Travel Guide to Playa Venao, Panama
elcome to Playa Venao, Panamá—where the jungle meets the surf and the crowds are nowhere to be found! This laid back community is home to the Azuero Peninsula’s best surfing and offers its visitors LOTS of opportunities to create lifetime memories and rejuvenate their souls in a stunning natural setting.
(If you’re here, it’s likely you already know why you should come here—if you’re on the fence, here’s some convincing reasons to come to Panama and Playa Venao: Why Visit Panama?)
Take time to leave cities, at least once in a year, and go to some natural place, hills, sea, jungles, rivers, where you see nothing but nature…where you only hear chirping of birds, clinkering of trees, murmuring of winds, splashes of water in the river, and uproar of waterfalls. | GIRDHAR JOSHI
About Playa Venao, Panamá
P laya Venao is located on Panama’s Azuero Peninsula in southern Panamá. The first thing you’ll likely notice is the natural beauty of the area. On one side is the Pacific Ocean with black sand beaches, surfing, lush vegetation that’s home to monkeys, coatimundi, agoutis, iguanas, anteaters, birds, and more. On the other is rolling hills, working farms with herds of grazing Brahmin cattle, patches of jungle and hidden waterfalls.
The water is warm and the vibe is casual so you can leave your wetsuit and fancy clothes at home!
It won’t take long to notice something else—the lack of crowds. Unlike most popular beach and surf destinations, Playa Venao takes the whole laid back thing super seriously. Even in the high (and dry) season, you can enjoy solitude on the most popular beaches and never get stuck in vehicular traffic. (Cow jams, however, are a possibility.)
Because Playa Venao is blissfully undiscovered by the masses, development and services are a bit more limited than the crowded areas. There is one (overpriced) mini market, several restaurants and bars, a couple souvenir shops, and plenty of places offering surf lessons, board rentals and area tours. There’s a gas station coming soon and, word has it, a reasonably priced grocery store is on the way.
Accommodations are a mix of basic hostels, surf camps, small eco resorts, boutique hotels, and private Airbnb/VRBO rentals. (When it’s open, Vista Cañas Nature & Book Retreat will be totally unique to the area—offering a stunning natural setting, mind blowing views, access to virtually private beaches AND hot showers!)
The closest cities are Las Tablas (about a 1-1/4 hour drive) and Chitré (about a 1-3/4 hour drive). It’s doubtful you’ll need to go to either of these places as the quaint town of Pedasi, just 40 minutes up the road, has most everything you’ll need during your visit—including grocery stores, more souvenirs, leisure and fishing supplies, alcohol, gas stations and more restaurants.
Playa Venao is one of the safest, friendliest, cleanest and chill areas in Panamá. If you’re on the fence about coming here, here are some fabulous reasons why you need to get on the next plane—Why Visit Panama? Your reward will be the experience of a lifetime!
How to Get to Playa Venao from Panama City
P laya Venao is located on the Azuero Peninsula in the Tonosi District of the Los Santos Province of Panamá. It’s approximately 360 kilometers (224 miles) southwest of Panama City and 34 kilometers (21 miles) southwest of the town of Pedasi.
Theoretically, there are several ways you can get to Playa Venao involving planes, busses, shuttles and automobiles. However, when you take into consideration effort, cost and, most importantly, mobility once you’re here, I highly recommend renting a car in Panama City and driving the 5-1/2 hours here. (It’s not a difficult drive—the roads are paved and the highways are smooth! Just drive the speed limit because you’re likely to get radared every few kilometers.)
There are a couple of important things to know about renting a car in Panamá:
- Spend the extra money and get an all wheel or 4 wheel drive. You’ll need it just to get up some driveways in the area!
- Try as you might, no one can escape the mandatory $28/day liability insurance. (Yes, your credit card company provides insurance, but I can almost guarantee it’s only collision coverage. Read my FAQ about renting a car in Panamá for all the details and my recommendations on companies to use.)
Other ways to get to Playa Venao from Panama City include:
FLY: There are no longer flights from Panama City to the tiny airport in Pedasi—unless you’re willing to drop about $700 for a round trip private charter.
Although you can fly from Albrook Airport (PAC) in Panama City to Chitre for approximately $200 per person round trip, then rent a car (Thrifty is your best option as it’s IN the airport) and drive the two hours to Playa Venao, I still stand by my suggestion to rent a car in Panama City and drive. You can check flights here.
SHUTTLE: Venao Tours has a shuttle that runs from Panama City to any of the hotels in in Playa Venao for $60/person or $250/vehicle round trip. Check their schedule before you book your flight to make sure they have an available seat on the days you’ll be needing one. (There are also shuttles available from Playa Venao to other areas in Panamá, such as Boquete and Cambutal.)
BUS: It’s also an option to take the bus—it’s cheap ($10 each way), but will definitely cost you in effort.
You will catch one of the frequent busses from the Albrook Bus Terminal to Las Tablas and settle in for about five hours, then take the bus from Las Tablas to Playa Venao for an additional 1-1/2 hours. (You’ll need to make SURE you arrive in Las Tablas before 6 p.m. to catch the Playa Venao bus AND take a taxi from your arrival stop to your departure stop. It’s also an option to take a taxi from Las Tablas to Pedasi for about $25.00.) Be prepared for some serious A/C in the busses! You can check the bus schedule here.
Playa Venao is about a 40 minute drive from Pedasi along the slightly bumpy paved main road (Via Dr. Belisario Porras). As I mentioned, there’s no traffic other than the occasional cow jam.
Best Time to Come to Playa Venao
B ecause Panamá is situated near the equator, it has a temperate tropical climate with very consistent temperatures (generally ranging from 32◦-35◦ C / 89◦-95◦ F). What varies most—and determines the season—is the amount of rainfall.
There are two seasons here—wet and dry. Thanks to the mountains in the center of the country, the Pacific coast has roughly two times less rainfall than the northern Caribbean coast.
The dry season is from about mid-December to mid-April. During this time, Playa Venao may not see a single drop of rain for months; if it does, it tends to pass quickly. During this time of the year, the rolling hills go from green to gold, many trees lose their leaves, and temperatures range from pleasant to hot. If you want to come when the chances of rain are slim, book your trip in January, February or March. (Note that it can get so dry that it’s not the area’s prettiest time of year.)
The wet season is usually from late April to early December. While there can be periods of consistent downpour and the occasional nasty storm, particularly in October and November, Panamá is outside of the cyclone zone and temperatures don’t change much from the dry season. Although wetter, this season offers some special treasures (like dramatic lightning storms over the ocean, whales breaching and giving birth, and sea turtles laying eggs and hatching…more on this later!), so it should NOT be ruled out for a visit. In fact, it’s likely to offer a much more memorable experience!
In short, and in general, January, February, March, April, May, August and December are the “safest” months to visit IF staying dry is your primary concern. If you’re looking for treasures, here’s when to come:
- Season of the acrobatic whales—July to October
- Olive Ridley sea turtle breeding—October to November
Where to Stay in Playa Venao
W e hope you will visit us when the Vista Cañas Nature & Book Retreat is open for business sometime in 2021. You will not find anything like it!
Perched above the Pacific Ocean, a five minute drive from both Playa Venao and Cañas, the retreat will offer peace and solitude, the soothing sounds and exciting wildlife of the jungle, sweeping views of the sea and Isla de Cañas, a library of books (both real ones and Kindles), and plenty of places to read them. With access to two secluded beaches (Playa Madroño and Playa Raya) and wildlife in the immediate area, you don’t have to go far to experience some of the best of what Panamá has to offer!
In the meantime, we can personally recommend the following places to stay in Playa Venao:
- Eco Venao Lodge—a wonderful reforestation “resort” with a variety of accommodations in a natural setting appealing to budget/hostel travelers, eco tourists, or those desiring a bit more “luxury.” Onsite eateries (including an amazing restaurant, tiny coffee café, taco and ice cream stands, and bar on the beach, horseback riding, hiking trails, spa services, surf school/board rentals and skate camp. If you’re willing to rough it a bit, they offer volunteer opportunities in exchange for very basic room and board.
- Beach Break Surf Camp—an oceanfront project offering simple rooms with private baths and hot showers. Onsite surf school/rentals, swimming pool, jiu jitsu studio, communal kitchen, and bar/restaurant.
- Selina Hostel—catering to the 20’s and co-working crowd, this hostel offers platform tents, as well as dormitory and private rooms with bathrooms. They have an onsite restaurant, beach volleyball court, yoga, co-work space, swimming pool, communal kitchen, social activities, and surf school/rentals.
If you’re looking for a more secluded setting, check out private vacation rentals on Pedasi Living, Airbnb or VRBO in Cañas and Playa Venao. Many of the rentals in these areas are located on the northern side of the main road in a peaceful country setting and have distant area and ocean views.
Things to Do in Playa Venao
P laya Venao offers visitors an abundance of affordable activities, most in a stunning natural setting. The protected cove has an expansive and year-round break making it a popular surfing destination for all skill levels and the perfect place to learn to surf. (In 2011, the World Surfing Games were held here!) Offshore winds make for especially good surfing from November to May.
Surfing is just the obvious beginning. There’s more:
- Deep sea fishing
- Snorkeling and diving
- Stand up paddle boarding
- Boogie boarding and body surfing
- Horseback riding (mountains and beach)
- Hiking (to vistas and waterfalls)
- Bird and wildlife watching
- Visiting Pedasi
- Zipline canopy tour
- Kayaking (in the ocean and mangroves)
- Spa services
- Attend Carnevale in Pedasi
- Disconnect and relax
- Visit Isla Iguana
- Whale watching (humpback whales birth their calves close to the shore!)
- Watch sea turtles lay their eggs, hatch and return to the sea (in October and November)
Check out our Things to Do in Panama & Playa Venao page for specific activities.
Eating in Playa Venao
Y ou don’t really come to Playa Venao for gourmet food, but you can definitely eat well here. The quality and cost of your food in Playa Venao will depend on if you have access to a kitchen (private or communal) or whether you eat at restaurants catering to locals or tourists.
If you want to maximize your travel budget, choose to stay in a place that has a private or communal kitchen, stock up on groceries in Pedasi or Tonosi, and cook most of your meals in. If you buy local foods—like chicken, beef, eggs, fresh produce, etc.—you can eat VERY cheap. (For instance, a large chicken breast and some fresh veggies will run you a couple bucks!)
Most of the restaurants in Playa Venao cater to tourists, so they’re a bit on the pricey side relative to those catering to locals. But, they’re still a good deal compared to what most people are accustomed to spending. The restaurants where the locals eat will cost you just a little more than cooking your own meal.
Here are some of my favorites so far:
- Panga (Playa Venao)—inside Eco Venao in a peaceful outdoor setting, the food here is outstanding, even by big city culinary standards. Plan at least one dinner here during your stay!
- Pizza Gavilan (Playa Venao)—this beachfront bar and restaurant is a great place for a cocktail and decent pizza.
- Selina Restaurant (Playa Venao)—this beachfront bar and restaurant has healthier fare and one of the best cevices in town.
- Coleo’s Café (Playa Venao)—this tiny café is a great place for a casual lunch.
- Chichemito (Pedasi)—this family-owned restaurant caters to locals and gives you a major bang for your buck. For $3.50, you’ll get a full plate of food, including grilled chicken or port, beans, rice and coleslaw, served in a casual outdoor setting.
Stay tuned for more!
Language, Money, Etc.
T he primary language in Playa Venao is Spanish. Most of the people working in establishments catering primarily to locals will only speak Spanish. However, being an international destination and a popular home for expats, you’ll find a fair amount of English speakers and people willing and able to communicate with non-Spanish speakers.
Nevertheless, it would definitely be helpful to have a Spanish language app on your phone or a basic Spanish dictionary!
With the exception of a few coins, Panama uses the U.S. dollar, so if you’re American, you’re all set! Everyone else needs to convert their money to U.S. dollars, preferably before arriving in Panamá to save time and hassle. Many place accept credit cards and there are ATMs in Pedasi.
Plugs, outlets and voltage are also the same as the U.S.
The best way to handle your mobile phone is to get a SIM card after you arrive. Claro will give you the best coverage for the Playa Venao area; Movistar is a close second. (Check out my FAQ on this topic for more details!).
Whatsapp is the way everyone communicates down here and will enable you to make voice calls using data.
Have a Question?
Check out the FAQs for more answers to commonly asked questions—or feel free to message me and I’ll get it answered!