Santa Catalina, Panama

Although lagging behind Costa Rica in terms of tourist development (there is yet to be a beachside Pizza Hut), Santa Catalina has the potential to be the next great Central American beach destination (for better or for worse). Although difficult access and a remote location have so far kept the foreign investors away, the secret about Santa Catalina’s incredible surf is out. Regarded as one of the best surf hot spots in Central America, you can choose from any number of beach breaks on Playa Santa Catalina. On a good day, the rights and lefts here are easily comparable to Oahu’s Sunset Beach.

Santa Catalina is home to several hundred people who lead simple lives as fishers, and the town has a laid-back feel to it with one good outdoor pizzeria that forms the nexus of the dining and nightlife scene. However, the real-estate signs are starting to go up, and rumors run the gamut from constructing a mega-resort and an airstrip to establishing a protected area and a marine park. It’s hard to know what the future of Santa Catalina holds, but in the meantime, enjoy it while it still is what it is – remote, undeveloped and home to some seriously wicked surf.

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