The small fishing village of Santa Catalina has grown in recent years to become a more well-known destination in Panama. It is located on the Pacific side of the country and surrounded by several islands. What can you do in Santa Catalina? Mainly to the beaches and surfing. But also the island and National Park Coiba are a reason to travel to Santa Catalina.
The most famous and beautiful beaches around Santa Catalina are Playa Arrimadero, Playa Santa Catalina and Playa Ballena. All beaches offer opportunities for relaxing, swimming and surfing. In the village you can rent and buy surfing equipment. Also, from Santa Catalina beach you can take a canoe to the nearest island.
Island of Coiba
The island of Coiba and the surrounding islands are very suitable for snorkeling and diving due to the rich underwater world that the island has. Reef sharks, sea turtles and many species of fish can be encountered underwater. And in the whale seasons, you also have a chance to spot whales along the way. Those seasons are from December – March and July – October. Dolphins can be encountered throughout the year.
You can reach the island by booking a snorkeling or diving tour in downtown Santa Catalina, including at Watching Dolphin. Most tours cost around $60 where you make multiple snorkeling stops at multiple reefs. For the island of Coiba, you pay $20 for maintenance and conservation of flora and fauna. Also included are transportation, lunch and snorkeling gear. Even though we went during the rainy season and outside of whale season, we thought it was a cool tour. Seeing sea turtles absolutely made up for our day of clouds and rain.
If you want to stretch your legs a bit in Santa Catalina you can hike the short, but steep, hike Crest Trail to the lookout point. You don’t need more than an hour from the center of Santa Catalina. From the vantage point you look out over the bay and ocean. The walk is free and starts next to the (closed) restaurant Brisas del Mar. The path begins to the right of the restaurant, which is about a 5 minute walk from the center of Santa Catalina. It’s a circle, and at the beginning is a sign with a map. Take the first right, through/past the fence (private property) and when the road turns right, turn left into the bushes. This seems incorrect, but is the nicest way to start because it makes it easier to walk downhill on the way back. Keep left at the first fork, right at the second where you begin to climb. Do not follow the fence. You climb up in about 10 minutes and see a sign with Miradoron the way. Eventually you come to the lookout point where a few car tires are located. Continuing down the road from the lookout point, walk back down the other side. Don’t forget to bring insect repellent. In the highlights of Panama (number 2) on our instagram account, there are photos and a detailed description of the hike.
How do you get there and back?
You get to Santa Catalina by bus from Soná. If you travel from Santiago, Valle de Anton or Panama City, you will always travel via Soná. Whereas most buses in Panama run almost every 30 minutes, only 6 buses a day run from Soná to Santa Catalina. Buses depart at 5:30/8:30/11:00/13:30/14:30/16:30. The bus takes about 2 hours and costs $4.70. Back from Santa Catalina to Soná, there are 2 buses in the morning (7:00 and 8:00 am) and then again only in the afternoon (at 1:15 pm and later). If you want to travel on to Valle de Anton or Panama City, it is advisable to catch a bus in the morning. For both destinations, take the bus to Panama City from Soná, and before Valle de Anton, get off at the Las Uvas point (3.5 hours, $8 and 20-minute break). To Panama City from Soná takes about 5 hours for about $10. You can also travel on to Santiago from Soná (1 hour, $2).