Surf’s Up! What’s up with Surfing in Panama.

Panama surfing
Panama surfing

Panama offers good surfing for beginners & advanced surfers.

Panama is becoming popular with tourists and visitors for its rustic beaches and big waves. While we’re not Costa Rica (with its more sophisticated luxury resorts and established beach communities), there’s actually a lot of options when it comes to beach & water sports in Panama. Today’s post focuses on surfing in Panama.

Surfing in Panama

Surfing is obviously the most popular water sport in Panama.  And if surfing is your thing, then the Pacific Ocean coast is your obvious choice. For those new to surfing, check out El Palmar or Coronado on the Pacific Ocean to get in some beginner lessons at low tide. There’s a great little school in El Palmar called Panama Surf School. The owner, Flor Villarreal is from Argentina originally but has been in Panama for many years, and has a solid business for those wanting to learn the surfing thing. I personally took lessons from Flor – both my husband and I did – six years ago, when she was first getting going. Now, she has a bunch of teachers who work with her and they’ve grown from a tiny enterprise to a more professional one. Beginner surfers should always take lessons at Low Tide, to ensure that they are learning in the lowest waves possible. If you’re taking from Panama Surf School, you’ll probably start out at El Palmar beach, which is also popular with locals.

Kite Surfing in Panama

Kite Surfing Panama

NitroCity in Punta Chame Panama is the best place for kite surfing.

I’ve never personally kite surfed but I did surf behind a boat on the lakes where I grew up, and it was no easy thing. The only place I know of to learn or practice your kite surfing in Panama is Punta Chame, on the Pacific Coast. Because of geography of the bay there, the wind and the beach there make a perfect combination for this specific sport. NitroCity is the hottest place to learn to kite surf in Panama. I haven’t taken lessons there personally – in fact, I’ve only been to Punta Chame before NitroCity existed, but it must be good, because I keep hearing about it. Even Justin Bieber went there on his recent trip to Panama!

Best Beaches for Advanced Surfing in Panama


Panama surfing Playa Venao

Playa Venao in Panama is great for surfing.

Playa Venao – about four hours from the city of Panama if you drive, and less than an hour flight – is one of the best beaches for advanced surfers. It’s also very popular with locals, who have been going there all their lives. El Palmar Point – there are actually two points in El Palmar at high tide that are fantastic for advanced surfers. This is the same beach as where the beginners learn (at low tide), but high tide brings a completely different set of waves further to the East and West of the beginner beach.

Surfing on Panama’s Caribbean Coast

Panama surfing in Bocas

Bocas del Toro on Panama’s Caribbean coast offers reef surfing.

Reef surfing is very popular on Panama’s Caribbean coast, but it’s also a tad more difficult to get to (than Panama’s Pacific coast beaches). However, the water is gorgeous and more clear, so the experience is very different. Many of our friends have gone reef surfing in and around the Bocas del Toro region of Panama, along the Costa Rica coast. The best website I could find with specifics on the beaches there and what it’s like was done by Island Path Panama. Here’ll you find great descriptions of the various locations in Bocas del Toro for surfing, as well what the water is like.

Surf Equipment & Surf Lessons in Panama

Yes, you can buy good equipment in Panama for surfing, no worries. You can also bring your own with you, if you’re just visiting or vacationing in Panama, but if that’s the case, be sure to check with your airline as to the additional costs and size restrictions.

If you don’t have your own equipment, there’s plenty of surfboards to rent while you’re learning. You do NOT need a wetsuit to surf in Panama.

You are in the Tropics, so the water temperature is warm. You will notice that the water on the Pacific side is cooler than the Caribbean.

For surf lessons, plan to pay anywhere from $30-$60 for a 90-minute to two-hour lesson. The price variation depends on if you’re at a more remote beach or one that has a big hotel on it. (More tourists, the higher the price.)

Otherwise, have fun while you are surfing in Panama! It’s one of the most fun things you can do on the beach here in the Tropics, so whether you’re new to it or advanced, you’ll find there’s somewhere in Panama that will give you just the waves you’re looking for.

I’ll cover other beach & water sports in Panama in a future post.

Happy July 4th holiday…and how Panama celebrates its Independence

4th of July holidays in Panama
4th of July holidays in Panama

Happy 4th of July from Panama to my US friends!

And, I am wishing you a festive July 4th celebration - on this commemorative date for all of the United States – as a U.S. citizen living in Panama. The July 4th holiday with its barbecues and fireworks and small town parades always makes me a bit nostalgic for the U.S.A.

Does Panama celebrate the July 4th holiday?

And, that’s an easy answer…it certainly does not.

But, most Panamanians are very aware of the July 4th holiday, since the United States armed forces and thousands of its personnel occupied the Panama Canal zone for many, many years. And, during those years – until 1999, when the Canal and the lands around it were returned to the country of Panama – all of those U.S. citizens celebrated the 4th of July as heartily as anyone else back home in the States.

So, for the most part, Panama natives are very familiar with the U.S. holiday calendar, as well as what the 4th of July means for the U.S., including hot dogs, hamburgers, apple pie and Chevrolet, among its historical references. :)

How do expats in Panama celebrate the 4th of July?

4th of july holiday in Panama

Hot dogs are always on our 4th of July picnic table!

For the most part, just like you do – but more so at home with family and friends that also live in Panama. Because many expats living in Panama own beach homes, the 4th of July might mean a longer weekend at the beach (which would definitely be the case this year, in 2014, since today is a Friday…).

And, fireworks in all shapes, sizes, colors, sounds and prices, are readily available in Panama because of the Colon Free Trade Zone – which is also the second largest free trade zone in the world. (And, China is the biggest trading partner within that Zone….) But, notwithstanding the accessibility of your favorite exploding aerial goodies, Panama actually uses fireworks much more frequently than we do in the U.S. Here, you’ll hear and see fireworks displays almost every weekend. That’s right! For every birthday, wedding, graduation, inauguration, milestone event….well, you get the picture. Fireworks are very ‘de riguer’ in Panama, and the bigger, the better.

When does Panama celebrate its Independence holidays?

fireworks in Panama Elizabeth Vance

Panama is crazy about fireworks displays – year round!

I’m so glad you asked. You can find a whole section on holidays in my second book, The Gringo Guide to Panama II: More to Know Before You Go on Amazon. But the short answer is that Panama has FIVE independence holidays and they all fall within the month of November! And, that month with all those holiday celebrations has HUUUUGGGGEEEEE cultural implications for you as an expat both personally and in business.

Here’s a post I did on those very holidays soon after my first book was published.

Here’s hoping your 4th of July festivities are festive and warm, whether you are in the Tropics of Panama, or Stateside with your family and friends.



Panama Weather and your Hair during the Rainy Season

Elizabeth Vance and bad hair days in Panama
Elizabeth Vance and bad hair days in Panama

Everyone has at least one bad hair day in Panama…until they figure out how to deal with the humidity.

Now, obviously, if you’re reading this, you very likely fall into the female category.  Am I right?  ( Of course, there are some guys out there with longer locks too….)

It may sound crazy, but I never thought of writing on the topic of what the heck to do with your hair in the rainy season, until I had a few guests visit recently who said, “You’ve gotta warn people so they can plan better for what the Panama weather will do to their hair!”

Hair Beware: What Panama Weather might do to your “Do”

Panama expat Elizabeth Vance talks about hair and Panama weather

What to Know Before You Go to Panama…about your hair

Ladies, you can count on a few things when you come to Panama, when it comes to your lovely locks, be they short or long, curly or straight.

  • Whatever type of hair products work back home in your hair will never work the same way once you come to Panama. *Except perhaps for your shampoo, and even that’s a toss-up.

What does that mean, you ask? Well, here’s a few examples.

  1. It means that if you use heavy hair spray back home, it may turn to goop once you’ve hit the high humidity of this time of year in Panama, and not work at all after you’ve used it once.  (The excess humidity will clog the spraying device.)
  2. If you use a heavy or medium gel or paste in your hair care products, and you attempt to use them in Panama, your hair will get so heavy from the product and the humidity, that it will look like you crawled through a puddle by noon. I’m not kidding.
  3. And, hairspray? If you have a style that calls for heavy hairspray, it’s a good idea to look for one that specifically works in high humidity. And, please, buy it back home and bring it with you. It’s pretty likely (especially if you’re traveling to Panama) that you won’t find it here. At least, not easily.

Good Behaving Hair becomes Bad Behaving Hair in a flash in Panama

  • However your hair behaves normally back home will vary significantly once you hit the heat and humidity of Panama’s rainy season.

Panama is just 300 miles North of the equator, after all. This is not Florida, ladies; this is the true Tropics!

    1. That means if you have curly hair, it’s going to instantly get frizzy and BIG once you get off the plane.
    2. If you have straight hair, it may be sticking straight up wherever you have a cowlick.
    3. If you have wavy hair, you can plan that it will be downright curly while you are here.

Traveling to Panama? What hair amenities can you expect?

Hair care in Panama

This is what getting a “blower” in Panama looks like…

In most hotels in the city, you can expect to find shampoo, soap and lotion. Sometimes, they will have conditioner (depending on the chain). And, most of the time – the more established brands will have your hair dryer in the room.

In the Interior and more rustic areas, plan to bring all of that with you. Or, at the very least, specifically ask in advance when you make your reservation. You won’t find your nicer hair care brands anywhere outside the city of Panama, so don’t expect to.

And, one more fun bonus about beauty services in Panama! On almost every street corner in the country, you’ll find a plethora of beauty salons offering a thing called a “blower” for $5-8. And, now it’s not a sexual favor, it’s having your hair blown out. We call it a “Style” in the States.  It’s very common down here. Some women get it done every day, but it may be something to consider if you’re having a hard time figuring out what your hair is doing.

Because as you know….my motto (and the titles of both my books) for those new to Panama is “What to Know Before You Go“. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto! (And, if you’re wondering about what salons and stylists are most popular with the expat crowd in Panama, you can find that in Chapter 13 titled “Plugging into Local Life” of my second book, The Gringo Guide to Panama II.)

Even if you weren’t planning on trying out a new look, it’s likely that you’ll have one when you come to Panama (with or without the blower).

Which could be very exotic, if you think about it. :P

Have fun!