Playa Venao at Sunset
By Jon Shumaker
Playa Venao (PV) has been transformed into a bubble to get away from the for a time or as one surfer retire who lives there full-time, a place to never have time. This beautiful spot of beach with the town that is rapidly forming around a chill, surfer vibe for those that can afford the price. This personally is a good place to forget time and relax with one of the closest conditions to the ideal heaven. This makes it a good place to visit but horrible for productivity and living in the real world.
The story of Playa Venao that I got from an old travel in Panama was that surfers discovered the great surfing in the 1970’s and kept it their secret for many years. The area was covered in forest for camping back in the ninety’s but was clearcut to make way for development. Back in the ninety’s a hector of land went for $300, now it is a bit more. The area seems to have been popular with the Israelis for several decades and then the first Selina Hostel opened to a barren beach. Playita is hotel that has the only snorkeling in the area at the Bahia de Achotines and was one of the first hotels on the beach. Now Playa Venao still has a chill vibe but only for those that can afford the prices.
The best way transport options are to have a car but for those who do not, a shuttle is the best method for $50 one way. The bus system will require several transfers and a long taxi ride with maybe $10-15 in savings but more time.
With limited light pollution, this area is perfect for star gazing.
The choice of lodgings will vary depending on what you want. For about the best price, a CoLiving 30-day contract from Selina at $15/night is at the lowest cost but be aware the locations on this contract in Panama is Panama City and PV. The Selina Venao River location to work and relax away from the party. There are several other cheaper lodging providers that do not post on Hostel World.
As a person who is first action in a new place is to find the cheapest and the most local food options around. The cheapest lunch is El Timon in Wao Venao with a Comida de la Día that ends around 1300 or 1400 weekdays. This is a simple but filling meal. For my favorite breakfast the Pizza Gavilvan has a plate of two Hojaldras for only $2 that comes with jam and butter, a filling and delicious meal. The Hojaldra here is very soft with minimal frying. The local flavor and quality recommendation is Oleajes de Sabor in Wao Venao. For a cheaper snack of pan (bread), the PAN AR Panaderia Artesanal Argentina has simple bread that will not break the bank. They are known for Nutella Croissants (these are a bit sweet and expensive for me) for $1.75. The coffee is expensive everywhere. For a reasonable meal of Humas based plates, try Coleos Café. The humas is very authentic and the service is unmatched (around $10/person) For the two ice cream spots in town, try Bonjour Helados Artesanales in Eco Venao that is an easy walk from the main town along the beach. The owner is sweet, and the ice cream is just as good. The 72% Bocas del Toro Chocolate variation is my favorite! The other option is by Selina Venao River at the surf shop that looks like a house on the beach access. They have Gelato Panama from a local town. My favorite is strawberry yogurt.
For groceries there are limited options. In town there is the Mini Super with a separate fruit/vegetables/eggs market along the side. All prices are very high, and you should bring enough groceries for the duration of the stay if you plan to cook. The last large town has cheaper groceries in Pedasi.
For a general guide on surfing rental and lessons pricing the takeaway is they are all tourist pricing. Lessons are around $50 plus/minus $5 and the daily rate for a board rental of $20. There are packages that can reduce the cost. This is an excellent place to learn for the quality of waves year around for all skill levels but Bocas del Toro is far cheaper to learn (6 hours for $100).
Enjoy this relaxing getaway from the real world with a soak in the sun, surf, and good company.