SANTA CATALINA | Panama
We finally arrived in Santa Catalina a day late once the protesting outside of Bocas Del Toro had stopped! Santa Catalina is located on a peninsula on the Pacific side of Panama. The extremely tiny town is known for its incredible surf breaks and for its proximity to Isla Coiba, one of Panama’s protected national parks. There is no ATM and no place to buy groceries other than a small tienda. Other than a few hotels, restaurants, surf and dive shops, it is vacant ocean front property waiting to be explored! We spent two nights at Hotel Las Hamacas.
Our journey to Santa Catalina was a challenging one. After being ripped off and sold fake bus tickets, we were stranded in a city called Davíd a few hours north of Santa Catalina. It was late in the afternoon and the only option to travel to Santa Catalina at that time was an expensive taxi ride. The bus driver from Bocas knew we’d been scammed and helped us find a driver willing to make the trip. By the looks of the car that pulled up, the man driving, and his wife knitting in the passenger seat we’re pretty sure he called one of his family members and asked if they needed some extra money. We were thankful nonetheless! The original bus driver told us and the new taxi driver that the trip would take two hours from Davíd to Santa Catalina, but he was way off. Three hours into the drive, the driver realized how far the trip actually was and insisted we pay him more money to continue. Another hour later (four hours total) we arrived in Santa Catalina. The poor driver and his wife had to return to Davíd that night! Despite their long trip home, they treated us so kindly.
The early morning of our first day, I found a treetop yoga studio at La Buena Vida Hotel. It was a beautiful place! We spent the rest of the morning on bikes exploring the area and visiting the beaches. It only took about ten minutes on a bike to ride from one side of town to another luckily, because we were exhausted from the travel day beforehand. That afternoon we took a much-needed rest! As fun as traveling is, it can take a lot out of you!
We spent our second day at Isla Coiba, the national park. We booked the trip through local company. It’s an hour boat ride from Santa Catalina and is comprised of many small uninhabited islands with beautiful rocky cliffs and towering palm trees. The snorkeling was incredible! We snorkeled three different spots around the islands. Brightly colored coral covered the sea floor and we saw many different species of fish. The last stop on the snorkeling excursion we were lucky enough to see a white tip shark and a sea turtle. The main island, Coiba Island, was home to Coiba Island Prison from 1919 - 2004. Up to 1,300 of the countries most dangerous inmates were housed here. Now, a few old buildings remain, along with a small museum.
April 7th popped up on us while in Santa Catalina… our six-month wedding anniversary. And we love any excuse to celebrate! We researched the best restaurant in the teeny town for our big accomplishment. A place called Chano's Point had raving reviews for its seafood so we decided to check it out. We rode our rented bike cruisers and as we neared the restaurant the paved road quickly turned to bumpy dirt (this has become very common). We pulled up to a ‘smaller than small’ wooden shack with three tables outside and a couple of dogs running around. The kitchen was the size of a closet. We both looked at each other laughing and asked, "What did we get ourselves into?” A middle aged man walked out with a grey sweaty t-shirt and asked us if we could give him twenty minutes, as he wasn't prepared to start cooking yet. We laughed, agreed, and walked down to the coast. On our walk we climbed to the tip of a rocky peninsula and had a beer while watching the sunset over one of the most famous and dangerous surf breaks in Central America. When we returned half an hour later the chef/owner/sweaty man was ready! We looked over the chalkboard menu...Ron chose the seafood pasta, and I picked the tuna steak. The food was the absolute BEST and freshest seafood we’ve ever tasted. We were blown away! Still, we are raving and comparing every restaurant to Chano’s Point!
The next day we boarded a bus (with a real bus ticket!) to Panama City, Panama! Hefners out!
Arriving at one of the islands that make up the national park.
The beach of one of the small islands.
Snorkeling the reefs around the islands.
So many beautiful and colorful fish!
Arriving at Coiba Island, which hosted the penitentiary for eighty-five years.
A whale skeleton.
The view from Coiba Island.