The 10 best beaches in Panama for big swells and secluded escapes - Lonely Planet (2022)

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 10 best beaches in Panama for big swells and secluded escapes - Lonely Planet (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 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.

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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 full 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.

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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.

The 10 best beaches in Panama for big swells and secluded escapes - Lonely Planet (2)

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.

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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. Visiting the tiny Isla Farallón by boat or jet ski from Farallón Beach is another veritable highlight.

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The 10 best beaches in Panama for big swells and secluded escapes - Lonely Planet (3)

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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 expats 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 all year round.

Gulf of Chiriquí, Chiriquí Province

Best beaches for diving and snorkeling

Chiriquí is another popular Panama province for expats 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 and 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.

The 10 best beaches in Panama for big swells and secluded escapes - Lonely Planet (4)

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.

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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.

The 10 best beaches in Panama for big swells and secluded escapes - Lonely Planet (5)

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.

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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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FAQs

What is the prettiest beach in Panama? ›

1. Beaches of the San Blas Islands. The most beautiful beaches in Panama are in the remote San Blas Islands in the Caribbean. These are the gorgeous stretches of white sand you frequently see in photos, consisting of turquoise waters and small islands with palm trees swaying in the wind.

Which side of Panama has better beaches? ›

For calmer waves and relaxing breezes, head to Panama's beaches located on the Caribbean side of the country. Here you'll find some of Panama's most beautiful islands, like the San Blas Islands and the Bocas Del Toro archipelago, most of which are uninhabited.

Which part of Panama City Beach has the clearest water? ›

Just east of Destin on Hwy 98, Panama City Beach marks the end of the beaches of South Walton. These beaches are widely considered to be the clearest and pure in the country. There is nearly no river runoff in the area and the St. Andrew Bay filters much of the sediment out.

Where is the black sand beach in Panama? ›

Coronado's beach has a marbleized look, with swirls of black-grain sand, volcanic in origin, and referred to by locals as a “black sand beach”. Swimming is pleasant in the clear, warm waters and gentle waves, and the beaches stretch mostly uninterrupted from one town to the next, allowing for endless walks.

What is the prettiest city in Panama? ›

Boquete – a small and scenic mountain town in Panama

A small town Boquete is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Panama it's also very pretty.

What is the best beach in Panama Central America? ›

The San Blas Islands are truly an amazing place to visit! The small islands with unspoiled beauty, turquoise water, white-sand beaches, swaying palm trees, are absolutely stunning. The beaches in Guna Yala are without a doubt the best beaches in Panama and a visit here is the experience of a lifetime.

Does Panama have mosquitoes? ›

Are there many mosquitoes in Panama? Panama has mosquitos, but they are not overwhelming. There aren't many mosquitos near urban areas, but they can become more of a nuisance in rural parts, especially along the Caribbean coast, which is rainier than the rest of Panama.

Is it safe to swim in Panama? ›

No swimming! Bacteria high at two Panama City beaches. Health officials issue advisories. PANAMA CITY — The Bay County Health Department is asking people not to swim in two public beach areas, issuing advisories after detecting unhealthy bacteria in the water.

Can you wear shorts in Panama? ›

General Style Tips

Panama City is cosmopolitan and people tend to dress casually but smartly – think fitted clothing and smart shoes. If you don't want to scream 'tourist' then avoid wearing shorts around the city, no matter how hot it gets. The key is neat and sleek, and neutral colors are best.

What is the nicest beach in the Panhandle? ›

Best Beaches in the Florida Panhandle
  • Navarre Beach. Navarre Beach is such a well-kept secret that people might not like that we're leaking it. ...
  • Pensacola Beach. ...
  • Cape San Blas. ...
  • Perdido Key. ...
  • Henderson Beach State Park. ...
  • Shell Island. ...
  • Blue Mountain Beach. ...
  • Crystal Beach, Destin.
28 Jan 2021

What is the most popular area of Panama City Beach? ›

1. Camp Helen State Park Beach — Panama City Beach. Camp Helen State Park Beach is one of the most popular and picturesque beaches in Panama City Beach.

Why are the beaches black in Panama? ›

You can find this unattractive or not tropical, but actually the reason for this back color is because they are volcanic beaches. Due to volcanic ashes in the time of eruption thousands of years ago the sand turned black, as are many of the rocks you will find in the ocean as well.

Can you swim in the ocean in Panama? ›

Swim in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean in one day

There's an abundance of beaches just south of the Interamericana (the main highway going through Panama City), and for an Atlantic swim, head northeast to Guna Yala for white sand and palm tree paradise.

What are the coldest months in Panama Panama? ›

Quick Climate Info
Hottest MonthApril (84 °F avg)
Coldest MonthOctober (81 °F avg)
Wettest MonthOctober (5.40" avg)
Windiest MonthFebruary (8 mph avg)
1 more row

Is Panama expensive? ›

Panama isn't always expensive to visit. Traveling here is somewhat cheaper than traveling in Europe, Canada or the United States but somewhat pricier than Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador.

Are there beautiful beaches in Panama? ›

Skirting both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and with thousands of islands, Panama is home to some of the world's most spectacular beaches. Whether you're looking to relax on Isla Contadora, snorkel on Isla Coiba or surf on Red Frog Beach, this little Central American country has got you covered.

How do you get to Red Frog Beach Panama? ›

In order to get to Red Frog from Panama City, you will need to arrange a flight on Air Panama to Bocas del Toro. Once your flight arrives in Bocas, a member of the Red Frog team will pick you up from the airport and then you will take a short boat ride to get to the resort.

Can you swim in Playa Blanca Panama? ›

Playa Blanca is clean and safe to swim and the area is great to enjoy the warm and peaceful waters of the the Pacific Ocean. Other activities along the beach along Playa Blanca include hiking, sailing, kayaking, golf, horseback riding, jet skis, beach volleyball and much more boating and fishing.

Are there big spiders in Panama? ›

Panama is home to the biggest tarantulas in all of Central America. Tarantulas of the genus Sericopelma are present in the country of Costa Rica and Panama only, being close relatives to Pamphobeteus and their allies.

Are there alot of bugs in Panama? ›

Bugs, Bites & Other Wildlife Concerns -- Panama is replete with bugs that bite, including chiggers, sandflies (also called no-see-ums, or chitras), mosquitoes, ticks, and ants.

Does Panama have roaches? ›

The keys cover almost all the flying cockroaches known to occur in Central Panama, including the Canal Zone, but may well be useful in a much wider geographic area.

When should we avoid Panama City Beach? ›

Though the area boasts an average of 320 days of sunshine per year, late spring, summer and early fall offer some of the warmest air and water temperatures. Plus, by avoiding a visit in March or April, you'll dodge the deluge of college students who descend on the area's ivory sands every year for spring break.

Are there scorpions in Panama? ›

There are 16 species and subspecies of scorpions in Panama. Of these 16 species none have a deadly venomous sting. However, their stings can still be painful, worrying and life threatening to some.

Is there bacteria in the water in Panama City Beach Florida? ›

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Visitors come to the Panhandle usually with one thing in mind, the beach. However, recent waters tested as part of the Healthy Beaches Monitoring Program have noted high amounts of enterococcus bacteria, which can be an indication of fecal pollution.

What is the safest place in Panama? ›

10 Safest Cities In Panama
  • Panama City. Of course, no list would be complete without the nation's capital. ...
  • Boquete. Boquete is a quiet mountain town that has been attracting visitors from all over the world for decades now. ...
  • Coronado. ...
  • Bocas del Toros. ...
  • El Valle de Antón. ...
  • Chitre/Las Tablas. ...
  • Pedasi. ...
  • Santa Fe.

What do I need to know before traveling to Panama? ›

  • Panama is most famous for its canal. ...
  • Panama runs east-west. ...
  • Panama uses the U.S. dollar. ...
  • You can see a lot of Panama without changing hotels. ...
  • Panama's tap water is safe to drink. ...
  • You can't drive to Colombia from Panama. ...
  • Panama has a good transportation system. ...
  • Not everyone speaks English.
19 Aug 2021

Can I use my credit card in Panama? ›

Credit cards are widely accepted in Panama's urban areas. Visa is the most popular, followed by MasterCard and American Express. Discover is gaining ground. Diners Club is rarely accepted.

Does Panama have white sand beaches? ›

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.

Are there beautiful beaches in Panama? ›

Skirting both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and with thousands of islands, Panama is home to some of the world's most spectacular beaches. Whether you're looking to relax on Isla Contadora, snorkel on Isla Coiba or surf on Red Frog Beach, this little Central American country has got you covered.

Does Panama City Panama have nice beaches? ›

One of the perks of Panama City is how close it is to some of the best beaches in Central America. Just a short drive and you can be lying under a palm tree or surfing Pacific waves.

Can you swim in the ocean in Panama? ›

Swim in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean in one day

There's an abundance of beaches just south of the Interamericana (the main highway going through Panama City), and for an Atlantic swim, head northeast to Guna Yala for white sand and palm tree paradise.

What are the best months to visit Panama? ›

The best time to visit Panama is between January and mid-April. This is the driest part of the year and shows off this tropical country at its most stunning. However, it's also worth considering traveling to Panama during the rest of the year, when you can experience local events and festivals.

Does Panama have mosquitoes? ›

Are there many mosquitoes in Panama? Panama has mosquitos, but they are not overwhelming. There aren't many mosquitos near urban areas, but they can become more of a nuisance in rural parts, especially along the Caribbean coast, which is rainier than the rest of Panama.

Is it safe to swim in Panama? ›

No swimming! Bacteria high at two Panama City beaches. Health officials issue advisories. PANAMA CITY — The Bay County Health Department is asking people not to swim in two public beach areas, issuing advisories after detecting unhealthy bacteria in the water.

Can you wear shorts in Panama? ›

General Style Tips

Panama City is cosmopolitan and people tend to dress casually but smartly – think fitted clothing and smart shoes. If you don't want to scream 'tourist' then avoid wearing shorts around the city, no matter how hot it gets. The key is neat and sleek, and neutral colors are best.

Why is the sand black in Panama? ›

You can find this unattractive or not tropical, but actually the reason for this back color is because they are volcanic beaches. Due to volcanic ashes in the time of eruption thousands of years ago the sand turned black, as are many of the rocks you will find in the ocean as well.

Is Panama expensive? ›

Panama isn't always expensive to visit. Traveling here is somewhat cheaper than traveling in Europe, Canada or the United States but somewhat pricier than Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador.

What are the coldest months in Panama Panama? ›

Quick Climate Info
Hottest MonthApril (84 °F avg)
Coldest MonthOctober (81 °F avg)
Wettest MonthOctober (5.40" avg)
Windiest MonthFebruary (8 mph avg)
1 more row

Can you swim in Playa Blanca Panama? ›

Playa Blanca is clean and safe to swim and the area is great to enjoy the warm and peaceful waters of the the Pacific Ocean. Other activities along the beach along Playa Blanca include hiking, sailing, kayaking, golf, horseback riding, jet skis, beach volleyball and much more boating and fishing.

Is there bacteria in the water in Panama City Beach Florida? ›

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Visitors come to the Panhandle usually with one thing in mind, the beach. However, recent waters tested as part of the Healthy Beaches Monitoring Program have noted high amounts of enterococcus bacteria, which can be an indication of fecal pollution.

Is Panama cheaper than Costa Rica? ›

Money-wise, both Panama and Costa Rica are more expensive than the surrounding countries and in some cases, even more expensive than travelling in Europe. Of the two, Panama is around 10-20% cheaper than Costa Rica, but with the range of luxury goods on offer, you might find yourself spending more!

Why is the water not clear in Panama City Beach? ›

Tannins are created when pine needles, leaves, grasses and other organic matter get into the water and break down over time, giving it a dark tea-stained look, according to city officials.

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