We kept our trip to Panama short, mostly because we were concerned for our budgets. Since the U.S. dollar is the official currency, naturally we thought it would be the equivalent in cost to traveling in the states. Panama can also be considered by some as a more luxurious destination, with many large island resorts just a stone’s throw away from the city. To visit the more popular places like the Bocas del Toro islands, San Blas islands, and the Pearl Islands, we found out we could spend just as much in one week as we did for an entire month in Mexico.
This works just fine for many travelers, and there are plenty of backpackers who visit Panama first as their jumping-off point for Central American trips. Since we were looking forward to some time on the beach, but didn’t want to break the bank and deal with extra crowds, Pedasi made the top of our list as an alternative destination. We made the perfect decision in going there, and as it turns out, we even located a nice little expat community too.
A SLEEPY LITTLE TOWN ON THE COAST
Pedasí is a tiny place, almost a village. It’s about a six hour bus ride southwest of Panama City, and the town is located right at the eastern corner of the Azuero Peninsula (see here for a map). After making a connection in the neighboring town of Las Tablas and boarding the public collectivo bus, we found ourselves riding through a stunning landscape of farmland and local villages.
Once we arrived at our guesthouse in Pedasí and settled in, we began to wander. The sleepy little streets were quiet and tranquil. Quite a contrast from the bustling Panama City we had just been in. Families relaxed on their porches in rocking chairs, and dogs slept in front of their homes. We started to love this place right away.
People were friendly, and we exchanged greetings every time we passed someone in the street. There was one of everything in town, because that’s all that was needed – one gas station, one grocery store, one bus stop, and one small cathedral overlooking a quaint central square.
There were plenty of restaurants and family-owned cafes to choose from, and a couple of hostels that looked fabulous. Colorful houses lined the streets, and vibrant street art was painted on some of the buildings. The whole place felt content, and it rubbed off on us quick.
SALSA DANCING EXPATS AT SMILEY’S
Pedasi was so quiet in fact, that we sometimes wondered if we were picking the wrong meal time for dinner. Most places were quiet and no one else seemed to be sitting in them. On a hunt for food our first night, we came across a little bar and restaurant called Smiley’s on the edge of town. It was the only place we saw that was busy and lively, so we made our way in.
The tables were full with a mix of both locals and visitors. The owner himself (an expat from the states) ushered us in, and we took a seat at a longer table next to a woman sitting by herself. Naturally, we struck up a conversation and found that her name was Carla, also from the states, and she was celebrating her two-year anniversary of moving to Pedasí that night. Expats really are present everywhere we go!
As we took in the scene, we saw the diverse expat community of Pedasí, greeting each other, congratulating Carla, and getting ready for salsa lessons on the dance floor. When the lessons started, we could sense the closeness and the togetherness of the people in this place. Locals mingled just as much as the expats here, and it was beautiful to see such harmony among people of such diverse backgrounds.
PEDASÍ PERK: DESOLATE BEACHES
There are two main beaches to explore around Pedasí – the Playa Toro (Bull Beach), and Playa el Arenal, both stretching far along the coast just outside of town. Both beaches are only a ten-minute bike ride from town (rentals can be made at Selina hostel), and there’s also collectivos (shared minibuses) and taxis that can take people back and forth for cheap.
Playa Toro is a very interesting looking beach. It has lots of driftwood trees lining its shore, and large rocks to climb that are nestled in the waves. Mostly, there were handfuls of locals hanging out and taking in the sun. You can walk for miles down the coast, and even make it to Playa el Arenal down the way in a couple of hours walking. It was a nice place to relax, but the waves were a little relentless there and it wasn’t a great spot to swim.
We were surprised when we arrived a couple days later at Playa el Arenal on our bikes – no one seemed to be there except for us and a few fishermen. It was a beautiful beach, and the first time we have ever felt like we had an entire coastline to ourselves! Waves were a bit calmer here so we could swim, and there were tons of sea snails and pelicans to observe along the waters.
There were brightly colored little hermit crabs scuttling along, and colorful sea shells to admire all along the beach. There wasn’t much shade, and we paid dearly for not reapplying sunscreen, but we found a nice little spot on the edge of the tree line to relax. During our afternoon visit, we only saw two people and one dog the entire time.
Pedasí was a great find, and we were confident we made the right choice in going there for our beach time in Panama. It is a calm, quiet town where people truly treat each other with kindness. Witnessing a little slice of expat life in Pedasí was an excellent coincidence as well, and it’s no wonder people fall in love with the town’s tranquility. With its quaint small-town feel and desolate beaches, we easily settled into the place as if we had been there forever. Pedasí was truly a Panamanian gem, and a pleasure to experience.