Blessed with both the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east, Panama is one of the top surfing destinations in Central America. It offers a wide array of options for all types of surfers. Yet amongst both coasts, it’s the Caribbean archipelago of Bocas del Toro that stands out as one of the best spots for surfing in Panama.
Bocas del Toro lies to the south of Costa Rica. It is one of the most popular places to visit in Panama and one of the region’s top surfing destinations. Home to nine main islands and many islets and cays, this area of Panama has a surprising amount of world-class waves, and fun rolling surf breaks perfect for learning how to surf. The surf season is usually from December to April and a mini-season from July to August.
On the main island known as Isla Colon, you will find the hub of this archipelago Bocas Town, where you will find most of the surf schools in Bocas del Toro. While many of the surf schools are on Isla Colon, it’s the nearby island of Isla Carenero where most of the surfing takes place.
Wedged between Isla Colon and Isla Bastimentos is the small island of Carenero. Even though this island is small, the variety of surfing spots are pretty vast. Known as La Punta, this spot is one of the most popular surfing breaks in Bocas del Toro, offering a barreling left that can be reached by boat taxi. When the conditions are right, this wave has been compared to G-Land in Indonesia. Yet, when the conditions are small, La Punta is a great place for beginner/ intermediate surfers looking for a place to catch waves. Be careful with the reef below. This spot should only be surfed by people who know how to catch waves.
Another famous surf break is located on Isla Colon, known as Playa Istmito. When the surf is pumping, and beginner spots like Black Rock start getting a lot bigger, Playa Istmito offers a refuge with its soft rolling waves and sandy bottom. Surfers can reach this spot either by walking or riding their bikes to this local Bocas Town beach. The easiest site to surf in Bocas del Toro, Playa Istmito, can be a fun wave when the conditions are right.
If you’re unsure where you want to learn how to surf, keep Bocas del Toro on your radar. Book an extended vacation and take your time to learn how to surf. After a while, build up your technique and confidence while trying the different spots in Bocas. Make sure to ask your local surf school for tips on where to go. For your first time, it might even be a good idea to go with a local surf guide so that you can learn the ins and outs of each spot. There are many accommodations in the Bocas del Toro islands that cater to surfers and places to rent surfboards. Most of the surfing spots are located on Isla Colon, Isla Carenero, and Isla Bastimentos. And finally, when visiting Bocas del Toro (or anywhere in the world), the golden rule is to make sure to treat everyone with respect in the lineup, especially the locals.