If you are looking to evade mainstream tourism and enjoy surf vibes, Playa Venao is probably (but not for long!) one of the best-kept secrets in Panama. And since a secret never comes alone, one of the most charming ways to start your wanderings along, this protected stretched out beach is by enjoying the comfort of Villa Marina Lodge, a real “slow” oasis, set amid tranquil gardens.
Getting there: You can drive and even sail to Playa Venao but our recommendation is to fly from Panama City to Pedasi. Seated behind the pilots in a tiny propeller plane, operated by Air Panama, the journey feels like a private jet tour with a twist. Don’t be surprised if in the middle of the flight, the pilots suddenly decide to stop for a couple of minutes on a remote island to unload some potatoes and carrots bags… it’s fun and part of the experience. The flight offers spectacular views of Panama City and other different desert islands of the archipelago. Pedasi airport is located in the middle of natural fields, inhabited by beautiful, undisturbed cows, so make sure you book a taxi in advance. Once you reach Playa Venao, be ready to be impressed by the endless gold beaches and surfers braving the wild beautiful waves of the Pacific.
Stay: At less than 30 minute taxi ride form the airport, Villa Marina Lodge is a stunner! With a charming shady wide porch, an infinity pool and a spurting fountain, the lodge offers nine comfortable and fully equipped rooms, most of them with French doors opening to the ocean. The decoration tastefully strikes the perfect balance between an authentic Panamanian, “rancho” style and a beach house, laid back look. The other lodge amenities include a beautiful restaurant and a bar, ready to mix your favorite cocktails; their margarita on the rocks is fantastic. If you want to leave your hammock and your book for the day, you can also choose from different activities like horseback riding tours or fishing trips, right from the reception desk. Just ask for Philipp, the manager; he will be more than happy to provide the best local recommendations.
Eat: Villa Marina offers an excellent dinner menu, cooked by local Panamanian chefs with fresh products coming from the surrounding little villages. Our tip: order the fresh tuna stake; it will be one of the best you have ever tested! As a matter of fact, the entire area, referred to as “The Tuna Cost”, is home to a large population of yellow-fin (ahi) tuna. Order a delicious passion fruit juice for breakfast (included), it will instantly cheer you up and get you ready to start the day.
See: Villa Marina is also a great location to start exploring the other Playa Venao’s hidden gems.
Surfing is an institution and “la playa” comes with a large selection of surf schools, all at a walking distance from the lodge. Whether you are looking for a kid friendly school like Dojo Venao or a hostel vibrant vibe like Selina Hostel Surf School, the choices are multiple and everyone can find their perfect fit. If you are not surfing but looking for an easy swim, take a walk to the beautiful Playita Resort ($2.5 entry after negotiation) or go for a short jungle hike, up to the waterfalls of Eco Venao, a lush ecofriendly property where you can observe howler monkeys in the evening.
For the perfect sunset spot, El Sitio Restaurant, bar and lounge should be on your bucket list. Sit back with a cold Atlas beer or a cocktail and watch the sun setting the sky and the sea on fire as it goes down over the hills, while the surfers ride the last crazy waves of the day. Every weekend, El Sitio is hosting excellent DJs that will bring you in a dancing mood. If you want to keep partying, you should stop by Selina Hostel for a drink and a quick delicious bite. The atmosphere is very friendly.
If you want to experience the Caribean vibe, book a tour to Iguana and Coiba Islands, both protected natural paradises and home of turtles, from August to October.
As part of a big development project, Playa Venao is slowly transforming into Panama’s next hot travel spot. If you are looking for up-and-coming destinations with a local, authentic vibe don’t wait too long and make up your mind!
Booking and information: http://en.villamarinalodge.com/ From $125 (High season)
Photo credit: Laure, Livia, El Sitio Bar and Restaurant