With a plethora of uninhabited islands, chilled Caribbean vibes on one side and monster Pacific swells on the other, Panama sits poised to deliver the very best of beach life.
Whether you’re looking to snorkel over rainbow reefs, ride wicked waves or simply loll on golden sands, there’s something here for every type of beach bum. Here’s our list of the best beaches in Panama.
The San Blas Archipelago
Best beaches for snorkeling
While there are countless contenders for Panama’s most beautiful beaches, the sandy stretches in the San Blas Archipelago take the cake. Also known as Guna Yala, the 365 coconut islands are visually sumptuous and offer an opportunity to unwind like no other — the electricity supply is irregular, and there’s no internet access.
While this pared-back existence may not be everyone’s idea of paradise, San Blas’ beaches dazzle for their powder-soft sand and crystal-clear waters that almost render snorkeling gear useless.
The region is governed by the Guna population (the first indigenous group to gain autonomy in Latin America), so you’ll also gain insight into their culture and way of life. This is the place to enjoy a seafood-rich diet, pack a stack of good books and sink into a hammock.
Cayos Zapatilla, Bocas del Toro
Best beaches to take photos
Cayos Zapatilla is where postcards come to life. These two uninhabited islands are part of the Isla Bastimentos Marine Park in Bocas del Toro, an aesthetically pleasing archipelago on Panama’s Caribbean coast.
“Zapatilla” is Spanish for shoes, and the cays get their name from their unique shape. From aerial photos, they look like two shoes walking in the water. Local legend says they were footprints made by God as he descended from heaven.
Only one of the cays is open to visitors, and its entire circumference can be explored on foot in under 45 minutes. The Zapatilla Cays are wild, untouched and restaurant-free, so you’ll be tasked with bringing your own supplies. Don’t forget your camera either, as it’s nearly impossible to take a bad photo here.
Starfish Beach, Bocas del Toro
Best beach to swim
What’s not to love about seeing starfish dotting the seafloor? Starfish Beach (Playa Estrella) is one of the most popular beaches in Bocas del Toro. Situated on the main island of Isla Colon, this splendid beach has shallow, translucent waters perfect for swimming and admiring sea stars and beach bars to ensure you leave with your heart and stomach full.
Playa Venao, Azuero Peninsula
Best beach to make friends
A long, picturesque Pacific beach, Playa Venao certainly has a lot going for it. Officially called Venado but pronounced and spelled as “Venao,” this gorgeous stretch of blackish volcanic sand has transformed from a wild beach on the southern edge of the Península de Azuero to a go-to destination.
Though it chiefly lures surfers, many come for electronic music festivals, whale watching, stand-up paddleboarding, zip-lining, horseback riding and hiking to the La Cascada waterfall.
Playa Venao is an intimate community with happening hostels and chic beach rentals dotted all around, as well as plenty of surf schools keen to help newbies with their first wobbly rides, including Extreme Surf Shop at El Sitio Hostel.
Playa Blanca, Coclé Province
Best beach resorts in Panama
A decade ago, Farallón was a fishing village filled with the ruins of the Panamanian military base destroyed during the US invasion to oust the then-military leader of Panama – Manuel Noriega.
Today, nearby Playa Blanca (White Beach) has some of the best beach resorts in Panama, and it’s particularly attractive for all-inclusive fans. Here, you’ll find established names like Playa Blanca Beach Resort, Hotel Riu Playa Blanca and The Buenaventura Golf & Beach Resort Panama to call home.
Much of the original village charm still exists in family-friendly Farallón if you wander away from the resorts. Another veritable highlight is visiting the tiny Isla Farallón by boat or jet ski from Farallón Beach.
El Palmar, Panamá Oeste Province
Best beach for weekend trips from Panama City
The lovely, white-sand beach of Playa El Palmar lies 14km (8.7 mi) southwest of Playa Coronado, one of the best beach towns in Panama for ex-pats near the village of San Carlos.
Although much less developed than Coronado, El Palmar is popular with weekending families from the capital, but the atmosphere remains low-key. Come here to find peace beneath the palm trees (it’s named in honor of the abundant tropical palms standing tall here) and for tranquil days spent swimming, flying kites, relishing riotous sunsets and surfing — beginners are welcome due to the moderate waves year round.
Gulf of Chiriquí, Chiriquí Province
Best beaches for diving and snorkeling
Chiriquí is another popular Panama province for ex-pats and retirees beckoned by the cool climate and charming towns like Boquete (don’t miss out on the strawberries there).
Some of the best beaches in the area are undoubtedly found within the Gulf of Chiriquí National Marine Park, a collection of islands that are perfect for peering into the underwater world. The gulf has one of the largest reefs in the Pacific. You can spot migrating humpback whales between July and October, traverse dense mangrove forests and hop between dreamy uninhabited islands amidst a backdrop of Volcán Barú – Panama’s highest point.
Playa Larga, Isla Contadora
Best beach for a bit of glamor
Isla Contadora (Counting House Island), floating in the Gulf of Panama and connected to the capital by ferry, was once the accounting center for pearls before they were shipped to Spain. In more recent times, multimillionaires have made the island their refuge.
However, a government crackdown on tax evasion embittered the previously sweet deal, and now you’ll see many mansions on the island standing vacant. One thing that has never changed throughout the island’s history, however, is the beautiful beaches.
Playa Larga (Long Beach) occupies the longest stretch of sand on the island; the only eyesores are a beached ferry and an abandoned hotel behind it.
Over the hill to the south and accessible via a well-worn path is Playa de las Suecas (Swedish Women’s Beach), where you can sunbathe in the buff – it's Panama's only legal naturist beach.
Santa Catalina, Veraguas Province
Best beach for surfers
Among Central America's top surf spots, Santa Catalina has right and left breaks comparable to Oahu’s Sunset Beach on a good day. Playa Santa Catalina and Punta Brava are best for experienced surfers, while Playa Estero has smaller waves for those still finding their feet.
Enjoy the Santa Catalina area while it’s still somewhat remote, undeveloped and home to some seriously wicked surf. Life here is pretty tranquil in a fishing village where skateboards rip down the main street, and kids go barefoot, but clothing is required to walk to and from the beach.
Most non-surfers discover the area as the main springboard for day and overnight trips to Isla de Coiba and its national park, where there's outstanding scuba diving and snorkeling on offer.
Isla Grande, Colon Province
Best beach to experience Afro-Panamanian culture
Isla Grande is one of the best beaches in Colon, Panama’s province with the largest Afro-descendant population. Palm trees and white-sand beaches form the backdrop to this lovely little island, just 15km (9.3 mi) from Portobelo on the country’s northern coast.
A popular getaway for folks fleeing the urban grind of Panama City (which is around two hours away by car), Isla Grande is an ideal setting for snorkeling, scuba diving or simply soaking up the Caribbean island’s relaxed vibe.
There are no roads, just a footpath along the island's southern coast, backed by pastel-colored cottages, and remarkably, there’s a statue of a black Jesus Christ in the water, which carefully watches over beachgoers.
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