristic towns.
The best and most charming way to move around in Bocas Del Toro is by bike. It’s very enjoyable to go around the uncrowded streets of the islands. You can find rentals on Main Street for 5 USD per day.
Boats are very useful to explore the offshore islands of Panama. At Bocas del Toro you will find taxi boats to make a transit from one island to another, or to take you to the surf spots.
Panama is relatively cheap compared to Australia or the US. You can get a nice set meal for 4-6 USD per person. If you want more sophisticated food you will find many options for restaurants or cafes with meals around 10-25 USD per person.
Finding the best accommodation for you will depend on your budget. You can stay at a nice hostel for 20 USD per night or in an amazing resort for 200 USD per night.
Bringing your own equipment is always better, but if you are going to surf just for a couple of days and don’t want to bring your board it’s possible to rent one. Prices are from 15-30 USD per day depending on what kind of board you are looking for. If you rent the board per week you can get better prices. However, if you are going for remote locations like Morro Negrito, you won’t find many options for renting there.
You can buy a sim card at the airport of Tocumen right after you pick up your luggage. Prices are around 5 USD for 800MB.
There are buses leaving every hour from the central station at Albrook Mall. There are many bus companies doing lots of different routes (Padafront, Expreso Veraguense, Sanpasa, Panaline, and Terminal David-Panama). The price for a ticket from for example Panama City to David cost around 30 USD.
Bocas Del Toro is an offshore island and you will need to get a water taxi in order to get there. The ride from Almirante to the islands costs around 6-10 USD, depending on which one you are going to.
The price of gas in Panama is the same as in the US, around 0,80 USD per liter.
Other things to do while Surfing in Panama
Discover Panama’s famous national dishes
The food in Panama is very simple but tasteful. A classic set meal would be rice, beans, fried chicken and fried plantains. The plantains chips and the fried chicken are delicious and will give you all the energy you need to surf non stop for hours. There are many vegan and vegetarian-friendly restaurants scattered all over the country, so there’s no need for vegetarians to worry about finding nice meals.
Sightseeing - Culture in Panama
If you want to take a break from the beach you can go mountain biking in the mountains of Chiriqui. Over there you will be able to do many hikes and go up the Baru Volcano. You will have a 360-degree view from the top and also be able to see both the Pacific and the Atlantic ocean.
There are multiple tours available that will take you around the country to explore indigenous tribes, mountain bikes in the highlands of Chiriqui and visit the famous Panama Canal. These tours usually take 5 days so save some time for this if you want to do more than surfing and relaxing in paradise.
Type of Risks
Tide variations are very big in Panama so be aware of exposed sharp rocks and shallow reefs while surfing. Always try to talk to a local before surfing to learn the best way and time to paddle out. Wearing booties is always a good idea if you are not familiarized with the surf spot.
Panama’s coastline is the habitat of many kinds of alligators and crocodiles. Be extra careful when surfing near river mouths and mangrove areas.
Also, be careful with rip tides and strong currents, especially when you don’t have your surfboard with you. The locals are usually friendly and can give you important tips about where to go to avoid strong currents and where it’s okay to swim.
How to Prepare
When you are surfing long-burning leg waves you are constantly paddling back to the line-up. It’s a good idea to get yourself fit before going on a surf trip. By getting in shape you can avoid injuries and get the most out of your surfing vacation.
A week before you go on vacation you can learn what the waves will be like exactly where you are going. You can get prepared and pack the right set of boards that will perform better on the waves that are coming. Checking the forecast is also a good idea when you are mobile and chase the swells. Here are a few websites where you can check the forecast for the waves in Panama:
When you are going on vacation it’s always good to think about getting insurance, just in case. Here are a few insurance companies that will provide their services if you are going to Panama:
Sometimes your vacations don’t go the way you plan. In that case, it’s always good to have a backup plan. If you are in Panama City you will find many medical facilities that will deal with any kind of sickness or injury. Bocas Del Toro is a famous touristic destination and the clinics there are prepared to deal with minor medical situations, but if something serious happens you will need to be removed to Panama City. If you are going to a remote location like Morro Negrito or Cambutal, it’s a good idea to get yourself an insurance that covers medical evacuations. These situations can be extremely expensive but there is no other option if you are in real need of medical care.
Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center
3.1 (169) · Medical Center
449 W 23rd St · +1 850-769-8341
Open 24 hours
"I would not hesitate to use this hospital again if I need medical care..."
Bay Medical Sacred Heart
2.1 (198) · Hospital
615 N Bonita Ave · +1 850-769-1511
Open 24 hours
Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Panama City
4.1 (21) · Hospital
1847 Florida Ave · +1 850-914-8600
Open 24 hours
Playa Venao, Cambutal, Playa Guanico, Boca de Oria Surf Club Las Escobas del Venado, Oria de Arriba. Surfing in Panama
From 18 $/night • max. 130 people - 30 Rooms • REF. # 375343
"Heaven on earth" our Playa Venao Surf Club & Hostel is located in the very same white sand beach. The playground fusions with the sand of the beach, making them feel the vibration of nature. Although it is a perfect spot for surfing, Playa Venao is much more than just a surfing retreat. Here guests can amuse themselves during the day with many outdoor activities (yoga, surf, hiking, visiting hidden beaches, whale watching, sea turtle watching, etc.) and during the night there are always activities available (pool tournaments, music events, movie nights, karaoke, eat and meet, etc.). Venao is a place to reconnect with oneself.
From 15 $/night • max. 140 people - 39 Rooms • REF. # 376920
Few people know about Panama's surfing potential, and it still remains off the radar for the majority of the surfing community, which is a big plus for surfers who come to stay Bocas del Toro Surf Hostel. The Surf Club is located on the beautiful Bastimentos Island, where you only can only come by boat (only 10 min from Bocas Town). Just on the Red Frog beach, an amazing place with crystal-clear water and the captivating energy that will make you want to stay.
From 86 $/night • max. people - Rooms • REF. # 147440
Morro Negrito is formed by two islands: The Big island and the Small island. There are no more than twenty surfers at a time, so the dozen breaks on the islands are never crowded.
From 90 $/night • max. 30+ people - 14 Rooms • REF. # 148637
Playa Venao offers a 2 - 6 foot, smooth wave with a 50m to 150m ride, perfect for the novice to advanced.The uncrowded privacy of a great beach and hotel will make an enjoyable getaway where you can learn surfing, enjoy the relaxing sounds of the beach from your hammock. 14 comfortable rooms open out to the beach. Each room has it's own bathroom and hammock outside the door. Day trip to Isla Iguana, Mangrove tours, jungle hikes and waterfalls and plenty of other activities to make your Panama trip memories even more vivid!
From 85 $/night • max. 50 people - 10 Rooms • REF. # 235939
Explore and Conquer all of Costa Rica's waves. Chase the swells, escape the crowds, find your own private breaks. This is the best option to surf the best waves in the country. Explore all of Costa Rica with these fully camping equipped 4x4's - no limits. All inclusive.
From 219 $/night • max. 50+ people - 25+ Rooms • REF. # 362192
Uncover stunning beaches and bright blue morpho butterflies. Bocas del Toro is truly a wave of paradise like none other that surfers everywhere will be thrilled to experience. At Bastimentos Surf Resort, you’ll find sophisticated accommodations with Caribbean hospitality amidst centuries-old charm in a setting that nature itself designed.
From 239 $/night • max. 27 people - 11 Rooms • REF. # 383548
Playa Cambutal Surf & Yoga Retreat is an intimate beachfront resort that specializes in world-class yoga retreats, salty surf sessions, and experiential adventures. Our goal: to inspire and be inspired, to encourage the conscientious traveler to tap into their potential and explore new heights. We provide a safe and supportive environment- with an abundance of adventure, nature, and fun- for you to explore with like-minded individuals.
From 65 $/night • max. 7 people - 3 Rooms • REF. # 385537
Bocas del Toro Over the Water Surf House located just minutes outside the center of Bocas Town on Isla Colón with the best sunsets in town. We offer bikes and kayaks for our guests and we are minutes away by bike or boat to the best surf spots in Bocas del Toro. Just a few minutes walk the nearest convenience store. Exprience Bocas like a local while staying with us in the over-the-sea community of Saigon Bay just minutes outside the center of Bocas Town.
From 18 €/night • max. 25 people - 8 Rooms • REF. # 380152
Playa Guanico Surf Hostel is located directly at the beach with a breath-taking view on the Pacific Ocean, the green hills of the natural turtle park and the great surf break of Guanico Beach. The camp provides a wide range of accommodations for individuals, backpackers and groups at different price levels. The bar and lounge create a wonderful mix of chill out atmosphere surrounded by the exotic paradise of Guanico Beach. We engaged all our efforts to create the ideal location for all travelers.
From $61 $/night • max. 60 people - 30 Rooms • REF. # 402771
Holà! Bonjour ! Hi !
Tipi Hostel Playa Venao is uniquely located on one of the most beautiful beaches in Panama, Playa Venao is stretching over two and a half miles of beautiful shoreline. Playa Venao also called the heart of the earth is a surfer's paradise for beginners as well as experienced ones.
In Playa Venao you have up to 20 places where you can go to eat, you have a little supermarket and many things to do around :Surf trip to different surf spots ,Isla Iguana tour, Isla Canas tour, fishing tour, yoga etc...
From $ 88.3 $/night • max. 60 people - 40 Rooms • REF. # 402821
Playa Venao Hotel Resort is uniquely located on one of the most beautiful beaches in Panama, stretching over two and a half miles of beautiful shoreline.
Here you will be able to enjoy luxurious service and amenities exclusive to the hotel.
Right in front of the main surf break of the beach, our 4 different kind of rooms offer you comfort & privacy during your stay. You will have your live forecast all day long !
Deluxe Surf Experience Playa Venao offers 3 packages that include : nights in Playa Venao Hotel Resort + breakfast everyday + a long surfclass per day or 2 shorts +unilimited rental during all your stay :)