Panama Surf Camp Guide

panama surf camp guide

Panama is one of the only countries in Central America to offer amazing waves on both the Caribbean and Pacific coastlines. It has a sublime mix of beach, point and reef breaks, and to this day is relatively uncrowded as surfers rather congregate in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

The country gets waves all year round and there are a plethora of offshore islands that offer top class surfing. There is a wave for every ability level, so whether you are a beginner or an absolute shredder, there will be a wave for you in Panama. 

In many surf spots you may be one of only two or three surfers out. Some other spots that are closer to touristy areas like Bocas Del Toro are starting to get more crowded. Always respect respect the surfers code, and know your place in the lineup. If you follow these precepts you should be able to surf in most places around the world without any hassles.

The Best Places To Surf

Both the Caribbean and Pacific coastlines possess some awesome surf spots. Like Nicaragua, Panama is an up and coming surf destination. With the capital, Panama City, having good global connectivity, why not make Panama your next surf holiday.

In this Panama Surf Camp Guide we focus on 4 main areas. On the Pacific coast, Santa Catalina, Morro Negrito and Playa Morillo. And on the Caribbean coastline the well known Bocas Del Toro.

Some of the sickest surf spots in Panama include, The Bluff in Bocas Del Toro, Playa Morillo, P Land, La Punta in Santa Catalina and those very daring surfers Silverbacks. You’ll find a Panama surf camp near all of these spots. Click on the images below to explore each surf area in more depth. In each one we reveal the best surf camps in each area.

The Waves

Panama has a cornucopia of waves across both coastlines. Reef breaks, point breaks and some mellow and heavy beach breaks, it has it all. Most of the waves are easy to access, particularly in Bocas Del Toro.

However, there are also many islands off both coastlines which offer some incredible surfing opportunities. Some of these islands are habitable and even have surf camps on them, while others can only be accessed by boat.

La Punta

panama surf camp
Source: Magic Seaweed

La Punta is one of the most well know waves in Panama for good reason. It receives consistent year-round offshore winds and picks up swell for most of the year. 

The time between April and October being the best months to surf. It an be quite a long paddle out, so many surfers wait until high tide so they can paddle off the rocks by Hotel Santa Catalina. 

If you’e not staying at the hotel there are also a number of surf camps which have constructed ladders for easy access to the paddle out. The most popular section of this wave is the outside section.

Like the name suggests La Punta offer a really nice smooth pint break. On bigger swell with low tide this wave can barrel and pack quite a punch.

Punta Brava

punta brava

Punta Brava is a pretty gnarly wave.  It’s about a 30 min walk south east of Santa Catalina. Walk down Playa Estero and then all the way down La Coquita. When arrive at La Coquita you will then cross over the rocks to Punta Brava.

It is best surfed on a mid to high tide, and like La Punta has a rocky bottom, so be careful on the drop in. The waves here tend break at between 2-6 foot. There is both a right and a left on offer. The right is a hollow, barreling wave and the left only tends work when it’s larger than 6 foot.

Playa El Estero

panama surf camp

Playa El Estero is the perfect beach for beginner surfers. Don’t be scared off by the picture above. This large stretch of beach offers more mellow, softer waves. These waves are ideal for beginners of all ages.

You can rent surfboards on this beach as well as book surf lessons from local instructors. At high tide, most of the sand is covered by water, and there isn’t much space to sit and chill. Low tide however offer a nice open expanse of sand where locals come to play beach soccer and volleyball.

Playa Venao

playa venao
Source: Magic Seaweed

Playa Venao suits surfers of all abilities. It’s situated in a small beach town on Panama’s Pacific coast. It is revered as being one of Panama’s best surf breaks. It’s beach break located in a relatively large bay. On lower tides the wave can barrel quite heavily which is more suited to an advanced surfer.

With smaller swell on higher tides, this wave is ideal for intermediates and beginners. There are a number of surf camps and surf schools in the area so finding accommodation, renting equipment and taking lessons is very easy to do.

Bluff

bluff surfing

Bluff is a hollow beach break which is located on Isla Colon in Bocas Del Toro. It’s the preserve of more experienced surfers as its a hollow, barrelling wave breaking in very shallow water. Access to Bluff beach either involves a taxi ride or boat taxi that departs from Bocas town.

Playa Paunch

playa paunch
Source: Surfer Magazine

Playa Paunch is very well known reef break in Bocas Del Toro. It’s a really fun intermediate right and left reef break that can servce up the occasional barrel. It’s a steep takeoff but thereafter the wave opens up for a few cutbacks until it closes out on the inside. 

Up to 5 ft this wave is suitable for both beginners and intermediates. If it’s bigger than 6ft then is becomes a wave for advanced surfers only as can start to barrel and become a heavy break.

Best Time To Surf

Like the rest of Central America, Panama has two distinct seasons, a rainy and dry season. The rainy season is from is May through to December and the dry season is from January through to April. 

The rainy season is the best time of the year to surf on Pacific side. This excludes Bocas Del Toro which is on the Caribbean side.

The rainy season brings larger swells onto the Pacific coastline of Panama thanks to the storms that occur hundreds of kilometres offshore. However the Caribbean swell season is somewhat different. 

Bocas Del Toro’s best waves comes during the Caribbean monsoon season which runs from October to February. There is also a mini surf season during the months of June and July.

With Panama being very close to the equator the sun rises and sets at about the same time all year round. It rises at 0545 and sets at 1745. 

The air temperature throughout the year is between 24 and 32 degrees celsius (75-90 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day. Temperatures rarely get down below  23 degrees celsius (74 degrees Fahrenheit).

panama surf camp

Water Temperature

Water Temperatures in Panama are warm on both coastlines. On the Pacific side the water temperature ranges from 27 °C to 29 °C (81 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit). On the Caribbean side the temperatures in the same range as the Pacific side.

Needless to say you won’t need a wetsuit when surfing in Panama. A rash vest or 1mm wetsuit top is a popular choice for surfers at some of the reef breaks.