Panama Diaries Part I: First Impressions

Featured on Beach Break Surf Camp Blog DSC_2234

For the past half-decade or so, I have made surf travel a regular part of my life. Like many other surfers, what started with a single trip has snowballed into a career, which now consists of running a study abroad company and travel writing. With the exception of a few far-flung corners of the globe, I believed that I had thoroughly covered the basics of surf travel. But when the recent opportunity to travel to Panama presented itself, I realized I had overlooked an idyllic spot. As the southernmost country in Central America, situated just below Costa Rica, the winding Panamanian coastline is exposed to an enormous amount of swell. I was no stranger to Central America, in fact I had made been making yearly, if not twice yearly, trips to Central America for the past few years. But for some odd reason, I had always favored other spots over Panama. So, I set off on a long journey to Beach Break Surf Camp in Playa Venao, unsure of what I would find.

 

Due to my overall frugalness when it comes to travel, I made the decision to take a flight that would have me arriving in Panama City too late to take the Beach Break Surf Camp shuttle to Playa Venao. Instead, I would take a taxi, a bus, and then a final taxi to reach the Northwest corner of Panama. The journey, as expected, was exhausting. Arriving at Playa Venao in the dead of night, I was greeted with a nice note on a room door welcoming me. The long journey to Play Venao made me realize just how remote the location is compared to other popular Central American surf destinations. A near 6 hours from Panama City, and 40 minutes from the nearest bus station, Playa Venao is truly a secluded wonder.

 

When I awoke the next morning and had asked others about where to buy groceries for cooking, I learned even more of Playa Venao’s solitude.

 

“Well there’s a mini-mart up the road, but if you want real food, you’ll have to wait for the vegetable guy to come through or one of the fishermen,” they told me.

 

Well, I had found what I was looking for: a secluded surf break with some type of accommodation and restaurant infrastructure that was not in danger of being overdeveloped and devolving into the next Jaco. While Playa Venao does have a handful of hotels and accompanying restaurants, they’re scattered throughout the long stretch of beach. At its current rate, Playa Venao is growing but is in no danger of becoming a tourist trap anytime soon.

 

In my first week, I had a few great surfs at Playa Venao, but unfortunately, towards the end of the week a rare flat spell set in. Not uncommon in October for any break in Central America but disappointing none the less. However, it was in this flat spell when I was able to truly experience the surf culture in Playa Venao fully, specifically with the family at Beach Break Surf Camp.

 

It began when a group of the camp’s surf instructors went out fishing to celebrate one of their co-workers last days in Panama. They came back with a literal feast, and all were invited to join.

Ravenous from the long day, guests and staff alike, all grabbed a fork and dug in. Several beers and an entire masterfully prepared fish later, we had changed locations to the bar of the restaurant, before calling it a night late in the evening.

 

The next few days were filled with slacklining, waterfall hikes, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes, and plenty of beers and laughs.

 

 

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