If you’re visiting Santa Catalina soon, you’ve come to the right place. After reading this guide, you’ll know which area to stay in, where to find the best restaurants and how to get around this undiscovered beach town in Panama.
What to expect in Santa Catalina
Santa Catalina in Panama is the kind of destination where you arrive and can’t believe that the rest of the world hasn’t discovered it yet.
Once a small fishing village, this hidden gem is slowly gaining popularity. Whispers of some of the best surf spots in Central America are attracting avid surfers and those wanting to try their hand at surfing. Santa Catalina is a great spot for pros and beginners alike.
If surfing is your thing, head to Santa Catalina between February and August for the best and biggest waves reaching as high as 6-9 metres.
Even if you’re not a surfer, the palm tree lined beaches void of tourists are enough to charm visitors into extending their stay in Santa Catalina again and again.
Is Santa Catalina worth visiting?
Now more than ever Santa Catalina is worth visiting, if you want to see it before it hits everyone’s radar. Once this happens, the laid back charm that makes Santa Catalina so enchanting might not be the same.
If you want to explore untouched national parks, surf awesome waves, eat delicious food and lounge on empty beaches then Santa Catalina is worth visiting.
Top tip: Santa Catalina is so off-the-beaten-track that it doesn’t even have an ATM or a bank. Make sure to bring enough cash with you for your entire stay.
How long should you spend in Santa Catalina?
Santa Catalina is the kind of place that you can plan to visit for a few days and end up staying for weeks, if not months.
We’d recommend a minimum of three days here, to make the journey of getting to Santa Catalina worth it. We’d also suggest not making plans after, just in case you want to stay longer, which is pretty likely!
To help you make the most of your time in Santa Catalina, we’ve put together a list of the top things to do in Santa Catalina.
Where to stay in Santa Catalina
Santa Catalina is so small that you don’t need to pick which area to stay in. No matter where you pick, you’ll be close to the beach.
Accommodation in Santa Catalina
Santa Catalina hasn’t quite exploded onto the tourist scene yet, so you won’t find a hotel on every street corner like most other tourist beach towns.
This is part of the charm of Santa Catalina, but it also means that there aren’t a ton of hotels to choose from, and the ones there can get booked up far in advance.
A good private room starts at around $25 per night.
Bodhi Santa Catalina is one of our favourite places to stay in Santa Catalina. Whether you’re looking for a dorm bed or a unique wooden bungalow, they’ve got you covered.
Best places to eat in Santa Catalina
Santa Catalina doesn’t have the largest choice of restaurants, but we guarantee that as it grows in popularity, so will the number of restaurants.
Don’t worry, you won’t be going hungry if you visit now. Amongst the restaurants that are there now, there are hidden gems that will soon become your favourites.
To make sure you eat at the best restaurants in Santa Catalina, here are our top 3 spots:
Cafe Panachocolat — the best coffee in Santa Catalina?
Looking for a great breakfast or lunch spot with potentially the best coffee in Santa Catalina? Cafe Panachocolat is the place to head to… maybe every day that you’re in Santa Catalina.
This cute spot will fulfil all of your smoothie bowl, sandwich and crepe cravings. Throw in some friendly owners, and a laid back atmosphere, and it’s no wonder so many people love this place.
Sasy — quirky spot with cocktails and tasty food
Sasy has just about everything that can bring a smile to your face — fruity cocktails, quirky decor and tasty food. This is a great place to eat in the evening, when the lights come on and the cocktails come out.
It’s a relatively new restaurant in Santa Catalina, and in time sure to be one of the most popular. Especially as there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, so everyone is happy!
Sol y Mar — delicious food with a sunset view
It’s hard to decide whether the sunset or the food is better at Sol y Mar. Maybe let’s go with they’re both great and food always tastes better when you’ve got a stunning view in front of you.
You’ll have to work for your food a little, as Sol y Mar is located on a hill slightly out of town. The food and views are worth it, though. Plus the staff are super friendly and welcoming.
How to get around Santa Catalina
When we say that Santa Catalina is small, we mean it. The population of the beach town is around 400 people. This means it’s easy to get around.
All you need are your own two feet in Santa Catalina. The town stretches between Playa Catalina to Playa El Estero, which are a 23-minute walk from each other.
If you plan on exploring the areas surrounding Santa Catalina, or simply hate the idea of having to walk everywhere, then you might prefer to have a rental car.
You’ll need to rent the car in one of the larger cities before visiting Santa Catalina. Panama City is your best bet and offers the lowest prices. Car rental from Panama City starts from $10/day.
Now that you’ve finished reading this guide, you’re almost ready for your adventure in Santa Catalina, Panama. The next step is to create your personalised itinerary with our top picks of things to do in Santa Catalina. Simply choose your favourite activities and places to visit, and you’re all set to make lasting memories in this charming town in Panama.
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Kate is a writer, (ex)Management Consultant and avid traveller. She recently returned from a 2-year career break exploring the world and decided corporate life wasn’t for her. She’ll soon be testing life as a digital nomad. She’s visited over 40 countries and fell in love with Latin America in particular. Her travelling has inspired a passion for yoga, salsa, hiking and Spanish.