The Best Beaches near Panama City, Panama

Even though Panama City, Panama is located along the beautiful Pacific Ocean, there are no accessible beaches within close vicinity of the city. 50 years ago in the center of the city along Avenida Balboa, there was a public beach that was frequented by swimmers, sunbathers and families.

Times have changed. The city was extensively built up along the water’s edge. And due to unregulated construction practices and lacking infrastructure, massive skyscrapers began illegally dumping waste into the water near city. Not to mention, one of the main drainage systems of Panama City exits into the bay. Furthermore, the beaches near the city are mostly mud-flats, not sandy bottoms.

The Panamanian government is currently undergoing efforts to reverse the flow of sewage into the water near the city. They are supposedly tracking down offenders (developers) who have illegally tapped sewerage pipes from their buildings into rainwater drainage systems that dump directly into the ocean. Furthermore, the main drainage system is being rerouted away from the ocean near the city center. 

Unfortunately, cleaning up the bay of Panama will take years. It is estimated that the rerouting of the drainage system will be completed in 2016. But for the bay to be completely clean and attractive for swimmers, it might take longer.  Hopefully, in 10 years from now there will be a clean and beautiful sandy beach to welcome locals, foreigners and vacationers alike.

With that said, it is a much better option to explore the beaches outside of the city. An hour drive west or north of the city and you will have more than enough choices. 

Pacific Beaches near the City

Driving west outside of Panama City along the Pan-American Highway you will reach the first beach in about 45 minutes. There are about 10 beaches spread along 30 miles of coastline.

From east to west they are as follows:

Punta Chame – great for kite boarding. Beautiful mountain backdrop. Long deserted beach.

Malibu – good surfing at the river mouth. White sand beach with sparsely populated homes along the coast.

Gorgona – long narrow beach that is great for walking and swimming. Nice single family homes boarder the beach.

Serena – curved bay which offers both swimming and surfing. Beachfront condominium developments are currently under construction or recently completed. 

Coronado – offers a private beach club and gated community. Good swimming and a bar/restaurant on the beach. Easy beach access.

Playa Teta – One of the most popular surfing beaches near the city. Beach access is slighty difficult down dirt road with no signs. 

Punta Barco – a wealthy beachfront community with sea cliffs skirting the water’s edge. 

El Palmar – Quaint community right on the beach. A few hotels and restaurants offer great ocean views. Good surfing exists at the point down the beach. 

Rio Mar – Becoming more developed with housing projects and beachfront condominiums. Really nice sea cliffs and caves that offer shade from the sun. Also offers good surfing. 

Santa Clara – Private, gated communities spread along the long the white sand beach. Also, many hotels and resorts operate in this area. 

Caribbean Beaches near Panama City 

The beautiful Isthmus of Panama offers access to both the Pacific and Caribbean. Interestingly enough, the Caribbean is to the north of Panama City, and the Pacific Ocean is to the south. Panama is the only country in the Americas where this is true. 

The Isthmus is only about 60 miles wide at its most narrow point. You are able to drive from the Pacific to the Caribbean in under an hour. So, you are able to double your choices for beaches. The beaches on the Caribbean coast within a 2 hour drive of Panama City are as follows:

Playa La Angosta – a great swimming beach on the road to Portobelo. About 1 hour 15 minutes from the city. It is a popular weekend spot for families from Colon and Panama City.

Fort Sherman – the beach is located on an old U.S. air force base that is now open to the public. It offers calm waters and good shade.

Portobelo – There is no real beach in the town of Portobelo, but from the town you can hire a boat and access some nearby islands with great beaches and SCUBA diving. Dive sites include numerous reefs and even a sunken ship.

Isla Grande – Past Portobelo on the same road you will arrive to a small fishing town. Off the coast about 300 meters is a small island lined with palm trees, restaurants and small hotels. The island offers great swimming and a surf spot over a shallow reef.