Santa Catalina (Panama)
Santa Catalina is a small beach-side town on the Pacific coast of Veraguas, Panama. Santa Catalina is known for fishing, surfing, snorkeling, and SCUBA diving. Most visitors will exploit its proximity to Coiba National Marine Park.
Santa Catalina has a population of around 300 people and an expat community of about another 50 people. Most of the townspeople speak only Spanish.
Cell reception is spotty, and internet access is non-existent even in the hotels. There are no ATMs and credit cards are generally not accepted. Be sure to pack enough cash.
There is one internet cafe outside of town limits, about a 20 minute walk up the main road.
Santa Catalina is accessible via a single road from Sona. The road from Sona to Santa Catalina is brand new (May 2013) but curvy. It is NOT recommendable to drive there at night, since cows, dogs or other unexpected "traffic" can be quite dangerous.
A local bus runs 2-3 times a day between Santa Catalina and Sona for a cost of $4 and takes around 2 hours. The San Isidro bus line connects Sona to Panama City, at a cost of $8 and another 5 hours of travel time.
Taking a taxi from Sona is a little faster than the bus and costs $40.
On foot, one can walk the entire town including both beaches in about 2 hours. There are two major roads that intersect at the town center which allow access by car.
Both beaches, Playa Estero and the smaller one at the end of the major road through the town are idyllic.
As one may gather from the hammocks strung up on nearly every piece of property, the primary pastime in Santa Catalina is chilling out.
Places to visit around Santa Catalina:
- Hicaco beach' Only seven kilometers from Santa Catalina, back in direction to Sona, there is a nice little fishing town called Hicaco. Coming from Catalina, turn right at the police station and follow the road (gravel) till the end. Leave your car up on the bluff and walk down to Hicaco beach that stretches for several kilometers in direction to Punta Brava and the open ocean.From here you can even walk back to Santa Catalina, its a beautiful hike along the coast. Bring water and only go during low tide hours, it is approx. 3,5 hrs of walking!
- Lagartero beach Only ten kilometers from Santa Catalina. Turn right (coming from Santa Catalina) at the Hotel Hibiscusgarden sign and follow the gravel road down to the beach. Nice for swimming with the high tide, incredible horse back riding, beach combing and bird watching with the low tide. Not one single house on the whole stretch of beach (9 kms) except the Hotel Hibiscusgarden. This beach is perfectly suited for kite surfing (in the dry season) since its north/ south direction and features perfect and consistent side shore winds with speeds around 15kts.
- Arrimadero beach Instead of going right at the crossroads in El Tigre (in direction to Sona), turn left (coming from Santa Catalina)and follow the new road to Playa Banco and Playa Arrimadero,the latter one of most beautiful beaches (yellow sands, clear water)you can reach by car in the whole area!
- Golfo de Montijo islands Several islands of varying sizes offer incredible fishing, birding and other leisure time activities. Cebaco (panamas 3rd biggest island) is world famous for sport fishing.
"- Horse back riding" Enjoy nature from the back of a horse. Trips can be arranged via "Hotel Hibiscusgarden",
Santa Catalina has one tiny store in the middle of town which sells random toiletries, canned goods and produce.
Fresh produce is sold off of trucks which can be a welcome midday snack, and fishermen gather by the mango tree to sell their daily catch.
There are few independent restaurants; see the sleep or drink section for information on hotels or bars that serve food.
All of the bars in Santa Catalina close their doors at 10 and this is tightly enforced. Drinks start at $1
Transporting open containers is allowed, but consuming them in public is not. Be careful, the police are bored.
The town has no hospital, doctor, or even a pharmacy. The one general store does not sell condoms.
Although you won't get malaria from the mosquitos in Santa Catalina, they are still relentless and walking around with hundreds of bites can be a major drag. Sand flies (chitras) are rarer but can inflict quite painful stings. If you invest in one piece of personal care product for your trip, make it good insect repellant.
If you plan to take a dip into the open waters of the Pacific a wetsuit is highly recommended. The water is warm enough (unless you're diving), but the larger concern is these string-like jellyfish which some people discover they're violently allergic to.
Pack appropriately, as the nearest hospital is at least an hour away in Sona. Visits to specialists will require a trip to Santiago, another hour further still.
Aside from the usual crimes of passion, the town is extremely close-knit and serious crime is unheard of.
There is the occasional petty theft, so the usual precautions apply.
Drug dealers will solicit you but are quite timid as the police take drug enforcement very seriously. Simply ignoring them works best.
The townspeople, including the police, do aggressively cat-call women which takes the usual Panamanian form of hissing. Women do best to just ignore these advances, as responding appears to simply encourage their behavior.