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The Evolution of Playa Venado

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Written by Matt   
Thursday, 03 June 2010 18:59

When Manu Medina, health in his bright yellow board shorts, generic caught what evolve into a long and powerful wave back to shore, he may not have realized how symbolic it was for the region as a whole. Beyond TV and surf movies, I had never seen anyone maneuver the way Manu did that morning and I told him so in the afternoon when he was serving me a plate of fried fish.

It’s safe to say that that was then, and this is now and there is perhaps no faster-evolving destination than Playa Venado


“You surf very well Manu. So powerful, almost like…almost like a horse. A horse on water.”

It may have not been the most elegant compliment he’d received, but as I’d learn, Manu was not about approval ratings. Merely passing through Playa Venado, he was in the midst of a long surf-centric road trip that began in Mexico and would ultimately end in his native Argentina: a trip that would last months “if not years” and that would sustain itself on part-time jobs like this one at a beachside lounge selling two dollar beers and fresh ceviche.

Manu represents not a new but a notable breed of travelers who don’t visit Panama without a stop in Playa Venado. Until recently, the hype of this beach and the surrounding areas of Peadsi was mostly figurative. “It’s Costa Rica of the 80’s,” people would say. “Gonna be Central America’s top surf destination.”

Pedasi, for all its true charm and allure, was in a way no different than other Panama regions chasing a bright and shining future. Save a few active entrepreneurs, what mostly characterized Playa Venado was propaganda paired with a small yet loyal surf bum contingent; a respectable following in its own right, but not by any means the kind of tribal devotion that could substantiate multi-million dollar investments or lots as little as $45,000. See example in Playa Venado Heights >>

It’s safe to say that that was then, and this is now and there is perhaps no faster-evolving destination—more specifically, a destination with quite so much tangible and organic progress—in Panama than Playa Venado. Grassroots tourism, the most passionate kind, is fueling a comprehensive real estate market.

It’s hard not to feel fortunate when you stumble across something – be it a destination or a shop or a trend – that’s so certainly about to tip – so absolutely, positively, without question on the very near verge of experiencing mainstream success.

The anticipatory air of Playa Venado is charged and you can feel it. From the hoards of surfers like Manu to popular restaurants like the one in which he works, from the grunting bulldozers clearing land to real estate lots for sale looking down from above, Playa Venado’s greatest momentum factor is its human contingent. It is a simple yet most often overlooked factor of development in Panama; the integral question of whether people actually want to be there or not. In Playa Venado, the answer is most resoundingly yes.

Quite metaphorically, and not without a healthy dose of cheese factor, Playa Venado’s impetus seemed embodied when I saw Manu about to catch that gigantic wave. Authenticity, value, challenges, rewards, and a region about to ride this prosperous wave into the future. Playa Venado is among Panama’s most realistic stabs at world-class success. At what speed it will evolve – or really, at what speed it should evolve to remain sustainable and healthy – is anyone’s guess.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 03 June 2010 19:09