Tours and Places

Charms of a lesser-known destination

Diving Coiba, discovering Santa Catalina

By Diana Klochkova

It’s no secret that Panama is home to many exotic destinations for adventurers of varied interests. One of the hidden gems of the Isthmus lies on the coast of the Veraguas province, about a five hour drive from Panama City. The seaside village of Santa Catalina is not only known among avid surfers for having one of the best breaks in Central America, but it is also the most popular way to access Isla Coiba, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and former penal colony.

At Scuba Coiba ( or 6980-7122), experienced and friendly dive masters lead daily scuba excursions from the quaint surfing town to the various dive sites on and near the historic island. A one-hour boat ride along the uninhabited, jungle-covered coastline is required to arrive at the national park, and the waters can be rough. Once there, however, marine life lovers are rewarded with the rare opportunity to explore this renowned habitat of sea turtles, eagle rays and whale sharks. The strong Pacific currents and close shark encounters make Coiba a thrilling adventure for experienced divers, but beginners should proceed with caution.

The dive boat’s return to town usually coincides perfectly with the 4-6 p.m. happy hour at The Dive Stop. Nachos and an ice cold beer or soda hit the spot while discussing the day’s sightings among travel companions.

Diving Coiba
Scuba Coiba in Santa Catalina sends its message clearly in four languages: “Dive!”

Diving CoibaThe eclectic and charming hotel La Buena Vida (meaning the good life).

Next, it’s on to dinner at one of two popular locales: Jamming, a pizza shop with a Caribbean feel, or the Chili Rojo, where the lively music and more traditional meat-and-rice fare won’t disappoint. Should you have trouble finding either, just ask one of the welcoming locals who will be happy to point you in the right direction.

Finally, with the stars out and the ‘cantina’ music quieting down, bed time comes early in Santa Catalina. There are several small hotels including the unique La Buena Vida ( or 6635-1895). The private villas are beautifully decorated with metal work and mosaics, handmade by the friendly owners themselves. At the restaurant, a good breakfast fuels up guests for the surfing, kayaking, diving, or snorkeling that the day has in store. A “to-go” lunch can be ordered, containing everything an adventurer needs to recharge their batteries while out in the wilderness.

While, as with most of Panama, dry season is the optimal time for a visit, any time is good. Be sure to bring sunscreen, bug spray, and an open mind.

Boquete Country Club

Residential development boasts activities for eco-lovers, spa-goers and equestrians

Boquete Country Club
A bird’s-eye view of Boquete Country Club.

Boquete Country Club is a gated residential community that offers resort-style amenities in Alto Boquete in the Chiriquí highlands. This area has been recognized as a prime place to live or retire for its climate, nature activities and growing list of services offered.

The development has over 50 residences already built, among them single family homes, condos, townhouses and villas. Planning and infrastructure began in 2005, and features include quality roads, underground water, electricity, telephone lines, cable TV and high speed Internet.

Residences are move-in-ready or buyers can purchase a lot to have their dream home built by the developer or by an outside contractor.

Boquete Country Club
Gym facilities for health-minded residents.

Activities and amenities for health-minded residents

Residents enjoy a variety of indoor and outdoor activities such as walking, jogging or horseback riding along the ecological trails within the Boquete Country Club grounds. Two tennis courts are on site as well as an opportunity to keep one’s self in good health at the fully-equipped gymnasium and spa facility which offers sauna, vapor room, and hydro massage. The swimming pool is scheduled to open in July 2011.

Boquete Country Club
Expansive trails for walking, jogging or horseback riding.

Equestrian facilities, too

The Boquete Country Club Equestrian Center offers boarding stables. Ample indoor and outdoor riding areas are available to residents and non-residents.

For more information contact 6980-8078, 264-2977,, or visit