Panama is slowly sneaking its way up the list of ultimate surf destinations, so now is the time to get in. The long sandy beaches, multitude of islands, and variety of breaks make it an ideal place to surf = and you don’t have to fight for a spot on a break.
Due to its slow growing popularity, surf camps aren’t as prolific here as they are in other Central American destinations. What is here tends to be locally based, well-established, and incredibly knowledgeable. All you have to do is find the right one.
Panama should be a must-see destination for any surf enthusiast. There are breaks practically year round, as the Caribbean coastline takes over when the Pacific swells start to drop off. Plan your ideal Panamanian surf vacation with this guide, full of all the information you need for the best trip possible.
10 Best Surf Camps, Panama
1. Bocas Surf School and Guest House, Bocas del Toro
Located not far from Bocas town, this is one of the first surf schools to be established in Panama’s premier surf destination. Offering a comfortable place to stay literally steps from the ocean, any beginner will enjoy finding their feet here. The small group lessons guarantee you one on one time with instructors prepared for all levels of experience.
2. La Buga Dive and Surf, Bocas del Toro
La Buga Dive and Surf is a popular surf shop that offers lessons for all levels. The beginners can get to grips with the gentle swells at Carenero Island, while experienced surfers can enjoy the surf tours. Found in the heart of Bocas town, this well-established surf center offers reliable and fun learning opportunities.
3. Red Frog Bungalows, Bocas del Toro
Red Frog Bungalows provide their guests with the ultimate tailored surf camp. Every morning, the instructors gather to discuss where the waves should take them today, so the guests are guaranteed the best surf possible.
Bocas del Toro is formed of hundreds of tiny islands, and Red Frog Bungalows have it down to a science knowing which one has the strongest breaks that day.
4. Morro Negrito Surf Camp, Chiriqui
If you’re after a private and focused experience, Morro Negrito Surf Camp has you covered. Located on the island of La Ensenada, this is learning to surf in paradise. Surf tours are tailored to your skill level, with the area offering multiple beach breaks.
Morro Negrito also accommodates advanced surfers, with breaks like P-Land and The Point providing speed, size, and power.
5. Surf Camp Guanico, Playa Guanico
You can find a boutique experience and consistent breaks at Surf Camp Guanico, so this is a great one for families. For anyone who’s interested in surfing, but isn’t sure where to start, the personally tailored lessons at Guanico will have you up and smiling in no time. The breaks aren’t too big, but they do remain consistent.
Once you’ve got the hang of it, the best break in the area, the Guanico Beach break, can be found directly outside the hotel.
6. Sansara Surf and Yoga Resort, Cambutal
Combining surf, yoga, and a gorgeous setting, the Sansara retreat is the ultimate break for someone looking to get away. There are various waves in the area, but one thing they all have is consistency. Beginners and advanced surfers can find something for them.
The instructors aim to give you the most thorough lessons possible. You can go away with a firm understanding of the basics, all ready for your next surf holiday.
7. Panama Surf School, San Carlos
One of the closest options from Panama City itself, the Panama Surf School has a class to suit everyone. Recognized as having some of the best teachers in Panama, the surf school has been teaching locals and tourists since 2005.
Their one-day classes are a popular choice for parents, and even school trips. The private lessons are ideal for anyone feeling nervous about their first time on a board.
8. Hotel Santa Catalina, Santa Catalina
Hotel Santa Catalina has some of the best breaks in Panama almost directly outside their front door. Or, head out on a boat trip – there are plenty of island beaches in the area with a variety of breaks.
The hotel itself offers an incredibly comfortable experience, with rooms for families and couples. With a location this good, you’ll hardly want to leave the complex.
9. Oasis Surf Camp, Santa Catalina
With the break at Estero Beach on the steps of the hotel, the Oasis Surf Camp is a friendly and accommodating experience. Beginners can feel relaxed on the steady breaks, and even advanced surfers will enjoy the laid back vibes. Oasis Surf Camp is full of character, and the beach itself is perfect for families.
10. Beach Break Surf Camp, Playa Venao
The sand bottom beach of Playa Venao offers the safest surfing environment for those still unsteady on the board. Beach Break Surf Camp puts a real focus on the fundamentals of surfing, so upgrades can be built on firm basics. Beach Break offers the total package. When you leave at the end, it’s with a solid understanding of the waves.
Meal Price Range
Food in Panama draws from African and Spanish influences, as well as the native indigenous population. Tourist hotspots tend to have a higher price, but the most authentic experience is found in food trucks and local cafés.
Food prices are generally lower than in other parts of Central America, but as tourism increases, so does the cost. Expect to pay upwards of $10 for a sit down meal, more for tourist focused restaurants.
Many accommodations in Panama are hostel style, so you can lower costs by cooking your own food. Grocery store prices are comparable to America, and generally skew cheaper.
Board rental is relatively easy across Panama, with many options available. $20 is about the average for board rental for a day, and there are surf shops found all over the place. A half day lesson is, on average, $50. Combined surf school and hotels are common, and often surf lessons can be included in the initial booking costs.
Waters are warm in Panama, meaning a wetsuit isn’t required. Instead, invest in a rash guard.
Prepaid SIM Cards
Prepaid SIM cards are easy to buy in Panama, and not particularly expensive to set up. A SIM card can be purchased at the airport, but they tend to be cheaper in phone shops and kiosks in the city.
SIM cards cost about $2-3. Topping up is easy once you’ve got the hang of it, and it’s only a few dollars to add data. Network coverage is good across Panama, but expect it to get spotty if you want to explore off the beaten track.
Buses and taxis are regular and affordable around Panama, and used by locals and tourists alike. If you’re after the best surf spots, expect to catch a boat. In Bocas del Toro, boat taxis are common, inexpensive, and regular.
Elsewhere, you may need to negotiate. Many surf schools will offer the boat journey as part of the deal, so you can get to the best breaks around.
Driving in Panama is a tale of two halves. In the cities, streets are well maintained but incredibly busy. In rural areas, roads can be difficult to navigate, bumpy and uncomfortable. Taxis and buses are common enough that a car isn’t necessary.
If you do intend to drive, gas prices in Panama are generally lower than other Central American countries. However, they are on the rise.
Types of Risks
Travel to Panama is generally pretty safe, although you should be on the look-out for pickpockets. They’re particularly prolific on public transport. Exercise the same amount of caution you would in other popular towns, and never travel with large amounts of cash.
One of the advantages of surfing in Panama is the large amounts of unpopulated beaches. If you intend to explore, always travel in groups, and it’s recommended to go with a guide.
For surfers and other water sports, be careful when travelling to smaller beaches. The tides can be strong, and safety precautions aren’t always in place. There are many small beaches and islands in Panama, and they rarely have warning signs. Panama also offers a multitude of reef breaks, which inexperienced surfers should be wary of.
How to Prepare
Visitors from the United States don’t need a visa to visit Panama for trips of 180 days or less. Any longer and a visa will be required. Because of the time-limited visa, visitors may be required to provide proof of exit, whether that’s a return ticket home or journeying on to a different country.
US citizens need a passport that will be valid for at least three months after leaving Panama. To visit Panama, you may be required to provide proof you have at least $500. A bank statement or credit card is generally accepted.
Some other countries do require a visa, so anyone outside the US should check requirements.
There are several vaccines recommended before travel to Panama, including remaining up to date on any routine vaccines. Vaccination against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B are strongly advised.
A vaccination against typhoid is also recommended. Travelers to certain areas should take medicine to prevent contracting malaria. Speak to your doctor several weeks before travelling, to find out what’s best for you.
Language and Currency
The primary language spoken in Panama is Spanish. English isn’t as common, but is often understood in populated areas. Many surf schools will offer courses in English, and popular restaurants can have an English language menu. Larger surf schools may be able to accommodate for German speakers as well.
The official currencies of Panama are the Panamanian Balboa and the US Dollar. The Balboa is tied to the US Dollar, at an exchange rate of 1:1. American travelers don’t need to exchange any money to get by in Panama.
Checking Surf Forecast
Panama offers good surf practically year round, due to the long coastlines either side of the country. Surfing on the Pacific side is best between April to November, and the Caribbean side gets the best swells between December and March.
There are some areas where you can expect a consistent level of breaks. La Punta, at Santa Catalina, is a smooth point break that picks up swell for most of the year.
Wi-Fi and data are fairly good in Panama, especially in the larger cities. Surfing is also a popular, and growing, interest, so expect plenty of advice to be available.
Travel insurance is necessary if you want a surfing trip to Panama. Some surf camps may insist on it before you can book with them.
Everything You Need to Know About Surfing in Panama
Although everyone knows how good surfing in Central America can be, Panama remains relatively undiscovered. While people flock to the beaches of Mexico, and neighbor Costa Rica, the gorgeous swells of Panama are still quiet.
Panama offers good surfing year round, with the pacific coast shining between April and November, and the Caribbean waves gaining swell from December to March. The breaks are varied, with something for everyone from beginners to experts.
Surfing is a popular sport in Panama, so there are plenty of local guides and teachers. Spanish is the official language, but many surf camps offer lessons in English. There’s also a real focus on small group excursions, where knowledgeable teachers can work closely to ensure safe surfing.
Close to the equator, Panama gets good weather year round – and it stays consistent at a high temperature. The water is around 81-84 degrees Fahrenheit, so wetsuits aren’t necessary.
As well as surfing, Panama is home to abundant wildlife – and much of it is on the doorstep of these amazing beaches. Take a day off from the waves occasionally to explore the jungles and mountains that make Panama a paradise to visit.