LAST UPDATED 28/11/2007
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Prime position on the Santa Catalina coastline
Awesome travel and surfing in Panama! This website is dedicated to surfing islands and coasts for..

Level of surfing


Quality of surf


Call code


Net code





0 km


Tropical Maritime


Cyclones, Extreme Heat, Severe Storms, Coup / Civil Unrest

Best Months

October - December




US Dollar (USD)

Time Zone


Special Requirements

Private Beaches


The Flag of Panama

Panama is a Spanish speaking country located in Central America. It has it's west coastline on the North Pacific Ocean and it's east coastline on the Caribbean Sea and Colombia on it's border to the south and Costa Rica on its northern border. It is strategically placed as the bridging land between North and South America and is home to the Panama Canal which links the Pacific to the Caribbean to create one of the most important shipping lanes in the world.

The main religion in Panama is Roman Catholic with around 80% of the population being of this faith. 


Official US Navy Photograph#80-G-701369; USS Missouri Panama Canal; 13.10.1945

Panama became independent from Columbia in 1903 and celebrates its Independence Day on the third of November every year. This was done with the aid and protection of the United States who promptly signed a treaty with Panama allowing the construction of the Panama Canal and granting the US sovereignty of the strip of land either side of the canal. The canal was then constructed by US army engineers between 1904 and 1914.

On September 7th 1977 and agreement was signed for the complete transfer of the Panama Canal back to Panama from the US by the end of 1999. 


Sabine Cretella: Republic of Panama; 2006

Did you know that the Atlantic and Pacific oceans lie at different heights? Its true, dominant weather patterns and ambient atmospheric pressure generally keep the height of each ocean about 20 feet apart. The Panama canal sorts it out in a series of locks when they transport ships from one side to the other. With no locks you would have 40,000 tonne merchant ships tumbling along an endless flume ride as one ocean attempted to drain the other.

Um, the point is that Panama has two surfing coasts, one on the Pacific and one on the Atlantic. The pacific coast is by far the more superior with the liquid gem that is Santa Catalina, bring your crowd repellant.

A pitching deck, the creak of well worn timbers, the cracking of sail and canvas...tied to the mast.  Things have changed a little I guess from when Jack London and  Josef Conrad wrote their haunting Pacific infused epics but it hasnt changed everythwhere. There are corners of this earth where that mythos still holds true, and most of those  corners are here in the South Pacific.

The main source of swell here is from the intense lows that circle the earth south of Australia, these lows spin off northwards with blessed regularity, peppering the entire region with generous SE to SW groundswell from March to September. Australia and New Zealand see the bulk of these swells. These countries cast a very tall shadow across the rest of the Pacific and hence many other islands in their wake can suffer from swell difusion. December to February is cyclone season. Unpredictable cells can deliver swell in a 360 radius, lighting up rarely breaking reefs and points facing every conceivable direction. 

The South Pacific trade winds are some of the most consistent in the world, generally from the East with slight seasonal variation. This is the largest Ocean on the planet and these winds easily generate regular rideable swell. Onshore conditions can be a problem on east facing coastlines but peeling yourself out for an early surf will usually bring some relief.

In the North Pacific it is the intense lows descending from the Aleutians that deliver NE to NW swells from October to March. Hawaii is ideally placed to make best use of this energy but other coastlines in the region have their own less publicised and far less crowded gems.

Jun to October also sees rarer hurricane swell radiate out from southern Mexico. This energy is often felt right throughout Polynesia. With so many energy vectors at work it is very hard not to find a wave in Panama. It's just a matter of finding the right one.  

The Caribbean, she is a harsh mistress. All of the islands in the Greater and Lesser Antilles share at least some aspect towards the North Atlantic and therefore are exposed to any passing fronts that generate of the East American Coast and transit the North Atlantic. These fronts often pass a good way to the north and swell decay can be a problem.

Regular windswell is a constant on the east coast of all of the island groups and hence there is almost always something to keep you occupied and off the rum for a few hours. too much wind can be a bad thing though and onshore days are very common, no matter how early in the morning you manage to peel yourself out of your cot and stumble down to the beach.

The third source of swell in the region are from passing hurricanes. Some of the strongest storm ever recorded on the planet file through here regularly. Technically the season spans June to November with early September being the peak. The ideal scenario is for the hurricane mass to pass clear of any inhabited areas and sit well offshore in the deep Carribean for a few days prior to disipating. The result is typically 3-5 days of western swell that lights up the hidden western points and reefs of the Caribbean. The persistant NE/E trade winds will gently fan these breaks all day long. It is then that some of the rarer points and breaks of Panama come to life. Surf exploration doesent get any better than this.



Liftarn; Boeing 747; 21.03.2007

Panama has an international airport at Tocumen which lies about 20 miles east of Panama city. To get into the city from here there are options of taxi, bus or rent a car. Panama has more private airstrips per square mile than any other country in the world making comestic air travel a convenient and realistic way to travel around the country, and most effective for some of the more remote regions.

You can travel around Panama by car quite readily but some of the roads can be extremely busy and also make sure all your legal papers are in order, the traffic police here are quite keen and you will get stopped many times during your travels.

There are bus services that operate to many places in Panama and this is a cheap but much less convenient way to travel.


Thomas Splettstoesser: Ocean Circulation Conveyor Belt, 2007-11-21

Panama has a tropical maritime climate characterised by two seasons during the year, a dry season from December to April and a wet season from May to November. With coasts fronting two different oceans there are periods of rain and sunshine alternating throughout the year. While Panama experiences a dry and wet season, generally the rains along the Caribbean or Atlantic coast tend to be more constant and persist for longer periods of time, while those on the Pacific coast enjoy less rain and a more distinct monsoon climate. Though both coasts offer surfing possibilities, warm water temperatures, offshore winds and large swell window, the dry season can see the Pacific coast in a perfect surfing climate.   Temperatures are reasonably constant year-round, though the wet season highs are slightly lower than those of the late dry season.

Dry Season (December-April)

The northern hemisphere subtropical ridge over the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the equatorial trough (trade wind convergence), are moved southward during Northern Hemisphere winter.  This means the convergence zone is south of Panama and the northern trade winds dominate. Prevailing winds then are from the northeast, and perfectly offshore along the Pacific coast, seeing Panama’s most famous wave Santa Catalina produce perfect barrels. On the Pacific coast strong trade winds can overcome sea breezes for all-day sessions.  On the Caribbean side, the sea breeze is enhanced so hit the beaches early in between showers. Panama's weather displays little temperature change during the year, mean highs range between 31C and 33°C, and mean lows are 24 to 25°C. As a transition month, December has some rainfall; about 5 days a month, while January to April have very little.

Wet Season (May-November)

The northern hemisphere subtropical ridge and equatorial trough (convergence zone) move northward during Northern Hemisphere summer so that the equatorial trough lies across Panama. South of the convergence zone, southwest flow transports tropical maritime moisture laden air over the area. This brings cloudy, hot, and humid weather with frequent rain showers and thunderstorms across the country, particularly the Pacific coast, that also gets almost constant onshore winds, shutting down a lot of the surfing opportunities.  Panama's weather displays little temperature change during the year, though wet season temperatures are slightly lower due to cloud cover restricting surface heating somewhat. The mean highs range between 30C and 31°C, while mean lows are 24 to 25°C.  Most of the country’s rainfall falls in this season with 15-20 days per month of rainfall.

where to stay

Beneton26; Panama city skyline; 10.10.2007

Panama has many places to stay to suit every budget from lutxurious and plush Marriot Hotels to bed & breakfasts and backpackers hostels based on dorm style accommodation, it just depends on how much you want to spend. There are also resort type hotels out of the main city of Panama and Rio Mar Surf Camp is popular with the wave hungry travellers, it has several great surf spots all within a short car ride away.

what to pack

Xavigivax: A beach towel; 13 November 2007

There is a rainy season from May to October (so take an umbrella and pack accordingly) and a dry season from November to April.The coast is hot all year, so cotton shirts or blouses are best. Make sure you take a good sunscreen (SPF 30+) and a good insect repellent. Hat and natural fabrics (such as cotton or linen) clothes will be very useful. Light coat or sweater can become handy since some nights are fresher or you might get a bad weather. Raincoat and rubberboots with light, long trousers if you plan bushwalking. Waterproof bag will be great for the rainy season.  
You won't regret swimming & snorkelling gear and a quick drying towel! And take films and memory cards with you  (can be hard to find and expensive). Little swiss knife and a good torch will be useful. Anti-malaria drugs (Aralen) and all the medicines you use on a daily basis.

dangers and warnings

Uncredited WPA photographer; Ouch injection; 05.03.1941

Most of Panama City is considered safe and locals in rural areas are generally very friendly and helpful. If you are travelling to Central America for the first time and are paranoid about safety then this would be a great place to start to ease yourself in. However, as with travelling anywhere do use your common travel sense and don't go flashing cash or valuables around or leave belongings unattended and be vigilant about entering dark alleys or going off the beaten track at night.

The city of Colon is considered dangerous and travel there should be avoided as are a suburbs of Panama City such as El Chorrillo and Curundu.

A yellow fever vaccination is required for travel to some areas in Panama and Dengue fever can be rife in some places to. Check with your doctor for advice before travelling. 

restaurants, shopping and nightlife

Alexandra Studios; window shoppers; 1937


There are many cuisines available in Panama City such as Indian, Arabic, Italian, Chinese and Mexican. Much of the Panamanian food is heavily influenced from Caribbean cooking, more so than the rest of Central America and if you're tired of eating beans on your CA trip then head to Panama for something a little different.


The currency in Panama is the US Dollar or the Balboa, which has the same value as the US Dollar but is only available in coin denominations.

Traditional Panamanian crafts can be found most cheaply at artesania markets. In Panama City, the best are found at the market in Balboa, with the Panama Viejo market coming in as a close second. Panama's best-known craft is the mola, intricate reverse-applique handwork made by the Kuna. Molas can be bought at either of these craft markets, or from vendors on the seawall in Casco Viejo. Other Panamanian crafts include carved tagua nuts, cocobolo carvings of animals, and woven palm-fiber baskets. There is a smaller craft market in El Valle, which specializes in soapstone carvings and other central Panamanian crafts.

Panama also has several large American style malls around the city but prices do vary from shop to shop for the same products so it is worth shopping around, Albrook mall is among the cheapest. Generally Panama can be a good place to pick up consumer electronics, clothing and cosmetics.


Panama City is home to many pumping nightclubs and bars that rock on to the small hours of the morning. They also produce their own local brews to sample such as Balboa, Atlas, Soberana and Warsteiner, though they don't measure up to imports, but are much cheaper. The nationally favoured drink is the local Seco white rum and is commonly served as Seco con leche (White rum with milk).



what to do when it's flat

Pumbaa; Smiley; 21.04.2006

When the surf goes flat there is still plenty to do for the adventurous in Panama. There are many companies who offer overnight Kayaking trips through the mountain rivers and streams where the scenery is stunning. You kayak along one of the many creeks or rivers taking in the crystal clear waters and beautiful views and camp the night on the banks.

There is also Miracle Strip Amusement Park offering roller coaster rides, haunted houses and all the usual amusement park stuff, it's good fun if you've bought the family with you.

You cam also get  aboard numerous fishing boats that offer charted trips for a days game fishing or scuba diving.


useful phrase guide

Indolences; Standard Question Mark; 04.05.2007

The official language of Panama is Spanish, though 14% of the population also use English. The spanish here is very Carbibbean influenced and is more like the Spanish heard in Puerto Rico, Tico or Nicaraguan than European or Mexican Spanish, so it may take some getting used to for conventional spanish speakers.

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