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QUICK TAKES

Surfing and Diving in Santa Catalina

By David Essertier

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For those who love the water, the Hotel Hibiscus provides a perfect vantage point to enjoy all of the pleasures the Pacific Ocean offers. Located in Santa Catalina, known internationally for some of the finest waves off the Pacific coast, it is also a haven for divers who come from all over the world to experience some of the most spectacular diving anywhere. The good news is that you don’t have to be a professional surfer before you go, because there are many surf schools locally that will teach you. The Hotel Hibiscus offers first class longboards and short boards to rent as well as a shuttle that takes you directly to the beach and the hotel itself  also offers instruction for learning to surf. If you are an expert surfer you can surf the many world class reef breaks, including the point which can break up to 20 feet and still hold its shape. To see these waves for yourself, go to you-tube and punch in Santa Catalina Surf. When these waves are breaking they can be world class and are unquestionably some of the finest surf in Panama, especially in the winter months of December through March.

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Many beleive that the word Panama comes from an early fishing village and means many fish, and nowhere is this more evident than off the coast of Santa Catalina. The area attracts divers who specifically come to dive at Coiba island, formerly an infamous penal colony, but is now declared a World Heritage site because of its spectacular eco-systems and abundant sea life. Because of its rich diversity of fish, ranging from sharks and sea turtles to virtually every color in the rainbow of tropical fish, some scientists compare it in richness to the Galapagos Islands. The island of Coiba is well worth visiting even if you’re not a diver. It takes about an hour to get there by boat, where snorkeling tours can be arranged from several dive shops in the area. Or if you prefer not to dive, you can take a boat to visit the  island’s pristine white sand beaches and crystal blue waters.

What’s so nice about the staff at the Hotel Hibiscus is they make it all so easy. If you are diving they will pack you a box lunch. Or if you are surfing they will arrange to get you a board, get you lessons and then drive you to the beach. If you want to experience the adventure of white water rafting that can also be arranged. After you return from all your adventures and work up a big appetite they have a great bar at the hotel and serve awesome food with fresh specials everyday.  All this is prepared by their resident culinary master Andrew, who has studied at noted restaurants in the New York Area.  Bread is made fresh daily on the premises and you can choose from fish, chicken or beef to vegetarian style cuisine. If you don’t want to surf or dive the hotel can arrange horseback riding for a few hours or an expedition of several days.

The Hotel Hibiscus is run by two German couples, originally from Munich Germany, who were formerly involved in social work and humanitarian causes. They are extremely sensitive to the needs of their guests, provide spotless rooms at an amazingly inexpensive price. When I stayed their room rates were in the 25 to $30 range and considering the quality of service, delicious food, and perfect location it is a true value. The Hibiscus Garden is truly a beautiful flower along the Pacific Coast of Panama, and is now coming into full bloom as a hotel.

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Copyright© 2011, Pan Am Publishing S.A., Republic of Panama