Heading southeast from Boquete we drove to Playa Venao, an isolated but booming little beach town on the Azuero Peninsula. With great roads the five and a half hour trip was smooth. We did encounter another police checkpoint (uneventful). In fact, after ten days in Panama we couldn’t help but notice the heavy police presence everywhere we went, another difference from Costa Rica where we saw only one police vehicle over our two week visit.
Our first impression of Playa Venao was the unattractive dirt and gravel parking lots which greeted us as we entered the strip. As we looked around we saw container ships stacked in an empty lot surrounded by more dirt and gravel. Not exactly a charming facade. However, once we visited the beach our perception changed completely. From the shore Playa Venao is beautiful. The inland roads may be ugly but they are clearly the byproduct of a number of onging contruction projects in the area, and the more we looked around the more we realized that money was pouring into the area in one form or another. In the past year alone, even in covid times, they’ve built a fantastic asphalt main road, a modern gas station, and a grocery store (which still hadn’t opened). Aside from that there were numerous building projects going up, presumably condominiums or small resorts. We were only there for a few days but it seems as though Playa Venao is an up and coming resort area. The south-facing beach and great surf break are the main attraction, with fishing and eco-tours also available. The beach is well protected on three sides and low tides reveal an incredible sand bottom that stretches toward the water a hundred meters or more, ideal for walking. Surf conditions are obviously good all day long regardless of the tide. We enjoyed watching the surfers whose numbers increased along with the size of the waves as the day progressed. On shore the heat was oppressive but we had partially cloudy days which made it more bearable – just a lovely spot.
Dotting the beach are several charming resorts – no brand name hotels of any kind, just small Panamanian style structures with beach bars that fit in well with the surroundings. The best part is that, even though it’s high tourist season, the place wasn’t overrun with tourists. Covid might have something to do with that but we found the place to have just enough activity and excitement without having big crowds, and day or night it felt very safe.
Mark was certainly impressed. He says that Panama has a lot going for it when it comes to foreign investment. There’s a stable government that is open for business. The strategic position of the Panama canal in global trade routes all but ensures long term political stability, and we’ve heard they have a robust construction trade. What’s more is that the cost of building is still relatively cheap we (hear) as compared with resort towns in the Caribbean or North America. It seems that Playa Venao is the beneficiary of a wave of investment that is turning a sleepy little beach road into a sought after resort and surf community. However, it is still a five hour drive to Panama City so it’s possibly too isolated and too remote for a corporate hotel or high rise condominium at this stage. Let’s hope so because as the little strip evolves it would be a shame for it to lose it’s character as a safe and laid back refuge.
Aside from school work which we’ve been keeping up in the mornings we spent a lazy three days sitting on the beach, swimming and walking up and down the coast. We mostly sampled several fantastic restaurants and drank cheap beer by the pool. But one day we ventured around the next point and visited Playita, a small beach where we fed spider monkeys and saw some beautiful Macaws. We also met some interesting families. Three days in Playa Venao was not enough!