Last updated: 01:00 AM ET, Sun May 10 2015

Opinion Home | Tales From the Leap

  • Shannon Wolf | May 10, 2015 1:00 AM ET

    Surfers Paradise: Santa Catalina

    Surfers Paradise: Santa Catalina

    All photos by Shannon Wolf

    Preface: This journey is not for the weak-hearted or high-blood pressured. There is a good chance at one point or another you may break into a temper-tantrum, throwing your bag onto the ground in defeat, turn from Jekyll to Hyde on your friends and bus drivers, or curl up in a fetal position freezing to death on a pimped-out chicken bus blaring songs even your grandma hasn’t heard.

    However, when you step off that last bus — smelly, dehydrated, and irritable, your feet will be firmly planted on the ground encased by palm trees with the ocean sparkling in the background. You’ll think to yourself, “I’m home” and you will never want to leave.

    The first view of Surfers Paradise in Santa Catalina after a grueling two days of travel

    Best Accommodation: Villa Vento Surf Hostel. $10 a night.

    Atmosphere has a family feel and overall incredible vibe.


    • 2 nicely sized dorm rooms with air-con & 4 beds in each room! (one of the comfiest beds I ever slept in)
    • Hammocks/seating galore
    • Incredibly friendly and knowledgeable staff
    • A clean pool
    • A ping pong table
    • THE BEST kitchen (with an oven, working espresso maker with free coffee, blender, toaster, microwave, and a million pots/pans/utensils), and
    • Grocery Store right next door and cheap! (overall your money will stretch far).

    All in all, it’s a 10/10 hostel and should be the only place you stay if you don’t mind a small walk to the beach! For all you surfers, there is a closer hostel to the beach however, it will never compare to everything Villa Vento has to offer!

    Stunning views at magic hour on our hidden oasis (also known as Santa Catalina)

    Best Things to Do:

    • Surf. Santa Catalina is a surfer’s paradise — with one of Central America’s best point breaks
    • Rent a sea kayak from Fluid Adventures at the beach and paddle to Santa Catalina Island
    • Scuba dive or snorkel at the fantastic Coiba Marine Park
    • Enjoy the fact that little to no tourists means the locale is small, cozy, and full of character

    My best friend Alena takes her last walk along the shoreline on our last night in Santa Catalina


    • Santa Catalina is a town in the District of Catalina, Panama.
    • There is no ATM Machine or Banks at Santa Catalina — Make sure to bring enough/extra cash. You can go to the bank in Santiago.

    Disregard what anyone tells you about an easy way to get to Santa Catalina or you will be in for a not-so-sweet surprise. Here is the best way to get to paradise — unfortunately there’s no yellow brick road; just dirt.

    Important Notes to crossing the Panama Border:

    • Have a copy of a return flight/train ticket
    • Panama’s currency is in US dollars. You can exchange your Costa Rica Cordobas at the border

    Total Hours: 2 days (from Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica)

    Total Cost: $72.45 (includes hostel)

    1. From Puerto Viejo, leave EARLY — catch the bus at 6:30 or 7:30 a.m. at the bus stop on the east end of the town on Calle 211 — there is a little store that serves food/coffee next to the bus stop. You can’t miss it.

    2. Take the bus to Sixola — this is the border into Panama. ($3, 1hr)

    3. You need to pay the exit fee before you go to the immigration station to get your passport stamped. (Cost: $8. You pay the fee at the little stand at the end of the town — there’s a sign on top that says “Pay Exit Fee”).

    4. Go to immigration, show your passport, get the stamp and walk across the abandoned bridge to enter Panama.

    5. Once there, pay an entry fee of $3 and go to immigration to get passport stamped again.

    6. Take shuttle bus to Almirante ($10, but may be possible to barter down to $5, takes 1hr).

    7. Take a bus (looks like a tourist van) to David (costs $8.45, takes 5hrs).

    8. From David the bus will drop you off at the main bus station, cross the street to take a shuttle bus to Santiago. (the building’s exterior is red and yellow.) ($9, takes 5hrs).

    *NOTE: This shuttle bus is terrible — bring extra clothes for warmth & ear plugs.

    9. From Santiago you may arrive at night; take a cab to Veraguas hostel (10min cab ride away; cab costs $3, hostel, cost $10).

    10. Leave at 4:30 a.m., walk/hail a cab to the terminal to catch bus to Sona every 45min — first departs at 5 a.m. (cab costs $3, bus $3).

    11. At the station, catch the direct bus to Santa Catalina. Bus departs 8 a.m. There are 3 or 4 daily. (costs $5, takes 2hrs).

    A local well-known street dog spends the day with us on Santa Catalina’s beach

More Panama


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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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