Santa Catalina is a small fisher town at the Pacific coast of Panama. It is known for its surf and diving and snorkeling trips to Isla de Coiba. The main reason for me was to catch some waves at the breaks here. During my stay here I booked a snorkeling trip around the Isla Coiba which I was glad I did that afterwards. Santa Catalina is a perfect stop on your way to Boquete and further Bocas del Toro.
From Panama City it is a trip of about 7 to 8 hours to Santa Catalina. Take the direct bus from “El Terminal de Albrook” in Panama City to Soná. Change buses in Soná to Santa Catalina. Please be aware that you take into account that the busses don’t leave often only at 5:50AM, 8:40AM, 11:20AM, 1:30PM, 3:00PM and 4:45PM. A taxi could be an alternative.
If you travel from Santa Catalina to Boquete you can take the shuttle bus that the company Hello Travel Panama offers (duration 5 hours for $35). I booked with the same company from Boquete to Bocas del Toro, that costs me $30 and took me 4,5 hours. This saves a lot of time, transfers and the bus is comfortable and not too busy, but of course more expensive.
Tip: Book the shuttle buses a couple of days in advance; they could get filled up fast during the high season and early hours.
The main activities you can do in Santa Catalina are surfing and diving and or snorkeling.
I surfed mainly on the beach break of Playa Estero. The other breaks where heavy reef breaks. So for every level you have waves in this area. For me it was a long walk from my hotel with my board all the time, I could leave my board at the Oasis Surf Camp that is opposite of the river mouth. Very chill place to hang out. You can sleep here too, although you are far away from the center of Santa Catalina. The wave was mellow and good in the morning, in the afternoon the wind picked up messing up the waves.
The snorkeling tour to the Coiba National Park I booked at Coiba Dive Center for $60 for a full day including lunch, snorkeling gear and guide. It was a long day and we visited in total four places, three snorkeling stops and one lunch break at Isla Coiba itself. I thought that this side of the ocean was less beautiful (compared to the San Blas islands….), but that was not true at all!!
The waters are so clear and full with spectacular marine life. Saw many turtles and lot of exotic fish during the snorkeling tours. You have some free time on the main island where we saw monkeys and lizards. Unfortunately I didn’t see the white tip reef shark that is well spotted here. I really recommend doing a trip like this!!
Accommodation and Restaurants
On the main road the lovely villas of La Buena Vida are located; you can recognize the hotel and restaurant by the colorful mosaics. I had a good breakfast here a couple of times and the shops sell nice goodies and you can practice yoga here as well. The people are very helpful getting you familiar around in the area. I could not stay here because it was fully booked, but the owner built the new hotel Las Hamacas up the road to Playa Estero. It was brand new when I stayed there, a whole apartment for myself at a good price, but think I was very lucky. But around Santa Catalina are many accommodations for every price range.
I good recommendation in a town full of pizza places is the seafood restaurant El Encuentro, the Ceviche Peruano is sooooo good!!!! There many more places, just check for yourself and feel what is good. The pizza place at the local restaurant Yolo is good too.