Boasting world-class surf and beautiful beaches, SANTA CATALINA is considered by many to have the most impressive waves in Panama. Catalina’s popularity has skyrocketed in the last decade, through surf tourism and as the jumping-off point for Isla Coiba, which offers similarly world-class diving, but the distance from major cities and airports has left this small fishing village fairly well preserved.
The village and most of its businesses – many owned by expats – are based around the main street, the road from Soná, which ends where the concrete meets Santa Catalina beach. It is an unimpressive pebble-strewn strip, where the fishermen pull up their boats and unload their catch, and where boats leave for Coiba. Most of the accommodation and restaurants are located off what is often called the beach road, which deviates left at the public phone box, ending 2km later in the swath of sand that is Playa del Estero. This is a far nicer beach, where most of the surf classes take place. If you can’t afford to go to Coiba, you’ll find plenty of decent snorkelling and nice white sands at the nearby islands of Santa Catalina and Cébaco.