The Seaside Charms of Playa Venao, Panama

At the southeastern tip of Panama’s Azuero Peninsula is an up-and-coming beach community that has become a favored spot for surfers, beach-loving tourists, and entertainment-seeking expats.

Playa Venao is set on a small curving bay. While the sand isn’t pure and white, the water isn’t crystal clear, and the surroundings aren’t lush and tropical,  it’s still an appealing place to visit as it is an unspoiled, off the beaten path beach destination. It’s a beacon of the beach lifestyle—and world-class surfing thanks to consistent waves—in a rural area that is known for cattle ranching and fishing.

Playa Venao consists of a small collection of hotels, beach bars, cafés, and restaurants that draw a small number of tourists. The masses haven’t discovered this place or many other spots on this stretch of coast, so you don’t have to worry about tourist crowds.

Not many people live in Playa Venao itself either. There are no services, no amenities, or other ways to serve your day-to-day needs in town except for small stores, cafés, and restaurants. You couldn’t live here full-time unless you didn’t mind traveling 45 minutes or more for basic staples.

But it is a popular spot to hang out for a beach day for expats who live on the peninsula, especially in and around the expat hotspot of Pedasí. The beach bars and hotels in Playa Venao often have live music nights, sometimes featuring expat bands. Because of this it has become popular with many expats to head to Playa Venao for a night out on the town.

And they couldn’t ask for a better setting. When you arrive you can’t help but feel like you’re among a select group, privileged to have found this place. Development is sparse, but the palapa-roofed beach bars and restaurants do offer refuge from the sun.

If you’re a surfer or want to learn how to surf (beginners of all ages welcome), Playa Venao should be on your radar. Most days you’ll have the waves all to yourself. Or, if you prefer to hang out on shore, there are a few places you can enjoy a $2 Balbao beer and a heaping $5 bowl of ceviche as you watch the water. Benches with views of the beach, hammocks swaying in the breeze, or a bar stool—it’s up to you.

On my last visit, one-story condos, within a quick walk of the beach, were under construction. The interiors are chic, but these are designed as vacation rentals, not for long-term living.

Development is coming to Playa Venao. But for the moment, it remains a low-key destination.

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