While Panama's capital has a lot to offer, beachfront is not one of them. It takes a 90-minute drive to get to the City Beaches Area, a stretch of white sand that begins at Punta Chame and extends up the coast for 22 miles. With towns like Coronado and Gorgona, this is prime real estate for developers, and a popular area with expatriates.
Punta Chame is a long, narrow finger of a peninsula that juts into the Pacific Ocean. It makes an ideal day trip from Panama City, our local friends told us. Take a drive, they said, because few people visit its beaches, even on weekends. In other words, it makes an ideal destination for anyone needing to escape the rat race and city hordes.
It's also the top kite-surfing spot in Panama, though we didn't see anyone riding the waves while we were there.
How to get to Punta Chame
Punta Chame was really easy to get to. All we did was head across the Bridge of the Americas from Panama City and keep driving west along the Pan-American Highway. About 90 minutes later, we came to the town of Bejuco, where a big green and white sign pointed to Punta Chame.
Once we turned left, the fun began.
Once we quit the highway, the scenery turned more interesting as we navigated a small road that wound over hills and past beautiful lakes and farmland. Soon, the trees began to disappear and we started to glimpse small mountains to the west.
Then suddenly, man-made lakes appeared. They reminded us so much of the fish farms in Timor, Indonesia that we couldn't help ourselves. When we passed an open gate along the way, we just had to drive in to explore a bit. Sure enough, it was laid out just the same, but I later learned the ponds are used for farming shrimp.
Further down the road, small tidal lakes began to appear. Sun-bleached tree stumps stuck out of the still waters, reflecting the distant mountains. We knew that the surf was near and the drive was almost over.
At Punta Chame beach
With only a handful of permanent residents (mostly Panamanian), Punta Chame is more of a city getaway than a place you'd want to live full-time. That said, there are some luxury beach houses along the water, homes for Panama City residents who come out for weekends.
If you go during the week like we did, you may discover that you have the sun, sand and ocean to yourself. Once past the small collection of buildings that make up the town, the paved road comes to an abrupt end. Tire tracks in the dirt wind down to the beach, proof that if you have a good 4×4, you can keep driving!
A seemingly endless, peaceful and stunning white sand beach wraps around the point, beckoning you to walk in peace and quiet, and tempting you to drop everything onto the white sand and jump into the waves.
So we did.
As soon as we'd spread our towels on the warm sand and slathered on sunscreen, we shot a few photos and then hit the waves. The water was pleasantly warm and the views from the water were peaceful. Fluffy white clouds, piling up over the land in the distance, practically blended in with the white sand.
What's the point?
After finishing our swim and catching some rays, it was time to walk towards the point to see what we could see. Along the way, we passed small, sandy cliffs, carved into the packed sand by the Pacific's high tides. They were taller than we were!
Looking out past several distant islands from the tip of the peninsula, we could barely make out Panama City through the afternoon haze. Back toward the mainland, we also glimpsed a nearby resort, Nitro City. Yet on this quiet stretch of sand, we felt so far away from it all, standing on this secluded beach.
Lunch at Nitro City
We rejoined our kids and teased our son that he was as white as the sand. As in any other tropical country, Panama's sun can be brutal, so when he started looking a bit like a cooked lobster, we packed up to look for somewhere to eat. Not much was visible, so we ended up having lunch at Nitro City.
This extreme sport hotel is not for the budget minded, but it's full of action-packed possibilities:
- dirt biking
- sail boarding
- scuba diving
- jet skis
- paddle boards
- a wakeboard cable course that pulls you across the water and over ski jumps …
- and for those seeking less excitement, there's a pool with a pool bar.
As tempting as it was to just order a drink with an umbrella from one of the lounge chairs in the pool, we were just too hungry to do it. Besides, we were with our kids – and even though they were adults, having a liquid lunch would be setting a bad example. So instead, we all sipped on local beers while waiting for our grilled corvina lunches.
If you go to NitroCity, be prepared to eat. They don't skimp on the food, because each of our lunch platters held a whole – and very tasty – fish!
Where to eat and stay in Punta Chame
Punta Chame itself is small: only about 400 inhabitants. There is another hotel there, and after we got back I found out that there's a less expensive local bar-restaurant that serves typical meals, several seafood dishes, and highly recommended ceviche. It's located near the sign saying Taborcillo Island. It'll be a Must Try the next time we head that way.
Punta Chame's now on our list of fun day trips from Panama City. Go during the week and you'll have the beach to yourself … unless we are there first!This article was featured on Travel Notes and Beyond.