Although many people immediately associate Panama with either the Canal or the famous Van Halen “Panama” song, Panama is also home to many fabulous beach destinations. Still lagging behind Costa Rica and Mexico’s development of tourism and beach-side resorts, you can still find great deals, inexpensive hotels and hostels and cheap eats at many of these tropical beach destinations. However, the tourism industry in Panama is on the brink of major new developments and soon sleepy beach towns and islands will become host to mega resorts, higher prices and more gringo tourists.
Comarca Kuna Yala
This is the premiere beach destination in Panama and comprises about 350 picture-perfect beaches. The white sand, the blue water, the palm trees, everything is as it should be in a Caribbean paradise. Scuba is prohibited here and you’ll stay in rustic houses but , to be honest, you only travel here to swim , enjoy the sand and stay in the hammock.
Bocas del Toro
A group of small islands situated on the Caribbean close to the Costa Rica border, this beach destination has long been discovered by backpackers and is on its way to more major outside tourist development. Although slightly more expensive and touristy than the rest of Panama, the island is still home to a plethora cheap hostels and inexpensive hotels. Drawing mostly a younger crowd, many travel here to bask in the sun during the day and party at night. Just a short boat taxi ride away is Isla Bastimentos, where you will find Red Frog Beach and Wizard Beach. It is also definitely worth shelling out the extra bucks to take a boat out to the National Park located on Isla Zapatilla, where you will find a pristine white-sand beach, clear blue waters.
Isla Bastimentos National Park offers excellent beaches, such as Red Frog Beach, Wizard Beach, and Playa Larga, which can be reached by a short walk or hike.
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This rather remote surfer’s haven on the Pacific Coast will not disappoint. Still a sleepy fishing village (though much beach front property has recently been snatched up by foreign investors for development), Santa Catalina offers spectacular views of green, jungle covered bluffs dropping into the ocean, a huge black sand beach, and great breaks for surfers.
For divers, a boat ride to the nearby Isla Coiba will take you to an amazing marine preserve and provide for an amazing dive where you can see dolphins, whale and bull sharks, coral and a plethora of tropical fish. Isla Coiba is often compared to the Galapagos because of the unique eco-system.
Las Perlas Archipelago
This location offers excellent snorkeling spots, calm water for swimming and white beaches. Outside of the holidays and the high season you won’t find crowds here, so it’s excellent place to allow the time to stand still for a while.
It may not be the most beautiful beach in Panama, but the swimming is excellent and the long (13km) beaches allows for plenty of walking…or jogging. Bring your own snacks. If you look for something closer to Boquete , visit La Barqueta but keep in mind it’s not a good option for swimming (strong currents). But it’s good for walking.
It offers a lot of beaches but the cleanest are Playa Los Destiladores and Playa Venado. They are also the most attractive but are less tropical (due to the deforestation in the region).
The Pacific Beaches
Playa Blanca and Santa Clara , although not very impressive, are a good option for a day trip from Panama City. However, these are the beaches which include full service, complete with all-inclusive resort, exactly the opposite the ones mentioned above.