Santa Catalina ist one of the most popular beach towns along the Pacific coast of Panama. Especially surfers visit this remote place west of Santiago. Many of them end up staying for weeks and enjoy a lifestyle of surf, eat, sleep, repeat.
We too were fascinated by Santa Catalina. Backpackers with surfboards go alongside with cowboys on horses and fishermen. Obviously tourism has influences this sleepy town but it does not seem to dominate everyday life. Even if you are not into surfing, this is a place worth visiting for a few days.
I would almost call myself an expert when it comes to hostels in Santa Catalina. After all, I’ve stayed in four different ones. Of course, I want to share my knowledge with you and have two recommendations:
Surfers Paradise: Surfers Paradise is well-known nationwide among surfers and has an excellent reputation thanks to its helpful owner, Italo, and the great location overlooking La Punta, the most popular surfspot. The hostel is simple but cozy and there is also a kitchen for guests to cook. It is located about 20 minutes by foot from the village and is therefore particularly suitable for surfers who want to be closer to the waves than the village.
Hostel Villa Vento Surf: This hostel is located in the village and is probably the most popular among backpackers. It has nice rooms, a large kitchen, its own shop and swimming pool. If you want to meet people and you do not mind being 20-30 minutes away from the surfspot, this is the right choice.
Santa Catalina is a popular spot for surfing. People who don’t surf can go snorkelling at Coiba Island. It is considered to be the Galapagos of Panama. We saw reef sharks, dolphins, turtles, lots of different species of fish as well as a crocodile and monkeys.
Further the Hostel Villa Vento Surf can be very entertaining if you meet the right people. We hung out with five Australians and went on a trip to the island Cébaco to surf, played poker every evening, cooked, ate and drank together. With good people you can have fun anywhere, even in a sleepy village like Santa Catalina.
The owner of Villa Vento Surf also owns a hostel in Playa Morillo. We ended up accepting his offer to spend the weekend at his hostel in Morillo. There are no restaurants or stores and we felt very comfortable there. Everyone cooks together, eats together, surfs together and laughs together. After two nights and having used up all our supplies, we got a ride back to Santa Catalina.
Enjoy the quiet of this peaceful village. There are no parties, no spring break tourists and no car noise. Especially when coming from Costa Rica this can be a good change for a few days.
Things to watch out for
The internet connection. The internet connection is terrible in the whole town. The bakery across the street from Villa Vento Surf is the only place that has a halfway decent connection. The owners take advantage of this and change the password on a daily basis. Thus, if you want to go online you need to go there and buy something.