Santa Catalina – Hidden Paradise of Panama

Santa Catalina

– Hidden Paradise of Panama

Santa Catalina

Arriving at Cabañas Shelley

Santa Catalina

©Exploramum and Explorason – Cabanas Sherley are color-themed and Explorason loves the hammocks

“Hammocks – yeah” yells my seven year old as he jumps in and swings it as high as the window as he finally relaxes here at Santa Catalina after our long trip to here from Panama City. After a long single parent travel adventure, here we are at our next destination. What a sigh of relief knowing that we have made it this far. With a number of hurdles, here is our chance to take a short break from our never-ending adventurous family travel and take some hot shower. As luxury travel experts, we understand the need for this.

Shelley has chosen us the ‘Pink Cabana’ at Cabanas Shelley which is a typical Panama-style accommodation complex.

Color-themed Cabanas

All cabanas are color-themed, right down to the hammock. It is strange as we would think cabins are individual, but rather, it is one long building, so that was something we did not expect at all.

The bedding in our cabana matches with everything else inside with the pink tones and is clean and fresh. Our host has pride in what she presents and so she works really hard to keep the standard high.

Explorason sets to work to make a chocolate mousse in the kitchen.

Santa Catalina

©Exploramum and Explorason – our pink kitchen


Inside our cabana, it is spacious, clean and is air-conditioned. Only 3 cabanas are complete when we arrive but she is building more, and an end kitchen and external extra toilet are there as well which Shelley uses.

There is also an outside shower for washing off beach sand.


I am pleased as my son has decided he needs to catch up on his written education but I am not pushing this. We regret not buying more of these books in the USA as he loves them.  Ripping the pages out as we go lightens the load as the assignments are completed.

Explorason has managed to catch up on his English and has completed last year’s level successfully. However, studying and traveling is difficult. It is impossible to follow a ‘normal curriculum’. I find many other factors where he would be way ahead as he learns so much more by world schooling.

Explorason also doesn’t get standard school holidays. We take days off where it works and he often studies on weekends – if that works. Which day is it any way we often wonder as they roll into one?

Santa Catalina

©Exploramum and Explorason – Explorason is doing some writing assignments

How world schooling works

Studying and learning should be fun and world schooling really means learning from what is around us, like he learned about Sona yesterday. Next, we head to the Santa Catalina beach to explore and to see how we can make his learning more fun.

Santa Catalina

©Exploramum and Explorason – heading to the Santa Catalina beach


We talk about direction/geography – where Fiji is from Santa Catalina. We were just in Fiji a few months ago but we have done so much since then.  Discussing the sand and its mixed colors from the volcano etc. also forms our world schooling experiences for the day.

Scrabble in Spanish

Santa Catalina

©Exploramum and Explorason – relaxing at the point that overlooks the beach

One of the great ways to learn a language is to play games.  So this afternoon we head to the point overlooking the beach to relax and there we find Scrabble.

Playing Scrabble in Spanish is a new challenge and we both do well.  Because it is in Spanish some letters are similar to English letters e.g.: “LL”  We count and repeat the scores in Spanish. This is great and we have fun. We both learn a lot!


©Exploramum and Explorason – playing Spanish Scrabble

Beach Time at Santa Catalina

Next day – it is beach time here in Santa Catalina and it is a walk to the end of the road where the beach starts.

We head down to the volcanic sand once more at 8:00 a.m. where we collect wood and make a TeePee of sorts. Suddenly I discover that people are using it as a beach market. The rest of the beach is deserted, and slowly we are gathering in small groups.

Santa Catalina

©Exploramum and Explorason – our home-made teepee

Normally I hate swimming in the ocean as it is always too cold. But today this North Pacific Ocean is so warm!

Shelley in her kindness has dug out a ‘boogie board’ for Explorason to use. We head out to the ocean waters together and I teach my son how to surf. It works well and well we forget time and are out there for ages.

Santa Catalina

©Exploramum and Explorason – Explorason enjoys the surf

Heading back to the Cabanas Shelley, we shower and change for dinner and a walk along the town beach.

Santa Catalina

©Exploramum and Explorason – a beach walk on Santa Catalina shores

The locals seem so poor and they often hang around in pretty bad conditions, yet their houses are beautiful and happy colors.

Santa Catalina

©Exploramum and Explorason – local family relaxes

Local Cafés And Pizza

We investigate quite a few cafés in the township of Santa Catalina and we soon find that the tourist prices are close to USA prices for food.

Jammin Pizza we find is good as the owners are Spanish and Italian. This pizza hangout is A Santa Catalina iconic location with open-air rancho style.  It offers delicious thin-crust pizzas baked in a stone oven, and the owners are so very helpful. We settle in for the night and have a great time albeit that we so sunburnt – drat on that!

Santa Catalina

©Exploramum and Explorason – Jammin Pizza

Rancho Invasion

The next day we head out to the Santa Catalina beach just after 7:00 a.m. Explorason wants to surf and boogie board again.

We decide to use the palm-roofed ‘Rancho’ on the beach. But before we even get to the water, we are invaded by about 15 local families and we are pushed to a corner.

Santa Catalina beach rancho

©Exploramum and Explorason – early the rancho is deserted

Beach Walk

We head off for a beach walk to get a bit of personal space, but I feel a bit uncomfortable about leaving our things near strangers.   There are very few shells – but we find a few.

How we love the ripples of the sand and there is also a whole section with thousands of worm wiggles and that is pretty great to watch too.


As we head into the waves I nearly step on a Stingray. Stingrays love the shallow waters and we are taught to shuffle our feet in the sand as they don’t like that. But Explorason is quite panicky and now he has a new phobia.

Santa Catalina

©Exploramum and Explorason – beach walk on Santa Catalina

Adjacent hostels

Wandering along we view other hostels as I kind of wish we could stay longer. This hostel also looks fabulous and is only passable through the river so it is tide dependent. You get dropped at the end of the road and carry your luggage – over your head if need be. They look pretty cool but I can’t see any electricity overhead and I wonder about facilities.

Santa Catalina

©Exploramum and Explorason – traditional cabanas at Santa Catalina

Panama is Bright

Hammocks and colored houses are everywhere so we love the brightness and cheeriness of Panama so far.


Loud music is prevalent. I just wish they would turn that loud thumping music down as it is so beautiful here and it does destroy the ambiance at times. Things like music and noisy accommodation facilities are something that photos fail to include so that is why reading travel reviews and articles are so important.   It seems to be a song played in and out as they talk.

Thumping continual loud music really does give me a headache…and I love my music!  It often goes on into the early hours of the morning.

This is the main thing I remember about Panama and one must embrace where we are and their culture.

bright cabanas

©Exploramum and Explorason – bright Cabanas


Pedro is a friend of Shelley’s and he comes along and offers my son a horse-ride on Pablo.  the names are almost out of a movie. Pedro has been out to buy vegetables at the local market and is on his way home.

horse ride

©Exploramum and Explorason – Explorason sets out on a horse ride

Oh No!

The whole horseriding is fine until Pedro walks over to a tree and proudly shows his ‘privates’ as he relieves himself. It is then that I get a bit nervous and want to head for home as we are alone with a stranger really.

Santa Catalina

©Exploramum and Explorason – beach sunset


Pedro now leads us to private beaches and to watch the sunset. OK, Pablo needs to get us back now – Giddy-up Pablo!


©Exploramum and Explorason – sunset at the beach

Nameless Restaurant

There is a cute ‘nameless’ restaurant right across the lane – well next door really. We head there for dinner and find the prices a great and it has a relaxed feel and a good menu.

nameless restaurant

©Exploramum and Explorason – Nameless Restaurant

I am still feeling the effects of yesterday’s sunburn but we do have a great dinner. Wine is $2 a glass if I recall and the meals are large and tasty.

Santa Catalina

©Exploramum and Explorason – wonderful dinner

Local Workers

We end the night at the ‘Nameless Restaurant’ talking to local Santa Catalina workers who have moved from other countries to be here. This is a bit of a trend we find.


There is the smallest snooker table (or eight balls/pool) ever and is also on ever such a lean. We nearly clobber a lady in the head with a couple of shots and that is quite funny for us, but not for her. It has been a great time tonight. It has been a real quality-time evening with my son and it shows that often the best experiences do not take a lot of money.

Santa Catalina

©Exploramum and Explorason – enjoying time together

As it is the weekend, the only aspect is the locals staying in other cabanas are plentiful as it is a holiday weekend, and they are spilling out of the rear of the car and back seat, and even sleeping in the hammocks.


©Exploramum and Explorason – someone is asleep in there – can you see the face? It’s OK – It’s Shelley!

Kids At Play

There is a fabulous local family next door in one of the cabanas and Explorason gets along and speaks a few Spanish words with this 4-year-old. Technology knows no language barriers and they swap devices and laugh and play. They spend the day playing hanging out in the hammocks and my boy decides he wants him as a brother!

Santa Catalina

©Exploramum and Explorason – kids play

Camping Available

We wait a whole day and also help Shelley clean and then she takes in some campers. Apparently, an option to pitch a tent is also available here.  She cleans like a trooper all day and ‘dresses’ the beds. There seem to be locals coming and going that she is always helping.

We want to head off to our next destination, but we are relying on Shelley for a ride back to Sona so we will be patient and appreciative or we would be stuck.

Groundhog Day

As Shelley starts to drive us back from Santa Catalina to Sona, it starts to feel like we are living Groundhog Day. She gets a phone call and has to head back to the cabanas as the fuses have tripped and so she fixes that. We stop for a toilet break and time ticks on.

We stop to pick up tow lots of hitch-hiker local families that get into the back of the truck.

Then we stop to help a broken down Landrover” Shelley is just a helper.  What a kind person she is!

Saint Shelley

She really is like ‘Saint Shelley’ – she just helps everyone!

As we head back into Sona town it is 8:00 p.m. We will have to stay at her home again and head off early tomorrow which was not my plan but that is travel – plans change and one must go with the flow.

Birthday With A New Friend

We share dinner with a new friend this evening who has arrived especially. An ex-customer Shelley has made friends with that has returned to Sona for the evening. Why am I not surprised – it is this lady’s birthday and she chose Shelley to share it with!

Questions and Comments

  • What do else you know about Panama?
  • Have you been to the hidden paradise of Panama?
  • Do share your comments with us below.



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