Santa Catalina, hidden surfer gem at the Pacific

Santa Catalina is a dreamy village at the Pacific of Panama. It is mainly popular as a surfer village with a great beach and a beach where you can relax without the big waves, protected by a small island. It also is the hub to Coiba Island, something untouched like the Galapagos. Trips there are most expensive and I chose not to go, this is something for the future ūüôā

After some really good sleep we start the day with our standard breakfast. White bread with green pepper, tomato, cheese and thunfish.  First of all we visit Surf and Shake, a shop for nice fruit shakes and everything connected with surfing, run by a girl from Munich. She tells us to attend the second beach for surfing, not the first one, protected by an island, the one we visited last night after we arrived. Santa Catalina is small and we are looking for another hostel which is closer to the big surfer beach.

Stefan and me enjoy a little chillout after the tough ride the day before and after some coffee Columbiano and our custom thunfish sandwiches.
The Surf and Shake of Santa Catalina
The beauty of the hibiscus is everywhere and beautiful insects and colibri swirl around it.
Stefan and Anne in Santa Catalina at our morning stroll to check out where to stay.
Most beautiful butterflies swirl around everywhere in Latin America. This is a big swallowtail.
A gas station in Santa Catalina, we would have been lucky and could probably have gotten gas over there…

We find a place called Mama Inne’s and move there. It has a great garden and direct access to the beach.

Mama Inne’s in Santa Catalina, a nice terrace but the dorm was not the best you would expect for the price paid. Take the apartment upstairs, you shall be good!
Hola, Hooola! A smart green parrot who always stopps talking when you want to film it… ūüėÄ

I rent a 7’7″ surfboard at a place called Rollo’s which is much smaller than my last ones in Florida but it is still the biggest I can find. The surf is gigantic for my current skill, the waves further offshore are probably 5 – 6 m high and the ones which hit shore are still 2,5 to 3 m. It costs lots of power to get outta there and surf back in but it works very well to my surprise so I spend several hours surfing, observe skilled surfers and try to do the same to handle the massive force of the incoming waves.¬†In my breaks I chill and chat with Anne and Stefan. It’s just relaxed and awesome – for the first time I miss that I don’t have a GoPro! The whole day is so relaxed and it flies by in a second.

At night we try to find something to eat which is quite challenging. We leave one restaurant since we get ignored for 30 min, leave another one where nobody shows up for 15 min and¬†get back to our hostel to eat… It’s crowded with visitors having dinner and we wait another good hour until we finally get our food. This is probably part of being here, to adjust to the time you need for everything? The food is not very good and the room is really hot.¬† The bedding smells of the many people who slept there as well and the night is a disaster,¬†with bedbugs in Stefan’s bed and very few sleep.

I flee from the bed at something around 6 am to take some photos and spend the time outside. After a little breakfast we catch in the little shop back in the village I go to surf. Today the surf is even more aggressive than the day before. I get to know Miri a girl from Munich and surf a bit with her. Later Laura joins our little chat. She is¬†just 19 years old,¬†from Berlin and travels alone and for a long time. She is half Venezuelan and tells us about her experience there, sounds absolutely great and totally in contrast to all the news about the riots…

At lunchtime we leave Santa Catalina since Stefan and me want to be in Panama City at around 6:30 pm to book the trip to San Blas¬†which you have to do the night before the trip until 7 pm. In Santiago we drop off Anne who wants to continue to Costa Rica alone. It’s a lively but ugly town and going around there with the car is really difficult, everybody shouts and honks at us. We are glad when we are back on the Panamericana on our way to Panama City. The ride takes forever although I push the gas quite strong in the frame of opportunities – we don’t want to be stopped again. Short before we reach the city¬†we miss an exit and have to pass downtown to¬†reach Casco Viejo and the hostel. This is my worst city driving¬†experience so far, speeding through traffic stuffed downtown, maneuvering around standing cars and walking people. We make it to lunas castle at 6:55 pm, basically in the last minutes before closure of the lists, and are the last ones for tomorrow’s trip to San Blas, what a¬†relief!

We need to get rid of the car and while we try to find a gas station the police stops us again. A fiendish cop shouts at me in Spanish and I reply about 3 times with ‘No hablo Espanol!’ He doesn’t want to believe me and accuses me that I would have taken drugs. Stefan talks to another cop and tells him that we have to return the car quickly. It’s already 8:40 pm, we haven’t filled up the gas yet and it’s still some way to the rental station that closes at 9 pm… After a full inspection of the car and of us the cop let’s us go, phew. 5 min before closure we finally turn in the car and are somehow totally relieved. Back at the hostel we have way of too much Rum with Anika, a nice girl who lives in¬†Z√ľrich and Jonas from Hamburg. I can’t sleep that night, it’s hot and loud in the dorm and the guys under my bunkbed have sex and it feels like an earthquake. I decide to go to the hostels living room and chill the rest of the night there. It’s way more comfortable and relaxed and early in the morning a trip into Paradise waits for us…

Panama Viejo, El Valle and our way to Santa Catalina

Our first day together brings us to Panama Viejo, the former old city which was destroyed by the English. It offers great views on the new city. The trip continues to El Valle, in the highlands of Panama and at night we arrive our destination Santa Catalina, which I chose to surf, by recommendation of friends from Innsbruck, who have been there…

It’s still early in the morning and we start into the city to claim our rental. At the breakfast we meet two more ladies who join and we start our day in Panama Viejo, the original part of the city which was destroyed by the British. There are just ruins left and it’s up to your imagination how this first settlement must have looked. The overview from the tower is great and you have a great view on Panama City from yet another angle. We still decide not to stay too long since we have other plans for the day.

Panama Viejo the first settlement of Panama City, was destroyed by the British.
The skyline of the new part of Panama City, very modern and impressive!

The two ladies, leave us and Anne, Stefan and me go to the fish market first for a great Ceviche. This is a South American cold salad with fish or other fruits of the sea which are cooked in lime juice. It’s really great and after this memorable meal we continue our trip to El Valle. It’s a village in the Highlands of Panama and normally really green. We visit a waterfall and have a swim in a natural pond, beside¬†us is a Panamian family who owns a baby parrot which is very cute and in general the mood is very relaxed. The natural pond is filled from a fountain which is source of the waterfall. We chill out and continue in the late afternoon.

The way to El Valle leads through a dry but beautiful highland.
A bus station in Panama, highland of El Valle
The jungle of El Valle, beautiful, hot and humid.
Stefan and Anne, my traveler buddies from Germany. It was Anne’s idea to visit El Valle, a good one!
Guys, you really look like a couple :-p … Just kidding! Was nice travelling with you!

Stefan takes over the car from me and two minutes later we are stopped by the police and Stefan doesn’t even has his license with him so I hand him mine and he has to follow the cop who just stopped us. Stefan tells us after this incident, which cost us 40$, that the guy asked for 150$ in the first place since we were going 104 kph instead of the allowed 80. Stefan¬†told him we are just students so he asked for 80$ and when Stefan was reacting like this is still lots of money, the cop asked him, as a man, what he would be willing to pay. Stefan gave him 40$ then, the cop mentioning his family the whole time. We are lucky after all, since it is my license not depicting Stefan, but the cop is not interested at all in this “little detail”.

We continue our trip after this crazy experience through the wild to Santa Catalina. Our gas is running very low and we pray to hit a gas station before it runs out. Since we passed Santiago, where we replenish our groceries, we made already 57 km towards Santa Catalina without hitting another gas station. Finally there is a gas station in Son√°, our relief, otherwise we would have been supposed to turn and get the tank filled in Santiago, and this is an one hour ride away already…

The rest of the trip is tough again. It’s totally dark outside and driving like that is exhausting. There are cops along the street several times, so we can not go faster than allowed. A wonderful smell of rich earth and tropical rainforest fills the air. It’s an awesome feeling although we don’t know yet if there will be a place to sleep. Around 10:30 pm we’re finally there. It was a long day full of impressions and we immediately find a good place to sleep. Check in is done and it’s time to hit the beach. The night is absolutely dark and a huge amount of stars can be seen – it is really moving, the whole sky glimmers from the stars and some fireflies levitate around us…

There is a big party tonight and Anne and me attend. She is chased by a British guy the whole evening and I dance some decent Salsa until 4:30 am the next day – the best way after a long travel to totally lay back…