Enjoy Beach Life All Year Round in Panama

With the coming of fall, my family and friends in the States find themselves thinking of the long, cold winter approaching. It’s not just the ice and snow they have to cope with, but the enormous heating bills, and not being able to enjoy the outdoors.

But not me…living in Panama I don’t ever have a heating bill and I haven’t seen snow in years. The great outdoors is my playground all year round here in the Chiriqui province of western Panama. And that includes being able to go to the beach anytime I want.

Chiriqui’s southern border runs along the shoreline of the Gulf of Chiriqui, which flows into the Pacific Ocean. Most of this long coastline is totally undeveloped and populated only by the local wildlife. For a day or two at the beach I have a number of choices, each one with its own character.

If I feel like having a resort experience at the beach, I go to Playa La Barqueta. It’s the closest beach to my home in David, about a half hour southwest of the city. It was named for the boats used for transportation in the 1800s, when it was a cattle ranch, and the same family still owns the plantation. The drive to the beach winds past rice fields and pastures dotted with cattle and horses and huge mango trees shade the road and drop their sweet fruit.

The beach here slopes gently down to the surf from a barrier of sea grasses. All you’ll see is an occasional beach walker or jogger out for their exercise. The only place to stay here is Las Olas Resort, right on the beach and all the rooms face the ocean. The resort sometimes has half-price offers so you can stay overnight for about $55, or pay $10 per person and go for the day and enjoy the spa, tennis, kayak tours, and horseback rides.

If I feel like getting in or on the water I go to Boca Chica, an hour’s drive east of David. For marine sports it’s the place to go in Chiriqui. Fishing is a major pastime and a number of fishing lodges with guides offer their services. It’s also become a popular vacation get-away.

Beaches along the mainland shore tend to be rocky so for a lazy, peaceful day on a white powdery beach, I take a lancha ride to Isla Bolaños, inhabited only by birds, lizards, and marine creatures. This year I plan to go on a whale watching tour from Boca Chica with a local tour company. The full-day trip costs about $70, including transport, boat ride, lunch, and a guide.

And if I feel like laidback, low-key beach time, my favorite pick is Las Lajas. To get there you go south past Boca Chica and follow the road through a small town, past fields and more mango trees, until you get to the end of the road. There you’ll find a small family-owned hotel, Las Lajas Beach Resort, which is the only accommodation. On either side there are stretches of shaded shoreline with parking areas and local vendors in rustic eateries serving fried fish and ceviche for a few dollars each. Add an ice-cold beer for a buck and you can’t beat it.

Las Lajas is the go-to beach for families on weekends, holidays, and vacations, so it can be loud and crowded at times. But during the week the wide, flat, dark-sand beach is empty and it’s a nice place to hang out with friends and family. The hotel is right on the water with a large grassy yard, covered tables and lounge chairs to relax. The best time to go is during the off-season when it’s tranquilo and room rates are as low as $77.

So this winter, instead of dreading the weather, I’ll be enjoying the coastline of Chiriqui, relaxing on the beach or heading out on the water.

©iStock.com/Holger Mette

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