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La Buena Vida Hotel provides an artistic & laid-back retreat in Santa Catalina, Panama with private villas, healthy food, yoga, massages, and more!

Santa Catalina has gained the reputation as being one of Panama’s top surfing destinations as well a gateway to Coiba National Park for divers & snorkelers.

I’ve had so many people lately tell me I have to go to Santa Catalina so when I excitedly received the news that my younger sisters would be coming to visit me in Panama I decided this is where we would go.

Santa Catalina is located on Panama’s Southernmost tip of Veraguas between the Gulf of Montijo and the Gulf or Chiriquí and takes around 5-8 hours to get to depending on how you arrive and traffic (details on how to get there at the end).

Santa Catalina Map

I don’t have a car so our journey began at the Albrook Bus Terminal in Panama City where we would first take a 4.5 hour bus to Soná and then a 1 hour bus to Santa Catalina.

The journey was actually very seamless by bus and I noticed small hotel and hostels popping up as our bus transitioned into Santa Catalina. I spotted our hotel on the left and signaled the bus driver to stop.

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La Buena Vida Hotel

“You must be Joey!” exclaimed Kelly as she jumped up from the reception desk to greet us. I had been in communication with Kelly back and forth getting our room reserved and answering my questions about Santa Catalina.

She introduced me to the owners Michelle and Mike Shogren, who moved to Santa Catalina after traveling throughout Central America and deciding that Santa Catalina was their own little piece of paradise.

The first villa at La Buena Vida Hotel was opened in 2005 and now the property has four villas, a private home, and a small hostel  to accommodate any group size. Each villa has been uniquely designed – featuring creative mosaic and metal works done by Michelle and Mike.

Besides the beautiful villas the property has a “Bird’s Eye View” yoga studio overlooking Santa Catalina where classes are offered everyday of the week! View schedule.

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In the studio you can also book a professional massage by Michelle who specializes in Swedish massages, reflexology, deep/connective tissue, trigger point therapy, sports massage, Shiatsu, Thai, pregnancy massage and Ashiatsu (she actually walks on you). She mixes all of the techniques together to create a healing massage to fit your specific needs.

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Michelle walked us over to the Casa del Mar villa, handed us the keys, and was super helpful with explaining where everything was and wanted to make sure we were as comfortable as possible. We were immediately impressed with the size of our villa and while we were just three people it could have comfortably fit at least six. We had two double size beds, a set of bunk beds, futon, and a full kitchen!

PTY.LIFE READER DISCOUNT: Mention and get 10% off your reservation at La Buena Vida Hotel in Santa Catalina, Panama. RESERVE NOW

After getting settled into our villa it was almost 3pm, and my sisters and I were ready to grab some lunch and hit the beach. Kelly was great with providing suggestions and circled her favorite local spots on the map. We ended up going to a nearby spot for a quick local style lunch and $1 beers!


The closest beach to La Buena Vida is Playa Santa Catalina but this is more of a beach for boats coming in and out than a beach for swimming in. For surfing, swimming, and sunbathing everyone heads to Playa Estero – just a 15 minute walk through the town.

Playa Estero Santa Catalina

As I walked through Santa Catalina I noticed that life here is laid back and simple. There’s no big developments and it has a charming rural village feel with just a few small hotels & hostels, surf camps, and restaurants dotted along the main road.

We reached the end of the road that leads to Playa Estero just in time to enjoy it a little before the sun began to set. The water was too chilly for me to get all the way in (normal for March) but dedicated surfers and beginners were out catching the last waves of the day.

Santa Catalina

Santa Catalina

As the sun began to disappear, my sisters and I headed to the nearby hostel to sit and watch the sunset. I hadn’t seen a good sunset for a while (sometimes it just gets dark in Panama City) but this one was the best I have seen in years. The colors continued to change and morph at least 45 minutes after it started.

Santa Catalina Sunset

We then returned to La Buena Vida Hotel as the last trickle of sunset was disappearing to shower and get ready for dinner.

On our stroll to dinner Aubrey happened to look up and point to the sky. The clear, cloudless night provided a stunning backdrop splatted with the universe’s brightest stars that you only get to see in the most remote areas of the world. I’m the “techy” one in my family so I whipped out my iPhone to show off my new constellation identifying app. After successfully identifying the “Orion” constellation while standing in the middle of the road I put my phone away and decided to just take in the moment. The three of us happened to be looking up at the same time again and I kid you not… a shooting star shot through the sky. What a magical place!

So what is there to do at night in Santa Catalina? Not much and that’s the beauty of it. Enjoy a nice dinner, have a few beers with friends, talk to other travelers… Santa Catalina is a destination to disconnect with our busy lives and enjoy peace & quiet.

We spent two nights in Santa Catalina exploring the beaches, hiking, snorkeling in Coiba, and enjoying our time together. This ended up being the perfect sibling adventure and a special place in Panama to visit.

A big thank you to Michelle, Mike, Kelly, and all the staff at La Buena Vida for making us feel at home and sharing your slice of paradise with us!

For more information on the hotel visit and be sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram (@labuenavidapanama) for their latest updates! Also remember to mention for 10% off your stay 🙂

For questions, comments, or to make a reservation call Mike (Miguel) at (507) 6635-1895 or Michelle (507) 6572-0664 (dial 011 first from the U.S.) or email

Read on below for more tips on what to do in Santa Catalina, how to get there, and photos from my day trip to Coiba National Park…


Must-Do’s In Santa Catalina

Yoga: Head up to the “Bird’s Eye View” Studio at La Buena Vida Hotel for the ultimate yoga retreat! Classes take place every morning at 9am as well as a second session on Wednesday’s, Friday’s, & Sunday’s at 5pm. Please text or call Michelle (507) 6572-0664 or email in advance to reserve your spot.

Surf, Swim, and Sun: Visit Playa Estero for the most popular surfing and swimming beach or La Punta at high tide for advanced surfers. View all beach options.

Playa Estero

Hiking: During one of your evenings hike up the Crest Trail for an amazing view of Santa Catalina during the sunset.

Santa Catalina Hiking

Get a massage: Book a 1/2 hour, 1 hour, or 1 1/2 hour massage with Michelle at the Birds Eye Studio in La Buena Vida Hotel. Please text or call Michelle (507) 6572-0664 or email in advance to reserve your spot. Full details here.


Coiba National Park: Santa Catalina is the nearest access point to Coiba National Park and it is a MUST DO during your trip here. Definitely one of the most beautiful places I have visited in Panama and we got to swim with schools of fish, sea turtles, and even spotted a few sharks! There are tons of tour operators in the area so you can book your trip once you arrive or reserve a spot in advance through one of these tour operators.

Kayak / SUP (Paddle Boarding): Santa Catalina Beach is a great launch pad for renting a kayak or paddle board for the day and exploring the nearby Santa Catalina Island.


Where to eat

With twenty something hotels and just as many restaurants, there is something for everyone in Santa Catalina! For breakfast and lunch you can head to La Buena Vida (open from 6am to 2pm). While you’re there be sure to ask Michelle, Mike, or Kelly where their favorite dinner spots are located.

La Buena Vida Breakfast
Breakfast at the La Buena Vida Garden Restaurant

How to get to Santa Catalina

Bus ($15 each way and 7-8 hours): Visit the Soná ticket booth in the Albrook Bus Terminal in Panama City and purchase a ticket for $9.70. The bus leaves at 6:45am, 8:20am, 10:20am, 12:45pm, 2:20pm, 3:15pm, 4:19pm, 5:45pm and the earlier you leave the better since this is about a 7 hour journey.

The bus from Panama City to Soná takes about 4.5 hours and once you arrive in Soná there will be a someone with a bus transferring passengers to Santa Catalina for $5. The bus departs at 5:30am, 8:40am, 11:20am , 1:30pm, 3pm, and 4:45pm. So for example if you take the 8:20am bus from Panama City you should make it in time for the 1:30pm bus to Santa Catalina. The bus from Soná to Santa Catalina take 1-1.5 hours and makes several stops in Santa Catalina. The La Buena Vida Hotel is one of the first stops once you’re in Santa Catalina and it’s located on the left.

Car (5-6 hours): According to directions on the La Buena Vida website, coming from the airport follow signs for Panama Centro, and later Punta Paitilla on the Corredor Sur highway. Once you get into the city, you want to exit on coastal road Avenida Balboa and follow signs to Avenida de Los Martires which eventually leads you out of the city on the Bridge of the Americas (Puente de Las Americas). Stay on the Inter American highway until Santiago (about 240 k, 3 hours). The only place where you may question which fork to take on the highway there is a sign “Autopista/Chorrera”, stay left here and merge into the main highway again.

PTY.LIFE READER DISCOUNT: Mention and get 10% off your reservation at La Buena Vida Hotel in Santa Catalina, Panama. RESERVE NOW

Navigating through downtown Santiago can be tricky. We recommend you continue through Santiago on the highway, another 6/7 kilometers towards David and take a left at the sign pointing towards La Peña/Santa Catalina/Soná. Drive slowly here as there is a school, police station and beautiful stone church. You come to a T, and take a hard right towards Soná. Continue on this road until the Delta gas station BEFORE Soná. Take a left. This road is all new from La Peña to Santa Catalina. >>> About 40k in, there is another sign at the “El Tigre” junction where you take a left. This is well marked. There is a final right at the police station in Hicaco, ten kilometers from Santa Catalina. La Buena Vida is located on the main road, on the left side, just before the “village center”, one and a half blocks from the beach. The only questionable “Y” in the road where you may not be sure is pointing the way to Ya Ya. DO NOT go to Ya Ya. Stay left. This trip is apx. 5-6 hours in car.

Shuttle ($25 each way and 6-7 hours): For $25 a person you can use a shuttle service between Santa Catalina and Panama City. To reserve your spot call (507) 6041 0696 or (507) 6291 6401 or whatsapp +50763043064.

This is a sponsored post promoting La Buena Vida Hotel and I received compensation in exchange for writing this review. Although this post is sponsored, all opinions are my own and I will never publish anything that I wouldn’t go to myself. For information on promoting your business through visit THIS LINK

Experience Panama


I'm Joey, a guy from Louisville, Kentucky that packed up and studied abroad in Panamá at the age of 20 and haven't moved back since. What started as a semester trip to Panamá has turned into 10+ years of living in Latin America and becoming a full-time travel blogger. I now rotate between living in Panama City, Bogotá, and Lima. Follow me on Instagram @joeybonura for more updates on my life abroad!

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