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Kayaking To Santa Catalina Island In Panama


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Bobbie Rana



Located off the Pacific coast of Panama, Santa Catalina Island is a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts seeking adventure in a tropical paradise. With its pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and abundant marine life, it’s no wonder that Santa Catalina has become a popular destination for kayaking enthusiasts.


Embarking on a kayaking trip to Santa Catalina Island is not only an opportunity to immerse yourself in nature but also a chance to challenge yourself physically and mentally. Whether you are a seasoned kayaker or a beginner looking for a thrilling experience, Santa Catalina offers a range of paddling adventures suitable for all skill levels.


As you paddle your way to the island, you will be captivated by the stunning coastal scenery, towering cliffs, and vibrant marine ecosystem. The rhythmic sound of the waves, the warm sun on your back, and the exhilaration of gliding through the water will create a sense of tranquility and excitement.


In this article, we will guide you through the process of planning your kayaking trip to Santa Catalina Island, including how to get there, what gear you need, safety tips, paddling techniques, and the wonders awaiting you on the island. So grab your paddle and get ready for an unforgettable adventure!


Getting to Santa Catalina Island

Santa Catalina Island may feel like a remote paradise, but reaching this tropical haven is easier than you might think. The nearest major airport is Tocumen International Airport (PTY) in Panama City, which is well-connected to numerous international destinations. From there, you have a few options for reaching Santa Catalina.


One option is to take a domestic flight from Panama City to the town of Santiago, which is approximately a two-hour drive from Santa Catalina. Several airlines offer regular flights, and the journey provides scenic views of the Panamanian countryside. Once in Santiago, you can hire a taxi or arrange for transportation to Santa Catalina.


If you prefer a more adventurous route, you can also choose to take a bus from Panama City to Sona, the town closest to Santa Catalina. Buses depart regularly from Albrook Bus Terminal in Panama City and the journey takes around five to six hours. From Sona, you can arrange for a taxi or shared transportation to Santa Catalina.


For those traveling by car, Santa Catalina is approximately a five to six-hour drive from Panama City. The route is straightforward, and you can easily rent a car in the city. It’s worth noting that the last stretch to Santa Catalina is on an unpaved road, so it’s advisable to have a vehicle suitable for off-road driving.


Once you arrive in Santa Catalina, you will find a laid-back, surf town atmosphere with rustic charm. The main hub of activity is centered around El Estero, where you can find accommodations, restaurants, and tour operators offering kayaking excursions. From here, you’ll be ready to embark on your kayaking adventure and explore the wonders of Santa Catalina Island.


Planning your kayaking trip

Planning is key to ensuring a successful and enjoyable kayaking trip to Santa Catalina Island. Here are some essential factors to consider when planning your adventure:

  1. Choose the right time: The dry season, which runs from December to April, is generally the best time to visit Santa Catalina for kayaking. The weather is more predictable, with calmer seas and less chance of rain. However, keep in mind that this is also the peak tourist season, so it may be more crowded. If you prefer a quieter experience, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of November or May.
  2. Select the ideal duration: Decide how long you want to spend kayaking at Santa Catalina. Whether it’s a day trip or a multi-day adventure, plan your itinerary accordingly. Keep in mind that the island offers various paddling routes, each with its own highlights and challenges.
  3. Research kayak rental options: If you don’t have your own kayak, look into rental options in Santa Catalina. There are several tour operators and rental shops that provide quality kayaks and equipment. Book in advance to ensure availability.
  4. Consider your skill and fitness level: Assess your kayaking experience and physical fitness before embarking on the trip. Santa Catalina offers kayaking routes suitable for all levels, but if you’re a beginner or less experienced, consider choosing shorter and less challenging routes.
  5. Account for tides and currents: Take into account the tidal patterns and sea currents when planning your kayaking route. Consult with local experts or tour operators who are familiar with the area to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.
  6. Pack the essentials: Make a checklist of necessary gear and supplies for your kayaking trip. This may include a life jacket, sunscreen, a first aid kit, a dry bag to protect your belongings, plenty of water and snacks, and a waterproof navigation system. Don’t forget to pack appropriate clothing, including a hat and sunglasses.
  7. Inform someone of your plans: Before setting off on your kayaking adventure, let someone know your planned route and estimated return time. This way, in the unlikely event of an emergency or unforeseen circumstance, there will be someone aware of your whereabouts.

By taking these factors into consideration and planning in advance, you can ensure a smooth and enjoyable kayaking trip to Santa Catalina Island. It’s time to start the countdown to an unforgettable adventure!


Essential gear for kayaking

When heading out for a kayaking trip to Santa Catalina Island, it’s essential to have the right gear to ensure your safety and comfort. Here are some must-have items to consider packing:

  1. Kayak: The most crucial piece of gear is, of course, the kayak itself. Choose a kayak that suits your skill level and the type of paddling you plan to do, whether it’s recreational, touring, or sea kayaking. Ensure it is in good condition and properly fitted for you.
  2. Paddle: A reliable paddle is essential for maneuvering your kayak. Opt for a lightweight paddle with adjustable length, so you can customize it to your preferred paddling style and body size.
  3. Personal floatation device (PFD): Wearing a properly fitted PFD is crucial for safety while kayaking. Ensure it is Coast Guard approved and suits your body size and weight.
  4. Spray Skirt: A spray skirt is a handy accessory that fits around the cockpit of your kayak, keeping water out and you dry. It is particularly useful in choppy or wavy conditions.
  5. Navigation tools: Depending on your experience level and the length of your trip, you may need a compass, marine charts, and a waterproof navigation system to help you stay on track.
  6. Dry bag: Protect your belongings from water damage by bringing a sturdy and waterproof dry bag. This will keep essentials like clothing, food, and electronics safe and dry during your kayaking adventure.
  7. Safety equipment: Always have safety equipment on hand, including a whistle for emergencies, a signaling device, a first aid kit, and a marine radio or cell phone in a waterproof case.
  8. Sun protection: Santa Catalina Island offers plenty of sunshine, so it’s crucial to protect yourself from harmful rays. Pack sunscreen with a high SPF, a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses with UV protection, and quick-drying, sun-protective clothing.
  9. Water and snacks: Staying hydrated and fueled during your kayaking trip is essential. Bring plenty of water in a reusable water bottle and pack lightweight, energy-rich snacks to keep you energized throughout the day.
  10. Appropriate clothing: Dress in layers and wear quick-drying, moisture-wicking clothing. Consider bringing a wetsuit or a drysuit if the water temperature is cooler.

Remember, proper gear not only enhances your comfort and safety but also allows you to fully enjoy your kayaking experience in Santa Catalina. Make a checklist, ensure everything is in working order, and pack smartly for a memorable adventure on the water.


Safety tips for kayaking to Santa Catalina Island

While kayaking to Santa Catalina Island is an exciting adventure, it’s important to prioritize safety to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience. Here are some essential safety tips to keep in mind:

  1. Check the weather: Before setting out on your kayaking trip, check the weather forecast and sea conditions. Be aware of any storms, strong winds, or rough surf that could make paddling challenging or dangerous.
  2. Know your limitations: Be honest about your skill and fitness level. Choose a route that matches your abilities and experience. If you’re a beginner, opt for shorter and less challenging routes to build your confidence and skills.
  3. Wear a personal floatation device (PFD): Always wear a well-fitted PFD while kayaking. It will keep you buoyant in case of capsizing or falling into the water. Ensure it is properly fastened and adjusted for your size.
  4. Stay hydrated: Proper hydration is crucial during physical activities like kayaking. Bring enough water to stay hydrated throughout your trip and be mindful of heat and sun exposure.
  5. Stay aware of your surroundings: Keep an eye on other boats, swimmers, and wildlife in the area. Be respectful of fishing lines and buoys. Stay clear of larger vessels and give them the right of way.
  6. Paddle with a buddy: Whenever possible, kayak with a companion. It’s not only more enjoyable but also increases safety, as you can watch out for each other and provide assistance if needed.
  7. Inform someone of your plans: Before heading out, let someone know your kayaking plans, including your intended route and estimated return time. If possible, use a float plan, which is a written document detailing your trip, to leave with a trusted person.
  8. Learn and practice self-rescue techniques: Familiarize yourself with self-rescue techniques, such as how to reenter your kayak from the water and how to perform a paddle float rescue. Practice these techniques in calm waters before attempting them in more challenging conditions.
  9. Protect yourself from the sun: The Panama sun can be intense, even on cloudy days. Apply waterproof sunscreen with a high SPF, wear a hat, sunglasses, and clothing that covers your skin to protect yourself from harmful UV rays.
  10. Follow local regulations and guidelines: Familiarize yourself with any local regulations and guidelines for kayaking in Santa Catalina. Respect marine protected areas and follow any rules or restrictions to preserve the natural environment.

By following these safety tips, you can have a safe and enjoyable kayaking experience to Santa Catalina Island. Prioritize your well-being and make memories that will last a lifetime in this breathtaking tropical paradise.


Paddling techniques for kayaking

Mastering proper paddling techniques will not only make your kayaking experience to Santa Catalina Island more efficient but also help you navigate the waters with ease. Here are some essential paddling techniques to keep in mind:


1. Posture and grip: Sit with a straight back and relaxed shoulders, ensuring you have good posture throughout your paddling. Hold the paddle with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip, and angle the blades so that they are facing away from you.


2. Basic paddle strokes: The two primary paddle strokes to learn are the forward stroke and the reverse stroke. For the forward stroke, submerge the blade fully in the water near your toes, rotate your torso, and pull the paddle back, keeping it close to the kayak. For the reverse stroke, reverse the direction by pushing the paddle forward while rotating your torso in the opposite direction.


3. Turning the kayak: To make a turn, use a sweep stroke. Dip the blade into the water at the back of your kayak and sweep it in a wide arc away from the boat. This stroke will help you turn smoothly without losing momentum.


4. Bracing: Bracing is a technique used to maintain balance and prevent capsizing. If you feel unsteady or off balance, lean towards the side where you are losing stability and plant your paddle blade in the water to provide support.


5. Steering with the rudder: If your kayak is equipped with a rudder, use it to assist with steering. To turn, adjust the rudder pedals with your feet, leaning slightly in the same direction to aid the turn.


6. Efficient use of energy: Utilize your core muscles instead of relying solely on your arms for paddling. Engage your torso and hips to generate power and maintain a steady rhythm.


7. Paddle with the conditions: Adjust your paddling technique based on the conditions of the water. In windy or choppy conditions, keep your strokes closer to the kayak and use shorter, quicker strokes to maintain control.


8. Practice and refine: Regular practice is key to refining your paddling technique. Take the opportunity to practice in calm waters before attempting more challenging conditions. Experiment with different strokes and techniques to find what works best for you.


Remember, proper paddling technique will not only make your kayaking journey to Santa Catalina Island more enjoyable but also reduce fatigue and increase efficiency. With practice and patience, you’ll become a skilled paddler ready to explore the stunning waters surrounding the island.


Exploring Santa Catalina Island

Santa Catalina Island is a treasure trove of natural beauty and offers endless opportunities for exploration. Here are some highlights and activities to consider during your stay:


1. Snorkeling and diving: The turquoise waters surrounding Santa Catalina are teeming with vibrant marine life and coral reefs. Rent snorkeling or diving gear to discover the underwater wonders, including colorful fish, rays, and even the occasional sea turtle.


2. Surfing: Santa Catalina is renowned for its incredible surf breaks, attracting surfers from around the world. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a beginner keen to catch some waves, the consistent swells make it an ideal spot for surfing.


3. Hiking and nature trails: Lace up your hiking boots and explore the island’s lush tropical jungle. There are various trails that lead to breathtaking viewpoints and secluded beaches. Keep an eye out for native wildlife such as monkeys, iguanas, and tropical birds.


4. Boat tours and whale watching: Join a boat tour around Santa Catalina to explore the coast, visit nearby islands, or have the opportunity to spot whales during their migration season (typically July to October). It’s an incredible and unforgettable experience.


5. Fishing: Santa Catalina is a popular destination for sportfishing enthusiasts. Arrange a fishing excursion to try your luck at catching marlin, sailfish, dorado, or yellowfin tuna. Fishing charters are available for half-day or full-day trips.


6. Relax on the beaches: Santa Catalina boasts beautiful beaches where you can unwind, soak up the sun, and enjoy the tranquil surroundings. Playa Santa Catalina and Playa Estero are popular spots for sunbathing and swimming.


7. Explore Coiba National Park: Take a day trip or multi-day excursion to Coiba National Park, located just off the coast of Santa Catalina. This UNESCO World Heritage site offers incredible biodiversity, pristine beaches, and opportunities for snorkeling and diving in some of the most untouched coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean.


8. Indulge in local cuisine: After a day of exploring, be sure to savor the delicious local cuisine in Santa Catalina. Sample fresh seafood dishes, enjoy traditional Panamanian cuisine, and treat yourself to tropical fruit juices and cocktails.


With its abundance of natural wonders and outdoor activities, Santa Catalina Island has something for everyone. Whether you prefer a thrilling adventure or a leisurely exploration, this tropical paradise is sure to leave you with unforgettable memories.


Camping on Santa Catalina Island

For those seeking an immersive and nature-centric experience, camping on Santa Catalina Island is an excellent option. With its stunning beaches, lush jungle, and intriguing wildlife, the island offers a unique setting for outdoor enthusiasts. Here’s what you need to know about camping on Santa Catalina Island:


Camping areas: There are several designated camping areas on the island where visitors can set up their tents and enjoy the beauty of the surroundings. Playa Santa Catalina and Playa Estero are popular spots for camping, offering picturesque views of the ocean and easy access to the beach.


Permits and regulations: Before camping on the island, it’s important to check and obtain any necessary permits. Regulations may vary, so it’s essential to respect the rules set by local authorities and park rangers to ensure the preservation of the natural ecosystem.


Facilities and amenities: Keep in mind that camping on Santa Catalina Island is relatively rustic. Facilities such as bathrooms, running water, and electricity may be limited or unavailable. It’s important to come prepared with camping gear, including a tent, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, and sufficient food and water supplies.


Campfire regulations: Due to the island’s ecological sensitivity, open fires may be prohibited or have strict regulations. It’s important to respect these guidelines. Instead, consider using a portable camping stove for cooking.


Leave no trace: As with any camping trip, it’s crucial to follow the principles of Leave No Trace. Take all trash with you and dispose of it properly to preserve the island’s pristine environment. Respect the wildlife and avoid any actions that could disturb or harm the natural ecosystem.


Experience the night sky: One of the highlights of camping on Santa Catalina Island is the opportunity to witness the breathtaking night sky. With little light pollution, the island offers a pristine stargazing experience. Lay back, watch the stars, and immerse yourself in the beauty of the universe.


Safety precautions: While camping, be aware of potential wildlife encounters. Santa Catalina Island is home to various species, including monkeys and iguanas. Store food securely to prevent attracting animals, and always maintain a safe distance. Additionally, be cautious of uneven terrain and potential hazards, especially when setting up tents in secluded areas.


Camping on Santa Catalina Island allows you to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of daily life and connect with the natural wonders of the island. It’s a chance to sleep under the stars, wake up to the soothing sound of the waves, and embrace the serenity of the beautiful surroundings.


Wildlife and Nature on Santa Catalina Island

Santa Catalina Island is not only a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts but also a haven for wildlife and rich biodiversity. From pristine beaches to lush jungle, the island offers a vibrant ecosystem filled with fascinating creatures and natural wonders. Here are some highlights of the wildlife and nature you can encounter on Santa Catalina Island:


Marine life: The crystal-clear waters surrounding Santa Catalina are teeming with marine life. Snorkel or dive among colorful coral reefs and encounter tropical fish, rays, and even sea turtles. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins and whales on their seasonal migrations.


Land mammals: Santa Catalina Island is home to several species of land mammals, including the White-faced Capuchin monkey. You may spot these curious and agile primates swinging through the trees or foraging for food. The island is also inhabited by various species of raccoons and coatis.


Reptiles: The tropical climate of Santa Catalina provides an ideal habitat for reptiles. Keep an eye out for the Green Iguana, a large and colorful lizard that can be found basking in the sun. You may also encounter various species of snakes, including the harmless and elusive Cat-eyed Snake.


Birdlife: Santa Catalina Island is a paradise for birdwatchers. The island is home to numerous species, including hummingbirds, parakeets, tanagers, and woodpeckers. Embark on a birdwatching adventure and observe these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.


Flora and vegetation: The island boasts diverse flora, with lush tropical vegetation covering much of the land. Explore the jungle trails and discover towering trees, vibrant orchids, and colorful bromeliads. Take in the breathtaking beauty of the landscape as you immerse yourself in the natural wonders of Santa Catalina.


Coiba National Park: As a bonus, Santa Catalina provides easy access to Coiba National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site located just offshore. This protected area is renowned for its pristine coral reefs, tropical rainforests, and unique wildlife, including the critically endangered Coiba Island howler monkey.


Conservation efforts: Santa Catalina Island and its surrounding areas are committed to preserving the natural environment and protecting the diverse wildlife. Local organizations and eco-tourism efforts work tirelessly to raise awareness and promote sustainable practices to ensure the long-term conservation of these precious ecosystems.


As you explore Santa Catalina Island, take the time to appreciate the incredible wildlife and immerse yourself in the untouched beauty of the natural surroundings. Respect the habitats of the creatures you encounter and cherish the opportunity to witness the wonders of nature on this tropical paradise.



Embarking on a kayaking trip to Santa Catalina Island in Panama offers a thrilling and unforgettable adventure for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. From the moment you paddle your way to the island, you’ll be captivated by its pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and abundant wildlife. Whether you’re a seasoned kayaker or a beginner looking for a new experience, Santa Catalina has something for everyone.


From planning and packing the essential gear to prioritizing safety on the water, careful preparation is crucial for a successful kayaking trip. With the right equipment, knowledge of paddling techniques, and awareness of safety measures, you can fully immerse yourself in the beauty and tranquility of Santa Catalina Island.


Exploring Santa Catalina goes beyond kayaking. Take the opportunity to snorkel or dive among vibrant coral reefs, surf the world-class waves, hike through lush jungles, and witness the rich biodiversity that the island has to offer. Camping on Santa Catalina allows you to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of daily life and truly connect with nature.


Throughout your journey, be sure to respect the environment and wildlife, leaving no trace behind and supporting local conservation efforts. By doing so, you contribute to the preservation of the island’s natural wonders for future generations to enjoy.


So, immerse yourself in the beauty of Santa Catalina Island, paddle through its transparent waters, and create memories that will last a lifetime. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or a deeper connection to nature, Santa Catalina is a destination that will leave you in awe of its unparalleled beauty and captivating experiences.