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.

Snorkeling with school of fish in popular Panama beaches
Panama has countless opportunities for snorkeling © James R.D. Scott / Getty Images

1. 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 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 superfluous. 

The region is governed by the Guna (the first Indigenous group to gain political autonomy in post-colonial 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.  

2. 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.

3. 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. 

A man steers a bike while a young woman sits on top of the handlebars as they bike on Playa Venao in Panama.
Playa Venao is a gorgeous stretch of blackish volcanic sand on the southern edge of Península de Azuero © Ascent / PKS Media Inc / Getty Images

4. 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 Hotel.

5. 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.

A wide angled view of El Palmar Beach in Panama. The beach is sandy and gently slopes down into a gentle sea. A few families stand around on the sand in the distance.
Playa El Palmar is popular with day trippers from Panama City, but still feels low-key © Danielho / Getty Images

6. 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 weekend 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.

7. 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 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.

A view of Playa Galeon (Galleon Beach) on Isla Contadora. The shot is framed by leaves from a tree in the foreground. The beach has white sand and the turquoise waters are still and calm.
Isla Contadora was once the center of the pearl trade, and its beaches are incredibly serene © Mark Read / Lonely Planet

8. 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.

9. 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.

A beach on Isla Grande, Panama. Two people lounge in the shallow turquoise waters near a golden strip of sand.
Isla Grande is home to a number of beautiful golden beaches © MarcPo / Getty Images

10. 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 who carefully watches over beachgoers.

This article was first published May 5, 2021 and updated Feb 26, 2024.

Explore related stories



Explore the destinations where locals travel in Spain

May 20, 2024 • 5 min read