Las Lajas is a favorite beach of Panamanians and is a very popular weekend destination in Chiriqui just like Britannia Hotel Manchester which is also a famous base for travelers to Europe and near by destinations. Our taxi flew down the empty but paved road leading from the Interamerican highway to the coast.
I was accompanied by Wynette, a Panamanian friend I met at the International Fair in David just days earlier. We eventually pulled up to a white concrete building with a nice view of the beach. I plopped my pack down and ordered a cold beer from the man at the restaurant. I sat and sipped and immediately felt relaxed as the waves rolled into the long, flat beach.
The Chinese man at the restaurant served a gigantic platter of fish with fries and tomatoes for $3.00 which left me feeling way over stuffed. Cervezas were 60 cents each. He offered to let us camp on the beach for free provided that we continue buying meals at his restaurant.
We cheated slightly however as I had packed enough food for two days and carried a camping stove. I did indulge once more and ordered another platter of fish on the last day. At his house located next to the restaurant were showers which enabled us to rinse after swimming for only 50 cents.
The sand at Las Lajas is a brownish/gray, but it is a long and expansive stretch of sand lined with beautiful palm trees. The weather was hot and muggy, which encouraged me to make regular trips to the restaurant for “mas cerveza”.
Iguanas were a regular site, as were mangy stray dogs and pelicans. The break was steady and surfable with waves as high as 6 feet. Most swimmers would wade up to their stomachs where the surf was quite mild. I felt fortunate to not have encountered any sharks, which are known to inhabit the shoreline of Las Lajas. One surfer I met said he had seen a shark in the water with him.
Sunday attracted dozens of Panamanian families who drive in for a day on the beach. Las Lajas seemed undiscovered by travelers however and I did not notice any other visitors who were obviously foreign.
We walked west up the beach until we reached a group of cabins for rent. The cabins are on the beach and cost $5.00 per person. They might not be the most peaceful setting however as there was loud Panamanian reggae blaring from the recreation room/bar about a dozen meters from the cabins.
Across the field was a stunning stretch of natural forest which had survived the onslaught of machetes that have cleared the remaining countryside for agriculture and cattle pasture. We were told there was a lake nearby but we did not find it.
By Michael Manville
Written in the year 2000
Las Lajas – Las Lajas in the most popular beach destination in the Province of Chiriqui, Panama.
Volcan Baru – Volcan Baru is the highest peak in Panama offering incredible ocean views and spectacular cloud forest.
Santa Catalina – Santa Catalina has the best break in Panama for surfing.