300km (186 miles) SE of David; 360km (223 miles) from Panama City; 110km (68 miles) from Santiago
Santa Catalina is a surfing mecca and humble fishing village in the Veraguas Province, located at the end of a pressed-dirt road south of Santiago and southeast of David. The waves here are epic, with a couple of perfect and easy-to-line-up point breaks that average 1.5 to 6.1m (5-20 ft.). Most of the waves are for advanced surfers only, but a sandy break has waves suitable for beginners and intermediates surfing with a local guide. Offshore islands such as Isla Cebaco also have excellent surfing conditions. Beyond surfing, Santa Catalina has accommodations and services and is close enough to Isla Coiba to reach on a day excursion for scuba diving, snorkeling, or eco-adventures. Local boatmen in pangas, or fiberglass boats with 70-horsepower outboard engines, hang around the shore waiting for customers, but it's better to go with one of the two scuba-diving outfits here, which put together day trips and packages with an overnight on Isla Coiba.
Santa Catalina is a scruffy and remote community whose residents generally earn less than $10 (£5) a day and live in cinder-block homes. The recent introduction of plastic bottles and packaged products and no garbage service means that the streets are sprinkled with trash. A lot of locals pass the day hanging around the shoreline and waiting for work, or playing soccer. Given that the village sits across from Isla Coiba, and has some of the best waves in Central America, Santa Catalina has that up-and-coming feeling, with the first young adventurers from the U.S. and Europe anchoring themselves here with a hostel or cafe, and grudgingly watching the region slowly develop for tourism. At the moment, Santa Catalina's accommodations are budget-oriented, and some are downright rustic, but you'll find a couple of surprisingly good restaurants here.
The main road from Soná funnels into what is considered "downtown"; heading left will take you along a dirt road to an open coastal area, and to restaurants, hotels, and hostels in a more natural setting. There is a decent, palm-lined beach near the Oasis Hotel, but it is certainly not the prettiest in Panama. Note that there is no public phone in Santa Catalina, and no local public transportation, so you'll need to walk if you don't have a rental vehicle.