79. Playa Santa Clara, Panama - The Perfect Beach Campsite

Javascript is required to view this map.

August 9, 2007

Playa Santa Clara is the perfect antidote to the stress of driving in the Big Smoke.

Located about 100 kilometres outside of Panama City, it is also probably the best beach campsite we have stayed at to date.

In fact, it scores perfect marks

across the board on the universal, 5-point "beach campsite rating scale": 1) cost; 2) view of ocean; 3) “swimmability” of water; 4) a 24 hour security guard; and 5) bathroom facilities.

We set up camp here for a night on both our way in and out of Panama City.

The second time we stopped, we were the only ones camping. But we felt safe because of the aforementioned guard.

And while one of the few RV parks in Central America - Memories RV Resort - is actually just ten minutes up the hill and across the highway from Playa Santa Clara, in our mind it wasn't even an option.
- - -

The chance to completely unwind at Playa Santa Clara had taken on a heightened importance to me, as I am getting burned out from driving. The daily rains that have plagued us ever since we arrived in Panama, compound the problem.

Before we left Vancouver, Adrienne had had limited experience driving a stick shift. And she hasn’t been keen to learn on the fly on the Pan American Highway,

As such, save for a few quiet stretches of road, she has insisted on being the navigator on this trip (a complex and multi-faceted role, she keeps telling me), a source of occasional friction between us.

But after we drove in the wrong direction for 30 minutes while making our way out of the Chiriqui Highlands –the road signs in Panama are terrible - I called it quits and forced her to take over the wheel.

About five minutes into her baptism by fire, her ability to find second gear was tested by a large herd of cattle crossing the highway, not an uncommon occurrence in Central America. Fortunately, she passed with flying colours.

I was back at the wheel as we approached Panama City, and roared past the motorcycle cop, who was parked under a tree on the shoulder of the Pan Am (which is a four-lane, divided highway from Santiago to Panama City).

Although he didn´t jump into the middle of the highway and block our way, he was frantically waving his arms. It was pretty clear to me that he wanted us to pull over.

But with her jaw jutting forward, and her eyes steeled on the road, Adrienne uncharacteristically growled "Drive on", and so I obediently but reluctantly kept my foot on the gas pedal.

Sure enough, a few kilometres later one angry Erik Estrada wannabe came storming up beside us on his motorbike and motioned for us to pull over. There had been no initial infraction, it turns out, he had just wanted to check our paperwork.

But because we had failed to stop, we were now in big trouble. We didn´t like our chances of getting out of this one but nevertheless went into our now well-rehearsed sob story.

Fifteen or so minutes later, we pulled away with only another warning.

Key Facts & Figures:

-Playa Santa Clara campsite: $4/night