Every weekend, hordes of residents from Panama City and the interior head out to the Pacific Coast to frolic on the beaches of the Panamá and Coclé provinces. Until a decade ago, this long stretch of beach backed by dusty cliffs was the home of fishermen and humble people who moved here after their villages were flooded with the building of the Panama Canal. But the beaches' proximity to Panama City (just 30 min. to 2 hr. from downtown) has proved tempting to well-heeled Panamanians and foreign retirees, and now the coast is the haunt of extravagant homes, manicured residential communities, and a few splashy megaresorts. There are three exclusive seaside golf courses -- Playa Coronado, Tucan Country Club, and the Mantaray course near the Decameron -- and a couple of surf schools with packages or day lessons if you're short on time. And Panama's only RV park is located here, close to Santa Clara. Most coastal destinations in this section see few people outside of weekends, and at some beaches during low season, weekends can be relatively free of crowds. Despite their popularity with weekend city-dwellers, the Central Pacific beaches are certainly not Panama's most attractive beaches, and are really only worth visiting if you don't have time to visit some of Panama's better beaches or if you're taking part in an all-inclusive vacation at one of the resorts along the coast. Personally, I find the rapid over-development and "planned community" feel of the Central Pacific Coast a bit disconcerting, but if you're looking for an all inclusive package or want to spend your holiday playing golf, you'll feel right at home here.

The modern, four-lane Interamericana (also called Panamericana) Highway connects the city with the coast's beaches, which are listed in this section in descending southwest order: Playa Bonita, Gorgona, Coronado, Santa Clara, and Farallón (Playa Blanca). The farther you drive from Panama City, the whiter the sand turns and the bluer the sea. The sands of some of the beaches have a lot of iron and are blackish.

Important note: The Pacific beaches have strong riptides and choppy swimming conditions, and aren't the best choice for families with small children.