San Felix and Santa Catalina road trip

It was time to explore further afield and explore a little bit more of Panama, time to go on a road trip! We drove south towards the Pacific past Davíd into the state of Veraguas and reached Santa Catalina just before dark. Santa Catalina is described as a hidden gem, a surfers paradise. It was indeed a bit hidden, it took us over 7 hours in the car to get here from mount Totuma, north of Volcan in Chiriquí. Once we turned off the Panamericana the drive was beautifully scenic with green mountains and occasional views of the Chiriquí Gulf. Santa Catalina is said to offer the best surf in Panama and it’s main drawing point for us was the close access point to Isla Coíba with its world class diving, snorkling and fishing. Wooohoo!


Unfortunately, there were terrible torrential rains! We arrived at Time Out cabanas just in time to see the Italian chef cutting up a freshly caught tuna. The menu offered local lobster and clams. (A shame that it was all over cooked…) Time Out cabanas describe themselves as the only luxury hotel and spa in Santa Catalina. It couldn’t be further away from the truth, the place is neglected, smelly and falling down. There is no spa, only a dirty swimming pool with half of the tiles missing and threadbare pool towels. Definitely not worth the $130 a night they charge. It may have been a nice place in its hay day, but those days are long gone… The Italian manager was however very friendly and helpful.

Of Santa Catalina’s beautiful beaches and lush forests we saw very little. Unlucky with the weather no boats left the mainland on the following morning. It had rained torrential all night. We were in two minds of what to do… Stay another night and wait the rain out, hope for the best? Make it to Coiba the next day? The skies were dark and full with heavy rains and without promise to ever stop so we grumpily decided to return home… No tropical beaches for us, no surf lessons for the kids, no diving and no snorkling… And not many photos either!

On our way back to Mount Totumas we decided to drive to San Felix, a Ngäbe-Buglé community. Because we have made friends with a family at mount Totumas who come from San Felix, we wanted to go and see what this small town was like.

The Ngäbe people see fewer tourists than other Panamanian indigenous communities but are by far the most numerous indigenous group. (Read about our experience with the Wounaan here).

We sat down in one of San Felix’s lunch time restaurants, ordered sodas and empanadas and just watched life go by for an hour.


The Ngäbe-Buglé women wear beautiful dresses called naguas. The dresses may have been introduced by missionaries for humility’s sake (the Ngäbe traditionally wore loincloths).

These colourful dresses are decorated with geometric patterns and most women sow their own. It’s the cutest thing to see a mother and her daughter in matching dresses. The classic Ngäbe geometric pattern is called dientes, “teeth”, and is said to represent mountains, animal teeth and the flow of the river.





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