Arguably the region's prettiest town, this is without a doubt the choice destination in the region, and I hesitate to say that because it is one of those special places you want to remain a secret. Pedasí is the kind of small town where no passing visitor goes ungreeted -- usually locals camped out on their front porch give a pleasant wave to any stranger passing by. The autochthonous architecture is well-preserved, and residents have recently painted and spiffed up most of the facades of residential buildings. The town is one long main street called Avenida Central, with a tidy plaza 2 blocks from the main road. The paved and signed streets and other well-tended civic structures exist because the former president Mireya Moscoso is from here -- you'll see her bust in the plaza. Note that this is a languid town without many services other than a bank (Banco Nacional, at the town's entrance) and two restaurants.
Within town there is basic lodging, but Dive-N-Fish Pedasi, also known as Buzos de Azuero , is currently in the process of constructing the Pedasí Sports Club, which promises to be the most upscale lodging option in Pedasi. A little farther south in the village of Los Destiladores, you'll find luxury lodging; and to the southwest in Playa Venado, there's high-end beachfront lodging. The region is known for its beaches, surfing, fishing, and Isla Laguna Wildlife refuge. There is even a scuba-diving operation.
Visitor Information & Orientation
There is a helpful ATP visitor center (tel. 995-2339; Mon-Fri 8:30am-4:30pm, Sat-Sun and holidays 8:30am-1:30pm) with brochures about regions throughout Panama, and they occasionally have maps. The staff isn't overly occupied and will eagerly help you with any transportation or logistics problems. The office is at the entrance to town, on the road to Playa Arenal.
Getting There & Departing
By Plane -- At press time, there are no scheduled commercial flights between Panama City and Pedasí. Air Panama (tel. 316-9000) can organize a charter flight for you; however, this option is expensive and not really worth it unless you're traveling with a large group or money is no object.
By Car -- To continue through Las Tablas to Pedasí, follow the Carretera Nacional until it dead-ends at Avenida Belisario Porras, turn left, and drive until the road turns back into the Carretera Nacional. The road from Las Tablas to Pedasí is straightforward. Warning: Mind your speed along this road. It is common knowledge that the police set up speed traps and then demand a bribe, usually about $5 (£2.50). If you are a tourist, they will probably let you go with a warning.
By Bus & Taxi -- Buses from Panama City or Chitré change in Las Tablas. Buses from Panama City to Las Tablas are $8 (£4); from Las Tablas to Pedasí it is $2 (£1). A taxi from Chitré to Pedasí costs around $20 (£10).
By Taxi -- Taxis do not cruise the streets frequently, but if you wait long enough on a corner one will eventually pass by. If not, call tel. 995-2275, or have the ATP office call for you.
Fun in the Ocean
Beaches -- There are a lot of fine beaches in this region, but unfortunately, they are receptacles for trash that currents deposit throughout the year. Sometimes it's just a few pieces here and there; other times it's a poor man's beachcomber's paradise. When the tide is low, you won't notice this as much. Playa Arenal, about a mile from the main street in Pedasí, is a prime example, and visitors might only want to stop here briefly before carrying on to the Isla Laguna Wildlife Refuge, which is reached by boat from here -- take the road past the scuba shop near the ATP office. Playa del Toro has good swimming conditions but its murky waters are not very inviting. The best beach here is in Los Destiladores, another 10km (6 miles) south of Pedasí. The waves pound, but the beach is cleaner and altogether more beautiful. Also, see Playa Venado, below. Like most beaches on the Pacific, the beaches of the Azuero Peninsula aren't the most attractive in Panama, but the availability of comfortable lodging makes them a good choice for those who don't want to go as far as Bocas del Toro or don't want to rough it in Kuna Yala.
Isla Laguna Wildlife Refuge -- This island refuge is reached by boat from Playa Arenal, and is about 3km (1 3/4 miles) from shore. Isla Laguna is only about 55 hectares (136 acres), and it is surrounded by an extensive coral reef that attracts thousands of colorful fish -- the blue sea here is ideal for snorkeling. Unfortunately, a lot of trash washes up onshore, carried by currents and left by negligent tourists. The island was also used as target practice by the U.S. military, and it's said that unexploded bombs are still occasionally found here, so be careful and stick to main beaches and trails.
The island is home to green iguanas; and if you're lucky enough to be here from June to November, humpback whales breed in the area and are commonly seen by boat. The refuge can be reached by hiring a local boatman at Playa Arenal, or you can book a trip with Buzos de Azuero -- you'll need to rent snorkel gear from them anyway, so you might as well plan your trip here. The cost is $50 (£25) for a half-day, and boats run from 8am to 6pm. The boat ride out is smoothest from April to December; if you've come between January and March, you may not be able to reach the island because of strong winds. There aren't any services on the island, so pack a picnic lunch.
Snorkeling, Diving & Fishing -- The Canadian-run scuba center Buzos de Azuero (tel. 995-2405; www.dive-n-fishpanama.com) operates out of Pedasí, offering scuba diving to visit shipwrecks, seamounts, and coral reefs; divers usually can view large pelagic fish and turtles. Diving is best from April to December; from January to March the sea is churned up and dive trips take place only if conditions are calm. A two-tank dive costs $75 (£38) per person, and snorkeling is $50 (£25) for a maximum of seven people, not including the $10 (£5) snorkeling rental cost.
The center also offers deep-sea fishing and spear fishing for tuna, marlin (May-July), and mahimahi, taking visitors out to Isla Frailes, which has a 46m (150-ft.) drop-off with abundant marine life. The center offers a variety of fishing packages, their most popular being the 6 Day/5 Night Deep Sea Fishing Package for $795 (£398) per person, including boat, guide, and hotel. There are also daily deep sea fishing trips available for $125 (£63) plus gas, including all equipment, boat, and guide. Those interested in spearfishing will want to inquire about the 6 Day/5 Night Spearfishing package priced at $695 (£348) or daily spear fishing trips at $125 (£63).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.