At the end of the dirt road that runs past the other surf camps is Oasis Surf Camp (tel. 202-1022, cell 6588-7077, www.oasissurfcamp.com, US$38.50 s/d with fan). It’s past the end of the road, on Playa El Estero, a beach at the estuary of a small river.
It’s actually nicer than the “surf camp” name suggests, but the best thing about this place, which opened in 2002, is that it’s right on a wide, black-sand beach rather than on a hill looking down on rocks. It’s the nicest spot for those who just want to sunbathe or splash about, and the surf here is much better for beginners thanks to gentler waves and sand bottoms.
Oasis Surf Camp rents boards (US$10–25/day) and offers lessons (US$20 including board). Airport transfers and boat excursions are sometimes available.
Oasis offers six somewhat rustic but pleasant rooms, three with double beds and three with two single beds, in cabañas on the edge of the beach. Each can sleep up to three people and has a cold-water bathroom, fan, and front patio with hammock facing the beach.
Air-conditioning is available for US$11 more. A larger casa can sleep six. The place is owned by an Italian family from Rome and is run by the younger members of the family: Silvia and David.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are available (US$3–5). Dinner is the highlight, with David and Silvia cooking authentic Italian food. A new bar/restaurant in a rancho behind the cabins is in the works. Note that Oasis Surf Camp is on the far side of the estuary from town. A four-wheel drive can ford it in the dry season, but those with regular cars will have to park and splash across year-round.
Surfer’s Paradise (cell phone 6895-3236, surfcatalina [at] hotmail [dot] com, US$25 s, US$33 d) is a popular surf camp that offers bunk beds with foam mattresses in windowless rooms with air-conditioning and cold-water bathrooms. The rooms upstairs have been under “renovation” for ages now and offer barebones accommodations for considerably less than the downstairs rooms.
The place is owned by the Salgados, a surfing family that has lived in the area for years. (Italo Salgado, the dad, was a champion surfer in his native Brazil; his son Diego is one of Panama’s top surfers.) Breakfast and lunch are on offer for a few bucks. This place is still pretty basic, but there’s a pleasant deck and a rancho strung with hammocks that looks down on the rocky surf and a great view of the ocean. Unlike some other camps in the area, it has a friendly vibe.
Cabañas Sol y Mar (tel. 202-9214, cell 6681-8299, www.solymarpanama.com, US$44 s/d) is what passes for luxury accommodations in Santa Catalina, at least until big developers start to arrive. Opened in 2005, Sol y Mar sits on a steep hill on the main road leading into Santa Catalina, just a few minutes’ walk from the ocean, but a fair distance from the surf breaks. There are six rooms in three duplex-corrugated roof cabins on the hillside; a fourth cottage is nearing completion.
Each room has two okay double beds and a sitting area with two foam-rubber fold-out futons. A third and fourth person in each room is US$11 each. The rooms are fairly bare and a bit musty, but they have cable TV, a minifridge, hot water, air-conditioning, and a front porch with hammock. Wireless Internet is available for US$5 a day. The place is managed by Luis Manuel Marques de Silva, a capable Portuguese guy who one suspects will continue to upgrade the place as finances allow. He can arrange Santa Catalina transfers for US$50 each way.
The newly renovated Rancho Estero (cell 6562-9747, www.ranchoestero.com, starts at US$40 pp) consists of cane-walled, thatched-roof cabins on a rise just above the estuary, towards the end of the surf-camp road. The grounds are well tended and the cabins are pleasant, but the asking price is excessive for this area. Prices may drop as things shake out. There are plans for larger cabins with air-conditioning and a bar/restaurant in a rancho on the edge of the hill.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition