If you live in Panama City, you know that one of its best assets isn’t in the city at all. The capital’s convenient location makes it the perfect home base from which to visit some of the best beaches in Central America.
On any given weekend, you can hop in a car and in less than two hours, lie under a coconut tree with your feet in crystal blue waters or surf the waves of the Pacific.
There’s no doubt that Panama City’s proximity to so many great beaches is a huge draw for expats and a point of pride for locals. With almost 3,000 miles of coastline, access to both the Caribbean and the Pacific, and hundreds of islands to boot, there’s little that Panama’s beach scene doesn’t have.
So what are the most popular spots for city dwellers to head for a beach trip? Read on for some of the best beach destinations near Panama City.
Taboga Island is a beloved beach trip for capital-dwellers and can afford a taste of paradise for as little as a few hours. Located about 20 kilometers off the coast of Panama City, this beachy island is best accessed by ferry. Ferries leave from the causeway five times throughout the day, and a round-trip ride will cost you $24 and take about 30 minutes each way.
Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted by a long stretch of sandy beach on which you can happily pass the hours swimming, strolling, or lounging. There are small huts along the beach selling food and drinks, but you’re best off bringing sunscreen, a towel, and whatever else you’ll want for the day with you, as the shopping opportunities are minimal. If you’re looking to stretch your stay at Taboga Island beyond just a day trip, there are hotels available including the stunning Villa Caprichosa perched up on the island’s hills that offer breathtaking views.
Playa Venao is one of our favorite go-to beach destinations. With long stretches of white sand and incredible bohemian vibes, it’s not hard to guess why we and many others love coming here. Known as one of the best surf spots in Panama, Playa Venao is a world-class beach break that catches just about any swell. Don’t worry if you’re a beginner though, because Playa Venao has waves for every skill level. A mere 30-minute drive from Pedasi, this beach will keep you coming back time and again.
Ps…For seasoned surfers, the main break is located towards the center of the half-moon beach. Beginners can find more moderate swell and smaller crowds on either side of the bay. This break is a paradise for anyone wanting an adrenaline-infused adventure.
Farther afield, but totally worth it, is the beach town of Las Tablas. About a four-hour drive southwest of Panama City, this is a popular destination for weekend trips.
This cute town is known for its dedication to Panamanian folk art, music, gastronomy, and culture. It’s also a very popular destination for those in search of an authentic and unrivaled carnival celebration experience. There are plenty of small hotels and inns where you can stay while you explore this coastal region.
What makes Las Tablas special is its proximity to several great beaches. Less than a 15-minute drive from Las Tablas, you can choose from many wide sandy beaches including Playa El Uverito and Playa Las Comadres. If you’re looking for a secluded beach experience, head to Playa El Jobo that is almost devoid of visitors and makes for a spectacular backdrop to watch the sunset.
Hop in the car in Panama City and head southwest along the coast for 90 minutes and you’ll come to Coronado. This growing beach community has become increasingly popular with expats as well as national and international tourists over the years, and for good reason. Coronado offers some of the prettiest beaches in Panama within proximity to the city, making it a great choice for both a day trip or for a longer getaway.
Regardless of how you like to spend your outdoor time, Coronado has something for everyone. Beach enthusiasts can sunbathe, swim, or surf. For the sand averse, there are golf courses, resorts with great pools, and plenty of restaurants to try. One thing’s for sure, once you’ve made a quick trip to Coronado, you’ll likely plan your next visit before you know it. Truly one of the best beaches near Panama City.
For a quintessential Panamanian beach experience, head to Contadora Island. A short, hour-long ferry ride from Panama City will transport you to another world far from the skyscrapers and traffic of the nation’s capital. In fact, with very few exceptions for people who service the island, no cars are permitted on Contadora Island. Your best bet to explore the island’s various secluded beaches is to rent a golf cart for the duration of your stay.
Contadora Island is the ideal destination for a relaxing weekend. Apart from feeling worlds away but close enough for a day trip, relaxation is the name of the game here. Lounge in the sun on a number of white-sand beaches. Get in some snorkeling in the crystal clear waters. Or kick back on a patio and enjoy a meal of fresh seafood. At the end of a long weekend, you’ll head back to the city feeling revived and refreshed.
Directly north of Panama City on the opposite side of the isthmus, you’ll find the quaint port city of Portobelo. Portobelo is bursting with local history thanks to nearby Fort San Lorenzo, several sites of colonial Spanish ruins, and the location of the Panama Canal.
Once you’ve soaked in the historical sites of Portobelo, it’s time to hit the beach. Portobelo is a great jumping-off point to visit several beaches in the area. The easiest one to access is Playa Blanca, just a few minutes from the town. From there, you can pay a local operator to take a small boat out to some of the other beaches in the area. If you’re looking for a special experience, consider a stay at El Otro Lado, a private resort best accessed by boat. Decked out with vibrant colors, local style, and plenty of top-of-the-line amenities, this is the perfect beach escape for a special occasion.
San Blas Islands
These islands may not be especially easy to get to, but the journey will certainly be worth it if you want pristine white-sand beaches and turquoise waters. Largely recognized as one of the best beach destinations near Panama City, with more than 390 islands, you could visit a new one each day of the year and not run out of options.
Wondering how to get to the San Blas Islands?
You can either fly directly there from Panama City, or drive to Puerto de Carti (about two-and-a-half hours) and then take a water taxi out to the islands.
From there, the world is your oyster. There are plenty of islands that have hotels or cabanas that you can rent from basic beach huts to fancy cabins perched above the water. It’s relatively easy to hire a water taxi or local boat operator to shuttle you around to different islands to explore, snorkel, or merely take in the stunning views. Whatever you do, don’t forget to try some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever taste.
Bocas del Toro
Unless you’re up for a 10-hour drive, you’ll want to hop on a plane to get to this beach destination. Once you’ve booked your tickets, though, the brief one-hour flight will have you to paradise before you know it. With an unmistakable Caribbean-island vibe, it’s hard not to leave all of your worries behind at Bocas del Toro.
Brightly painted homes, businesses, and bungalows are scattered about the island and reflected in the crystal clear waters. There are tons of options for where to stay on Bocas del Toro. Whether you’re looking for a humble cabana or a four-star resort, you can find it here. There are also tons of dining options to match from casual beach bars to more elevated restaurants. When you plan your trip, be warned, chances are you’ll wish you’d stayed longer.
Regardless of where you head first, it would be a shame to spend time in Panama without checking out the breathtaking beaches. So start exploring, and work your way through some of the best beach destinations near Panama City.
Interested in beach property? Check out our great beach lots and properties available and contact us to start your journey to the sun, sea, and sand.