Panama Series: What’s up in Santa Catalina?

We hadn’t spend much time in Pedasi, yet just enough to give us a sweet taste of the burning sun, the cool, turquoise saltwater, the soft, white sand and the calm atmosphere on the beach. Good thing we were headed to yet another beach location. A surf town, to be more specific. Before you ask, I don’t know how to surf. Nor do I know what to expect  from a surfers hotel or hangout spots. But sometimes, not knowing what to expect turns out to be either a great surprise or… “not so funny when it happens, yet kind of funny in hindsight” – kind of stories. Or just a life lesson.


Our hotel – or hostel (depending on which staff member you asked) – was located a few kilometers outside of the town center. We didn’t mind, as we had our car and weren’t planning on doing anything besides going to the beach before having dinner and drinks at the hotel. I would have loved to visit Coiba Island and go snorkeling, but we didn’t have time for any full day excursions like that, as we had a tight schedule the following morning. I tried my hardest to hide my disappointment and not come off as a spoiled brat, but everyone could read me like an open book with ‘ungrateful piece of….’ written in bold capital letters on the front page.


Our hotel/hostel looked absolutely gorgeous from the outside. Surfboards and palm trees decorating the outdoor common area, giving the hotel just the right vibe. The view over the beach was spectacular, and I couldn’t wait to dip my toes into the crystal clear water.


However, when we checked into our rooms, I wasn’t sure whether I was indeed an ungrateful child or if I was allowed to speak up and express my opinion. What from the outside appeared to be like a tropical paradise, was just a facade. Because the rooms were disgusting. They were worse than a cheap motel I once stayed at in the UK, where I found bloodstains on the wall. At least those stains were identifiable. In our rooms here in the hotel/hostel in Santa Catalina, I had no idea what on earth I was looking at – or where to start looking. The curtains were covered in stains of all colors. Some looked like sperm, others could be vomit, food or – who knows. There were pieces of chewing gum stuck to the curtains, as well.

The bed sheets had hairs of different long haired people in it. Black, brown, blonde. And some stains of what could be tomato sauce (or vomit) on the pillow cases. And then there was the large chunk of black hair found in the shower and all the random stains in the sink. Lovely. The towels had some clean areas, but were stained pretty much all over. I had to go to my boyfriends’ parents room to ask for toilet paper, as we had absolutely nothing in our room. The parents had already decided to sleep with their clothes on and would certainly leave a complaint upon checkout. We all agreed that asking for a new room would change nothing. They were probably all just as bad. And it was just for a night anyway.

We used our own clothes as pillowcases and covered the sheets with our dirty beach towels. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather rub my face against sand and sea salt than a random persons bodily fluids.

After turning the disgusting bed into a camping arrangement, we changed into our swimwear and headed down to the beach. Just like in Pedasi, there were dogs running around freely, and washed up plastic littered the otherwise gorgeous sandy beach. The waves were calm, and I’m sure all the surfers who came to Santa Catalina because of its reputation as a surfers point, were feeling kind of disappointed for not being able to go out there and practice. “I’m thirtsty”, I said to my boyfriend – who forwarded the message to his parents, changing it to we’re thirsty, meaning, we wanted cocktails.


The hotel restaurant didn’t disappoint us the way the rooms did. Not at all. The cocktails were delicious – and cheap – and the food was good. Although, I think Mexicans would shake their heads in shame if they saw my tacos, I enjoyed the taste of them. But then again, I enjoy Taco Bell too, so I’m probably not your greatest source for high quality Tex-Mex recommendations. But trust me on those Pina Coladas and Margharitas!

Getting drunk seemed like a great idea. It would make it easier for me to fall asleep in that dreadful room, and maybe – if I was lucky – it would even wipe away the memory of what I’d seen. Not trying to be overdramatic at all, but this makes me realize how much I appreciate cleanliness above anything else when traveling.

Adios, Santa Catalina. Next stop; Boquete!





17 thoughts on “Panama Series: What’s up in Santa Catalina?

  1. There is nothing worse then when someplace totally doesn’t meet your expectations. It’s always a bummer. Glad you made the best of if with good cocktails and tacos 🙂

  2. So true-not having expectations of a place can turn out to be a lovely surprise or a disappointment. Oh my, I cringed at the thought of witnessing these stains and hair in your sheets! Yikes! I would never be able to sleep in those beds. And I am not sure if that is being a brat or maybe just highly valuing cleanliness. I bet you needed those cocktails!

    1. Haha, yeah, cleanliness is something I’d kind of expect as a minimum when checking into a hotel. The bed doesn’t need to be the most comfortable, I don’t care if the furniture and decorations are dated, or if the shower is impractical… Just give me a clean room :/

  3. Oh no! The hotel/hostel sounds like a nightmare! I would definitely sleep on dirty towels too instead of sleeping on someone’s unidentifiable bodily fluid. My husband is a lot more OC though when it comes to cleanliness. We once checked in a hotel which was not as bad as the one you described here but also not the best one and my husband didn’t even say anything and just walked out of there and told the owner that we’re checking out. Lol. Didn’t even ask for a refund.

  4. I only visited Panama City so it’s great to see other parts of the country. The beach looks beautiful, it’s a shame they don’t maintain it though. I understand why you wanted to get drunk before going to bed after you described the room! At least the restaurant was better!

  5. Panama hasn’t really ever been on my radar and I think this is the first blog post I have read about it. That hotel sounds absolutely disgusting – looks lovely from the outside so that must have been so disappointing. Not sure how keen I would be on the litter on the beach!

    1. I’ve written 3 other posts on different places in Panama, and there’s more to come. My favorite part of the country is Boquete and Bocas del Toro. Haven’t written about those yet (saving the best for last). Yeah, we had no luck with our hotel in Santa Catalina, unfortunately!

  6. This reminds me of the time I went to Tunisia. We had rented a room online for our stay in the capital city of Tunis. It looked fine from the pictures but when we got to our room it was filthy! We also slept fully dressed literally from head to toe! But it makes for a great travel story now. 🙂

    1. You know the struggle! Did the place have good reviews online? Our hotel in Santa Catalina had mostly good reviews on TripAdvisor and, with the exception of the very last review… Makes me wonder if the place changed drastically within the past few months.

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