Those who make it all the way down to Playa Cambutal will find accommodations ranging from a basic surf camp to a quite appealing boutique hotel. This is definitely a place to come with a cooler, though, as there are few places to eat outside of the handful of lodgings.
All the places to stay are on a 1.5-kilometer stretch of beach just beyond the town of Cambutal.
The “town” of Cambutal has virtually nothing but a phone booth and a real-estate office that lets visitors piggyback on its wireless signal. The lodgings here are listed in order of their distance from town, with the closest first. They begin about 1.5 kilometers from town.
Hotel Playa Cambutal (tel. 832-0948, Skype: Hotel Playa Cambutal, www.hotelplayacambutal.com, starts at US$135 s/d, including breakfast) is a modern, two-story boutique hotel that opened in January 2010. The 10 rooms face the ocean and have a balcony, simple but tasteful decor, air-conditioning, good beds, and handsome hot-water showers. It’s one of the most attractive hotels in the Azuero. Kayak, surfing, fishing, and horseback-riding tours are available. The hotel has a restaurant and bar.
Next door is Boom Shiva (boomshivacambutal [at] gmail [dot] com, US$100 s/d) which consists of three attractive teak bungalows on the beach. Each has a loft bedroom, warm-water bathrooms, a mini-fridge, and seating area. Air-conditioning was about to be installed when I visited, which is a good thing because these things are hot boxes during the day. Pleasant though this spot is, it has the feel of a place that won’t be around long. The owners are in the real-estate business, and the on-site manager seemed more like a caretaker than someone who could meet guests’ needs.
About 1300 meters beyond these is Los Buzos Resort (tel. 994-1547, www.losbuzos.net, starts at US$65 s/d), which offers six rooms in a one-story building across the road from the beach. The property looks nice, with two large, attractive ranchos to house a bar grill and a reception area. The rooms have air-conditioning and private bathrooms. Other vacation rental “villas” are available, with prices ranging from US$110–200 a night. The restaurant serves a buffet breakfast, lunch, and dinner for US$10–15. The main focus of this project seems to be real-estate development and sportfishing.
On the beach directly opposite Los Buzos is a little place called Gonzales Surf Camp (no phone), run by champion Panamanian surfer Gonzalo Gonzales and his extremely proud mother. This is a casual and friendly spot. When asked how much she charges for campers, Doña Gonzales shrugged and said whatever donation felt right. US$5 a tent should do it. Surf lessons are sometimes available; again, make an offer. A breakfast, lunch, or dinner of whatever’s on her stove goes for a buck or two and is served in a cute little rancho on the beach. This is not a pristine spot—there’s junk in the yard and horse droppings on the beach—but the price is certainly right. It’s safer than just pitching a tent at a remote spot on the beach.
Getting to Playa Cambutal
The nearest sizable town with regular transportation connections is Tonosí, about 11 kilometers north.
There is no regular public transportation between Pedasí and this area. The closest bus stop is Tonosí, from where it’s possible to get a taxi. There is one direct bus to Tonosí from Panama City, leaving daily at 7:30 A.M.
Playa Guánico is about 75 kilometers from Pedasí, or around an hour by car. Playa Cambutal is a little under 100 kilometers from Pedasí, which takes around 1.5 hours by car.
To get to either beach by car from Tonosí, head south out of town. After about 15 kilometers there’ll be a marked left turn into the town of Guánico, for those who want to visit that beach. Otherwise, take the left fork that appears 5 kilometers past the Guánico turnoff. (The right fork leads to the nearly inaccessible Parque Nacional Cerro Hoya.) The town of Cambutal is 10 kilometers past the turnoff. Drive through it to get to the beach and lodgings.
When I first visited the area over 10 years ago, only adventurous surfers went all the way down here, and the coastal “road” was not passable in the rainy season. Now, however, the road remains in pretty good shape until Gonzales Surf Camp, after which only four-wheel drives can continue.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition