While beach-loving travellers have been drawn to Panama’s tropical Caribbean spots such as Bocas del Toro and the San Blas islands for some time, its Pacific side remains less visited. A few hours west of Panama City, the Azuero Peninsula bulges out into the ocean. At its tip is Playa Venao, which is now becoming the country’s most talked about surf town with brightly painted hostels and wave-riding camps run by pros, including Magnum Martinez, along its horseshoe bay. At the western end, Panga is one of the country’s most irresistible restaurants, and not just because of its remote location. Opened by Andrés Morataya, previously a personal chef to Prince Maximilian of Liechtenstein, it has an unfussy menu of terrifically fresh, local produce: home-grown cacao fruit; spider crabs the fishermen usually throw back in; foraged native red berries. ‘We make cheese from our neighbour’s cows, we buy chickens from families who live in the nearby town and our fish comes from fishermen who line-catch them one by one,’ Morataya says. ‘I don’t know if we are hopeless romantics or idiots.’
Further west again, the Gulf of Chiriquí is home to a huge national park protecting 25 islands and 19 coral reefs teeming with marine life. Here the remote Isla Palenque hotel has just opened eight new casitas surrounded by a 400-acre reserve of tropical reefs, rampant mangroves and secret beaches. In the same waters, Islas Secas is unlocking access to a whole archipelago of volcanic islands. Burrowed along the coast of the largest, Islas Cavada, this brand-new lodge sleeps only 18 guests at a time, which roughly equates to one island per visitor. The wooden, thatch-roofed rooms are tucked in the leafy vegetation and have private pools with hammocks for days filled with nothing to do. Although, considering that 75 per cent of the area is conserved in perpetuity, exploring it on an underwater dive is always an option. As the beaches of nearby Nicaragua and Costa Rica fill up with surfers and wanderers, here’s a fresh stretch of shoreline that’s ripe for discovery.
Scroll down for more photograph’s of Panama’s Pacific coast…
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