Playa Venao is a vibrant beachfront community on Panama’s Azuero Peninsula, known for its world-class surfing, chill beach vibes, and the occasional music festival.
I’ve visited Playa Venao several times over the last nine years and am always surprised how much it has grown – from having just a few hostels to actual communities where people are now living full-time. However, it’s far from feeling developed and manages to keep its appeal to nature lovers and travelers looking to get off the beaten path and experience a cool beach community.
I’ve spent as little as 2-nights in Playa Venao up until a full week and have enjoyed it both ways. There’s not going to necessarily be entertainment unless you’re there for an event so you’ll want to decide if you’re ok with just hanging out at the beach, surfing, doing yoga, action sports, reading, etc. Keep in mind this is going to be a surfing beach, meaning there will be waves. If you’re looking for a beach with calm swimming water, you can visit Isla Iguana for the day or there is a “secret” beach about a 30-minute walk away that is best at high-tide (full details on that below).
So whether you’re looking to experience the legendary surf or just sit back and relax – Here is my guide on how to properly visit Playa Venao, Panama.
Things to know before you go
Getting there: If you have a car, Playa Venao is a 5-hour drive from Panama City. But a car is not necessary as there is a direct shuttle from Panama City for $40 via Venao Tours. If you want to opt for public transport, head to the Albrook Bus Terminal to take a $10 bus from Panama City to Las Tablas. This leaves every hour, on the hour. The bus trip should take around 5 hours so plan accordingly so that you can then take the direct 1:30 pm bus from Las Tablas to Playa Venao or take a taxi for $35-40.
It’s a weekend destination: Like most touristic destinations in Panama, if you go during the week you’ll have the place to yourself or expect to see people from the city flock to Playa Venao for the weekend. The beach is huge so it’s never actually “crowded”.
When to go: Playa Venao is known for its boutique electronic music festivals with Sonica Venao typically in April and Radio Venao in November. Selina also organizes quite a few events so it’s best to visit their Facebook Page for the latest happenings. If you want to be there during a surfing competition, visit the Playa Venao Surf Club Facebook Page for updates on the next event.
Drinking water: Like the majority of Panama, the water is drinkable from the tap.
Cash and ATMs: There are NO ATMs in Playa Venao and I ran out of cash on my last trip there. The closest ATM is in Pedasi, which is a 30-minute drive away (you can use the Selina shuttle for $8 round-trip). Some restaurants take credit card so be sure to use it when you can.
Weather: Expect it to be 30C during the day and 22C at night with the rainy season from May – November, with the heaviest rains happening towards the end of that.
Stock up on groceries in Pedasi: If you’ll be staying at a place where you’ll be cooking your own meals be sure to stock up at the grocery in Pedasi before getting to Playa Venao. There is a small mini market in Playa Venao with basic groceries but expect it to be expensive.
Other Resources: Check out vistacanas.com for a super detailed guide on Playa Venao and the surrounding areas written by an expat in the area. They will also be opening a nature & book retreat in 2021 to add another wonderful accommodation option in Playa Venao.
Where to stay
What to do
Learn to surf or rent a board: The surf is one of the top reasons people are flocking to Playa Venao and the beach has waves for all levels, depending on which end you’re on. Surf Dojo, Beach Break, and Selina are a few of the spots that offer surfboard rentals (typically starting at $10), lessons, and surf camps.
Photography Tours: Join a team of like-minded creatives as you improve your photography while discovering one of Panama’s greatest beach communities and surfing destinations. Learn with @leyghphoto and @majortomh through hands-on photography workshops, photo adventures, and a styled photoshoot as you explore the beach and surrounding natural locations. Start your days with yoga, catch some waves and finish with a bonfire as you capture the entire adventure with your lens. Visit lensventure.com for details on the next available workshop.
Pamper yourself at the spa: Eco Venao has a full-service spa with massages, facials, nails, hair removal, and haircuts when you want to feel a little pampered. You can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or send a WhatsApp to +507 6268 8737 to set up your appointment.
Hike to a waterfall: Behind the beach is a full jungle for you to explore. I recommend heading to Eco Venao and doing the hiking trail that they have on the property. We saw monkeys on the way and got to enjoy swimming around the waterfall. There is a small entrance fee to pay to do the hike if you’re not staying there, but it’s worth it.
Practice yoga & other sports: Playa Venao is the perfect place to disconnect to focus on your health and wellness, so be sure to join one of the many yoga classes offered. Beach Break Surf Camp has a full schedule of yoga & other workout classes throughout the day (view full schedule here) that you can join for $5/class. You can also find 9 am classes at Eco Venao every day (except for Sunday) and Selina offers $5 yoga classes every day at 5:30 pm.
Go deep-sea fishing: The Azuero Peninsula is known for its abundance in tuna and you can experience catching them with Playa Venao Fishing. They have an economical “Panga” option where you can go on a small local-style boat or their “Caribe Pro” option is for serious fishermen.
Horseback Riding: If you would like to schedule horseback riding along the beach you can easily do it though Wao Venao, Beach Break Surf Camp, Eco Venao.
Zip Lining: Go on a zip-line adventure through the jungle with Cañas Jungle Adventure. They have 8 zip-line cables, 2 rappels, and a waterfall that you can swim in. Tours here can easily be booked at Club Venao once you arrive.
Sneak over to La Playita, the “secret beach”: This beach isn’t really a secret because people know about, but I had no idea of its existence until my most recent visit. The water here is super calm, clear, and the sand is light-colored. The only thing is that it can be rocky at low-tide so be sure to look up the tide schedule for the day and plan your time to be there for high-tide. To get here, walk to the end of the beach towards where Selina is and you’ll eventually see a small path. Walk down the path for about 20-minutes and you’ll see Playita Resort. You can pay $5 for a day pass which grants you access to the beach, chairs, and restrooms.
Visit Isla Iguana: Playa Venao is a paradise for surfers but what about for people who want calm, clear water? Luckily Isla Iguana is a gorgeous island off the coast of Pedasi that you can visit for the day. Selina provides a direct tour here that includes round-trip transportation, from Playa Venao to Pedasi, boat transport to Isla Iguana, snacks, bottled water, and a soft drink for $42.
Go whale watching: If you happen to be in Playa Venao from July – September you can see humpback whales jumping and playing in the warm waters of Pedasi. The whale watching tour offered by Selina costs $53 and includes round-trip transportation from Playa Venao, 2-hours of whale watching, and 3-hours relaxing on Isla Iguana with snacks and juice included.
Be productive at Selina: Sometimes a vacation can’t be all play and you need to get some work completed. You can buy a day-pass for $10 to use the co-working office which includes unlimited coffee & tea, high-speed internet, snacks, and a dedicated space where you can focus.
Where to eat
Mamu: This delicious seafood joint had recently opened during my visit last year and was one of my favorite meals. The setup is simple, cute, and modern with flavorful dishes that are well-priced.
Coleos (cash-only): Coleos is a local favorite known for their huge portions that are a fusion of Mediterranean and Asian cuisine with lots of vegetarian options. It’s easily a spot you’ll end up eating at several times in Playa Venao.
Panga: Panga is set in the middle of the jungle and immerses you into the most unique dining experience you’ll find in Playa Venao. Ingredients are fresh and local, with their own herb garden and fish caught freshly everyday.
Taco Flow: You honestly can’t go wrong with beachfront tacos and an ice-cold beer. Taco Flow serves up authentic Mexican food with options of tacos, burritos, guacamole, and more in a super chill setting.
La Barca: Heading to the opposite end of the beach, you’ll stumble upon the hidden gem of La Barca. They have a simple & flavorful menu of sandwiches, burgers, stir fry, and seafood. This is the perfect spot to head to for sunset as the whole atmosphere is secluded, with a unique boat bar and hammocks around.
La Bicicleta: This ended up being my go-to breakfast spot as they have a complete breakfast for $4. They also have a $5 menu of the day for lunch, making this an enjoyable spot for people on a budget.
Where to socialize
Selina: Selina has the most social atmosphere in Playa Venao as they typically organize activities throughout the day like yoga and salsa classes and are known for their electronic music beach parties on the weekend.
El Sitio: El Sitio is right in the middle of Playa Venao and hosts the famous Sonica Venao and Radio Venao music festivals. Just look for the lighthouse, you can’t miss it!
Wao Venao: A new beach bar plaza with multiple restaurants, a bar, activities, and more. Overall a fun spot to hang out and meet other travelers.
Where to shop
Club Venao: At Club Venao, you’ll find a small boutique selling vintage clothing and local souvenirs from the area. They’re also your one-stop-shop for all things related to Playa Venao and you can rent surfboards, book tours, take a yoga class, or get a massage.