Tranquilo in Panama: Playa Venao & Pedasi on the Azuero Peninsula

We decided to take an overnight trip to the Azuero Peninsula…the area that is sometimes called the heart of Panama.  Beautiful beaches, old colonial towns and indigenous history?  What’s not to like?

We found a reasonably priced place to stay on line with both camping and rooms, packed the cars and took the the roads.  It was about 2 hours from Coronado (our home base) to Divisa (at the top center of this map) before we turned to head south down the peninsula.

Panama is different from the other central American countries I’ve visited..very beautiful landscape, relatively few tourists but incredibly modern infrastructure.   There was road construction everywhere during our trip…new bridges, expanded highways…it should be interesting to see if Panama can maintain its charm and feeling of untouched nature.

The first large town on the peninsula is Chitre…replete with four lane roads, traffic lights, strip malls & huge home good stores and fast food.  But just about 5 minutes away (we were a bit lost) we were in a tiny charming plaza with an ancient looking church and old men in Panama hats (flipped up in front) idly chatting in the shade.  Hopefully they can keep both the old and the new.  (Like this older man and his grandson collecting wood in a horse drawn carriage while surfers catch some waves on Playa Venao.)

Most of what I’ve read says that the land on this peninsula has been harshly deforested…and that may be true but it has left beautiful rolling pasture land dotted with HUGE old forest trees.  Particularly after we passed the town of Pedasi (I’ll get back to that later) and made the 40 minute drive to Playa Venao (or Venado) where we were staying.

Just off the road, a few minutes walk from the beach is Eco Venao…a very cool group of palapas, log cabanas and villas creeping up the rolling hills.  There is a large palapa restaurant with really good food.   Here is the view from below.  (In Panama they seem to do their thatch roofs a different way…)

Here’s the view from the second floor monkey deck.  (I didn’t see a monkey from there…but I did see one outside.)

There is a kitchen for cooking and cleaning for yourself next to the restaurant (mostly used for the back packers and campers staying in the dorm style rooms).

Cesar and Dani checked out the campsite.  It was a bit tough for their style of camping (the tent is on the roof of the car) and the land wasn’t very flat.  We all ended up sleeping in the one room…which was actually quite comfortable.

And Cesar’s parents checked out the room…the Tamarindo room.  I took some pictures of the inside but with so much wood, on more wood, they don’t look very good.  Picture a double bed bunk in an Appalachian log cabin.  Very cute and comfy with a shared bathroom.

We headed down to the beach.  A gorgeous blue bay with grainy cracked peppercorn sand and lots of surfers.

There are two large palapa restaurants (one associated with El Sitio hotel & surf shop and much more expensive) and not much else except for signs that they are going to be LOTS of building soon.  I’m glad to visit this very pretty bay before it all arrives.

Cesar’s parents are well prepared.  Lots of beach chairs and umbrellas.  Here’s a family shot.

We took a walk to the far end of the beach…

Very very very quiet and beautiful with gorgeous green grassy hills sloping to the beach.

THE place to stay seemed to be the Villa Marina both for its beautiful plantation style grounds and the prime spot on the beach.

Really beautiful (and expensive looking) hotel.  (If you’d like, check out their Hostal Villa Marina)

Great view on the calm and very empty side of the beach.

But don’t worry…there were quite a few signs for smaller, less expensive hotels in Venao.  Don’t be fooled by the word hostAl…it only means hotel down here.  It is NOT the same as a hostEL.   Villa Marina is listed as a hostal too…one that costs about $200USD a night.

On the way home the next day, we stopped in Pedasi (Peh-dah-SEE) for lunch.  The town can not be more than a few thousand people…if that.  There are older colonial houses, a very few cute shops, a few restaurants but not a ton to see…

We did have a plate of the “Panamanian french fries” at Restaurant Isla Iguana.

I am going to say something quite blasphemous about a fruit near and dear to every Caribbean, Central and South American’s heart.  I don’t LOVE plantains.  I don’t think they should be served with every single meal.  But these?  I like.  They are fried then smashed and then fried again green plantains called Pataconas.  Well salted, they are more potato with hardly any banana taste.  Delicious for eating ceviche or with ketchup like a french fry.