The Azuero Peninsula is considered the cradle of Panamanian culture and folklore, and in this beautiful but less visited region one finds some of Panama's friendliest local people, as well as the best festivities such as carnival (the Azuero Peninsula is probably the best place to spend carnival in Panama). In this cowboy-esque corner of Panama everything is slowly paced, and there are some lovely stretches of coastline to explore - best if you have a hire car. In season, turtles lay there eggs on many of the beaches of the Azuero Peninsula - you can take a torch and find them at night.
Pedasi (a peaceful, small inland town) or some of the small beachfront hotels further round the coast are by far the best place to base yourself if you're planning a vacation to Panama's Azuero Peninsula.
Pedasi & Azuero Peninsula Hotels
There were three hotels in Pedasi when we visited in 2008. All have air conditioning.
Residencial Pedasi - the best hotel in Pedasi in our opinion, rooms are laid out in an attractive small motel like complex. Hammocks are strung up between trees for use by the guests. Double rooms cost $35.
Dim's Hostal - a popular hostal, Dim's is a characterful old converted house. Most rooms have a small porch ideal for a relaxing beer in the evening. Dim's hostel is overpriced at $38 for a double, though breakfast is included in the price.
Residencial Moscoso - this is Pedasi's cheapest hotel, and run by a rather grumpy old lady. It's more a case of rooms being rented out ($20 for a double) as opposed to a hotel, but it's perfectly suitable for those travelling on a budget.
Pedasi, with various restaurants and a supermarket and bank, is the ideal base to explore Panama's Azuero Peninsula, but a suitable alternative would be to head to nearby Los Destiladores on the coast, where one can find the more upmarket hotels such as Villa Camilla and Posada Los Destiladores.
Travel further West and the beaches become greyer in colour - Playita Resort is funky place to stay with a lovely beach front location near the surfing hotspot of Playa Venado. Just inland from Playa Venado is Eco Venao, a simple hotel popular with surfers. For a more upmarket hotel in this area (Playa Venado) try the hacienda style bed and breakfast Villa Marina.
Beaches near Pedasi
The South Eastern section of the Azuero Peninsula has some of Panama's most beautiful and undeveloped beaches. The beaches are not white sand here - they are either yellow or greyish in colour, but none-the-less this is a beautiful stretch of coastline.I'll mention the beaches as one travels South / West from Pedasi deeper into the Azuero Peninsula.
Playa Arenal is nearest to Pedasi - here you'll find fishermen offering cheap fishing tours as well as day trips to the beautiful white sand beaches on Isla Iguana, which is well worth a visit. Playa Arenal can be walked for miles, but the beaches further South are more beautiful. Playa Garito is almost unsigned but just 4km from Pedasi. Travelling South along the main road through Pedasi, take the fifth left, go past the plaza then keep driving, or walking, straight until you see a sign pointing you right, and follow that track to the very end. From Playa Garito it's possible to walk South along about 10km of beautiful coastline with otherwise inaccessible wonderful beaches all the way to Punta Mala, where Panama's ex President's house (Mrs Mireya Moscoso) sits perched on the cliff. This wonderful beach walk can also be done the other way round, from Punta Mala heading north to Playa Garita - travel about 4km South of Pedasi along the main road, and turn left, then keep left at the village you find (the turning is signposted to Los Destiladores). Keep driving and you'll see a fork right to Los Destiladores (more on that beach in a moment), but keep left and keep going until you reach Punta Mala and the ex Presidents house. Park your car, and either wade or swim across the river on your left (at low tide it's a simple 20 metre wade), and walk all the way north to Playa Garito.
Playa Los Destiladores is well signposted heading South from Pedasi. This is possibly the Azuero Peninsula's most beautiful, and cleanest, beach. You can walk for long distances North, or drive along the coastal road South to find numerous other empty and undeveloped beaches. In Los Destiladores you also find the lovely mid range beach front hotel Posada Los Destiladores, as well as one of Panama's most exclusive small hotels - Villa Camilla.
Beaches & Travel further West on the Azuero Peninsula
If you have a hire car, it's worth travelling further West towards Tonosi and beyond. Driving from Pedasi towards Tonosi you'll find Playa Venado (or Playa Venao as it's sometimes called) - this is a long grey sand beach that is one of Panama's best surfing beaches. There's a few hotels near Playa Venado, such as Playita Resort, Villa Marina and Eco Venao.
South West from Tonosi the road continues towards the coast, and then follows the coastline for miles. Head to Los Buzos, one of the remotest sections of the Azuero Peninsula, but easy to access with a hire car. Gonzales Surf Camp and Restaurant in Los Buzos offers basic accommodation in hammocks or you can pitch a tent (free - just leave a tip and eat at the restaurant). The surfing is great here also, and there are miles and miles of beautiful grey sand coastline. This is almost the end of the Azuero Peninsula, but it's possible to continue driving West along the beautiful coastal road to even more empty beaches with a 4x4 - this road isn't marked on any maps, but it is there - trust me!
This region of Panama and the Azuero Peninsula was visited and researched extensively in 2008. Have faith in this Panama travel guide, but our advice would be to check out Google Maps, print of some satellite images, and go explore the amazing Azuero Peninsula.
Deep Sea Fishing on the Azuero Peninsula
The Azuero Peninsula offers some of Panama's best sport and deep sea fishing. Abernathy offers the best boats and cover an international standard price of over $500 for the day, as well as offering various more extensive deep sea diving packages.
Dive N Fish Pedasi also offer deep sea fishing tours, in addition to organising scuba diving. They act as a middleman in terms of the fishing tours that they offer, so there is little point in using this service of theirs. If you want to go deep sea diving on the cheap on the Azuero Peninsula, head to Playa Arenal, a couple of km from Pedasi, and speak to the numerous friendly local fishermen as they return from their days fishing in the late afternoon - it's easy to arrange a fishing tour for the following day. A recommended and experienced fishermen is Roberto Perez (tel 6697 5836) who'll provide all you need to go deep sea fishing at a bargain cost of about $150 for the day.
Such deep sea fishing tours can easily be combined with a trip to Isla Iguana, a beautiful island surrounded by turquoise waters that has some fantastic snorkelling. Isla Iguana can also be visited on a simple day trip - again head to Playa Arenal and speak to the local fishermen who will happily take you for about $70.
Other places to visit in the Azuero Peninsula
The Azuero Peninsula is full of sites of interest other than those mentioned above. Consider any of the following, which are mentioned as one travels South deeper into the Peninsula:
Nata - the oldest town in Panama is worthy of a visit precisely for that reason.
Parita - 15 miles South of Divisa, this is a charming small town, with some fine colonial architecture, worth wandering around for 30 minutes or so.
Chitre - one of Azuero's largest towns, with some charming colonial buildings, a small anthropoligical museum. Chitre is a great option for carnival in Panama. Hotels in Chitre include Hotel Guayacanes, Hotel Hong Kong, Hotel Rex and Hotel Versalles.
La Arena - just West of Chitre, one of the best places to buy pottery in Panama.
Sarigua National Park - a small National Park protecting mangrove swamps and lunar like desert wasteland about 5 miles South of Chitre.
Villa de los Santos - also known as "Los Santos", there's a museum, a fine church and a good option for Panama's carnival celebrations.
Las Tablas - known as "the cradle of Panamanian folklore", this town has colonial sections but more of a city feel to it and is the best place to celebrate carnival.
Pocri - a small, pristinely look after village, with some empty beaches on the coast nearby.
A note on Real Estate and the future of the Azuero Peninsula
Many suggest that the Azuero Peninsula will develop rapidly and that this is Panama's new hotspot for real estate - it's easy to see why. Hotels and holiday homes / retirement homes are starting to spring up at places such as Los Destiladores. There are even rumours of a mega resort - the Decameron Azuero resort. Real Estate remains cheap, but the cost of land was a fifth the price just a few years ago. Expect big changes in the Azuero Peninsula over the next 10 years - let's hope it doesn't loose any of it's unique charm.