Panama isn’t known for its spectacular golf courses, but that is quickly changing as more and more resorts build private courses. Panama provides golfers with a variety of championship courses, some of which are open for public day use, others as part of an all-inclusive resort. Close to Panama City, Summit Golf & Resort (tel. 232-4653) is the ideal venue for those staying in the capital; it’s located on the east bank of the Panama Canal on the Gaillard Highway and is accessible by taxi from the city for about $20 one-way. 

The Radisson Summit Hotel (tel. 232-3200) is here too, as well as a restaurant and a pro shop. Designed by noted architect Jeffery Myers, the course is spread across rolling hills, with sweeping views of the Gaillard Cut of the Panama Canal. It’s very classy, and there is a traditional 18-hole course as well as a 6-hole course for juniors and beginners. The course is open every day from 6am to 6pm; call ahead to book a tee time. 

Buenaventura Golf Club (tel. 908-3333), an 18-hole, Jack Nicklaus–designed golf course on the Pacific Coast, is perhaps the top course in the country. The par-72 championship course and state-of-the-art club are mostly for members and guests of the JW Marriott Panama, though eight rounds a day are offered to the public. 

The Bluebay Coronado Golf & Beach Resort (tel. 240-4444) is a premier golf resort located on the Pacific Coast, about an hour from Panama City. Designed by Tom Fazio, this is one of the only seaside 18-hole courses in the country; players can come for the day from Panama City, but the resort specializes in packages with lodging included. 

Costa Blanca Golf & Villas (tel.  986-1915) is located next to the Decameron Resort on the Pacific Coast, about 11⁄2 hours from Panama City. It has an 18-hole course that is lighted, so you can play both day and night. The cost is closer to a bargain than other resorts: Monday through Friday, it’s $30 per person, with an additional $22 for a cart; week- ends cost $72 per person (including cart). The course is within a residential development and has a clubhouse and restaurant. 


Motorcyclists with their own bikes should know that the lion’s share of Panama roads are twisty-curvy, with the exception of the Pan American Highway. Also, most roads off this highway are peppered with potholes, and it is common to see farm animals blocking or sharing the road. The company Moto Tour Panama (tel. 264-8515) offers 1-, 2-, 5-, and 8-day Panama motorcycle tours on BMW bikes. Tours are offered year- round and include stays at four-star (and up) hotels and cost $150 to $2,200 (rider) and $150 to $1,260 (passenger). 


Panama has no “destination” spas, but most resorts and a couple of upscale hotels have top-of-the-line spas, or at the very least provide services such as massages, a gym, a sauna, and sometimes a steam room. I don’t foresee a huge boom in this market, in spite of its rapid growth worldwide, but a few hotel owners are slowly catching on to this hot trend. 

The InterContinental Playa Bonita Resort & Spa (tel. 211-8600) is located on the Pacific, just a 30-minute drive from Panama City. This plush beach resort has a sybaritic spa facility with all the trimmings; services are booked individually or as part of a package that com- bines fruit- and chocolate-infused skin treatments, massage, aromatherapy, and body wraps. 

Decapolis Radisson (tel. 215-5000), a sleek, trendy hotel, has the Aqua Spa, one of the top spas in Panama City in terms of service and hip decor, and you don’t have to be a guest to book an appointment. It offers a full range of treatments and a stylish beauty parlor for one-stop makeovers. 
Gamboa Rainforest Resort (tel. 314-9000) is the best-known spa in Panama. The topnotch service, along with the recently renovated premises, make this one of the best spas in Panama. Expect traditional massages, body scrubs, and facials. If you’re not staying at the resort, you can visit the spa anyway and combine it with a bike ride and lunch. 

Los Quetzales Ecolodge & Spa (tel. 771-2291) is a slight misnomer—there is a “spa” building here, but it is small and services are not up to snuff. Massage rooms are shared, for example, unless you throw down extra cash for a private room. There is a sauna, and the spa center is backed by forest and a rushing river, but the center is more a lodge amenity than a spa destination. 

Los Mandarinos Boutique Spa and Hotel (tel. 983-6645) offers one of the nicer spas in Panama. Though the spa area is small, it offers a range of facials, massages, and body treatments, in addition to a thermal circuit including a sauna, Turkish bath, bio-thermal shower, and Jacuzzi. The spa is open to nonguests by appointment.

Yogini Spa (tel. 832-2430) also offers full spa services in a more casual, laidback setting.

Haven Spa (tel. 730-9345) is a sprawling, recently opened Boquete spa offering every service you can imagine, from a high-tech sauna and Turkish bath to relaxing massages. Plus, there are exercise classes, a pool, and half a dozen guest rooms for those looking for a relaxing few days. Haven Spa is definitely one of the nicest spas in Panama. 

The JW Marriott Panama (tel. 507/908-3333) in the Buenaventura complex on the Pacific Coast has a high-end spa with massage rooms, a Turkish bath, a sauna, and more. This elegant spa is one of the better hotel spas in Panama, and the staff is particularly warm and inviting. 


The powerful swells and hollow reef breaks off the Pacific and Caribbean coasts make Panama the destination for a surfin’ safari. The water’s warm, the waves are uncrowded, and surfing here is consistent year-round, with the largest swells between April and October in the Pacific, and December to March in the Caribbean. If you’re a beginner or need tips on technique, a couple of camps specialize in surfing instruction. 

Bocas del Toro is often compared to Tahiti or Hawaii for its huge swells— from December to March, and June and July—and monster waves such as Dumpers and Silverbacks, the latter a right-hand, reef-bottom point break comparable to the Backdoor Pipeline in Oahu. Waves in Bocas range between 1.2 and 7.6m (4–25 ft.), and can be powerful beach breaks, big waves, reef point breaks, and spitting tubes. Isla Grande has powerful reef breaks and is a good bet if you want to surf the Caribbean but don’t want to go as far as Bocas. 

In the Chiriquí Gulf, the surf meccas are at Morro Negrito (see below), and Santa Catalina, internationally renowned among surfers and located straight across the bay from Isla Coiba in the Pacific. Santa Catalina is a scruffy town, but the surfing is epic, with a consistent easy-to-line-up, rock-bottom point break that averages 1.5 to 6.1m (5–20 ft.). Farther east on the Azuero Peninsula are Cambutal, Punta Negra, Dinosaurios, and Horcones, other reliable spots for consistent breaks, including beach, point, and reef-bottom breaks that are sometimes even better than at Santa Catalina and less crowded. The up-and-coming Playa Venado, near Pedasí, is a long beach break with lefts and rights and swells that can be as little as 1.5m (5 ft.) or as high as 4.6m (15 ft.), though resort developments there have altered the breaks somewhat. The Pacific beaches that lie between 1 and 2 hours from Panama City are beach breaks and point breaks. 

If you just don’t want to waste time planning your surf trip, or if you want a local’s insider information on the best breaks, check Panama Surf Tours (tel. 6671-7777), a respected company with flexible 1- and 5- to 8-day tours that run from economical to luxury. 

Morro Negrito Surf Camp (tel. 760/632-8014 in the U.S.) is located in an out-of-the-way region of the Chiriquí Gulf, about halfway between Santiago and David on an island 3.2km (2 miles) off the coast. Guests are limited to 25, and with 10 different breaks (averaging 1.2–2.4m/ 4–8 ft.), you’ve pretty much got the whole wave to yourself here. Accommodations are one step above camping—the focus here is on waves, not luxury lodging. The camp has surf guides and lessons. 

Río Mar Surf Camp (tel. 345-4010 or 6516-5031) is just 11⁄2 hours from Panama City, near San Carlos on the Pacific Coast. The camp has simple rooms (most with A/C) that can accommodate three guests, and surf lessons can be booked on an hourly basis. It’s a good spot in which to brush up on your technique when you don’t have much time in Panama. 

Bocas Surf School (tel. 757-9057) offers a variety of beginner, intermediate, and advanced surfing courses. The school operates out of an over-the-water hostel, where participants can stay in dorm beds or a private room. 


Sansara Surf & Yoga Retreat (tel. 6243-5705) in Cambutal on the Azuero Peninsula offers yoga with additional options for surf lessons and spa treatments. Retreats can run for a few days to a full week and often fill up well in advance.

Sailing Yoga (tel. 6144- 3632) is a program in the San Blas Islands aboard the Carpe Diem, a 13m (42-ft.) yacht. Although the boat can be chartered privately, weeklong yoga retreats are held about once per month, with classes mostly held on remote islands in the archipelago. 

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.