Surfing & Hammock Camping in Playa Estero

A number of years ago, I came across a website listing hostels in Latin America where travelers could hang a hammock for the night for $10 or less.  Back in the day I got very excited about this – what a cheap and thrilling way to travel!  I added “hammock hostel” to my list of things to do before turning 30.

Well I kicked that goal out of the park.  After I found out my ex-husband had been having an affair in my bed, I dragged my bed to the dumpster and replaced it with an Eno hammock. I slung it from wall to wall in my bedroom, screwed into the supporting beams.  I slept on it every night for 6 months.  Over that time whenever I wanted to go camping, I’d simply unclip the straps, roll it up and stick it in a backpack.  Carrying the hammock, straps, bug net, and tarp was much lighter than even a lightweight tent. 

When I backpacked through Colombia in 2017, I brought my hammock & accessories with me.  I was on the lookout for those magical hammock hostels I’d seen years before.  In reality, there were few places that allowed hammock camping – and those that did already had their own hammocks & nets set up.  Sadly, my Eno proved rather useless on that trip and was just a waste of space.

Fast forward to this year.  My boyfriend and I were determined to hammock camp in Panama.  So once again I stuffed my bag with my trusty Eno & accessories.  (Still the same one!  I’m telling you – an Eno hammock will last a lifetime!)  Google maps showed some campgrounds on various islands near Santa Catalina, so we were sure we could find a spot.

Well, turns out that “due to Covid” those campgrounds were closed.  Apparently the government felt that sleeping in the open air on a remote island didn’t count as social distancing.  I wondered whether anyone would ever even know if we just broke the rules and went anyway.  It probably would have been fine… but I searched for other options just in case. 

Pleasantly, it turned out there was a beach hostel down the road which allowed camping without requiring advance reservations.  We packed up our stuff and hiked over to Playa Estero, which is about a 30 min walk from Santa Catalina.  At the end of the road we had to wade through a river.  On the other side, the sky opened up into a spectacular beach rolling with waves.  This was Playa Estero.   

The Oasis Surf Camp is an outcropping of just a few small colorful cottages on the beach, surrounded by huge palm trees.  It was just a few steps from the camp to the waves.  Absolutely stunning.  We paid $7 each to hang our hammocks on some almond trees in the corner, which included access to the primitive bathroom/showers.  There were a couple tents already set up, populated by a noisy group of young Brazilians. 

As you can imagine, the surf camp provides surf lessons, so we decided to go ahead and take advantage.  Neither one of us had never surfed before, but we were assured that Playa Estero was the perfect place for beginners.  Our instructor gave boards and shirts, then we walked out to the sand.  Only a brief explanation was needed since we both practice yoga: cobra, up-dog, warrior 2, squat.  Got it.  Within minutes we headed out into the waves – and were both able to stand up after just a couple tries! (Unexpectedly fast!) I guess it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.

Although I learned fast, I soon ran out of steam and headed in to break for lunch at the hostel restaurant.  Stupidly, I hadn’t checked the hours of operation and it was closed until dinner.  The more tired and hungry I got, the harder surfing became.  Eventually I gave up and lied on a beach chair until the restaurant re-opened.  Luckily it was worth the wait, because the food was extraordinary.  I ordered the mixed mariscos pasta which was made of the fresh local catch.  Even splurged on dessert and wine!

We watched the sun set over the ocean and fell asleep to the sound of ocean waves, cradled by our gently rocking hammocks.  It was a truly beautiful experience.

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