Fort Clayton, Panama, is not on
the ocean, so it doesn’t have any beaches. The closest beach to Clayton is about 45 minutes away, on the Pacific Ocean. I put below a list of the public beaches near Clayton, from the closest, to the furthest away, all with free parking. You can use the same list for pretty much anywhere within Panama City:
- Chame. 40 – 45 minutes by car from Fort Clayton. Chame is a small, rural community. The beach is very nice, but it does tend to get crowded, especially on the weekends, because it’s the closest beach to Panama City. Because of the larger amount of people at Chame, it will have more trash than the other beaches.
- Coronado. About 45 minutes or slightly more from Fort Clayton. (It takes me a bit longer because I stop on the way at a place where you can buy very good cheese empanadas and then to the supermarket. With all this, it takes me about an hour and fifteen minutes.) Coronado has two areas: the resident section and the visitor section. The resident section has security where they check your car, license number, etc. You can get a pass to go the visitor section and go to the beach. You park on the street and then take a walking path to the beach. Coronado Beach also tends to be a little bit crowded because of the amount of people who live there. (Coronado is a very popular place to live.) For that reason, I don’t think that Coronado is as nice as the beaches that are a bit further away, like Rio Mar.
- El Palmar. About an hour away by car. El Palmar is a very nice beach, without a lot of crowds. It’s also very good for surfing. You have to be a little careful at El Palmar because sometimes there are riptides and strong currents, however, it is beautiful and peaceful most of the time. There are several different beaches in the Palmar area, some of which have bigger surf (experienced surfers love it; there are surf competitions in Palmar), and some of which are safe for people who don’t surf. You can find beaches in El Palmar where you can find calmer surf, fine for children.
- Rio Mar. About an hour and fifteen minutes from Fort Clayton by car. For me, Rio Mar is the best beach in the area. First, the beach is much nicer; very tranquil. You have access to the river and to the beach as well. Rio Mar is a very relaxing area and a little bit high end. Coronado is a bigger area than Rio Mar, with some more expansive homes (for example, for US $2 million), but in general, Rio Mar has upscale areas.
- Playa Blanca. About two hours by car from Fort Clayton. Playa Blanca is very nice, very high end. There are four hotels in the area, as well as several apartments. The beaches at Playa Blanca are very nice because the water is clearer and the sand is white. (That’s why it’s called “Playa Blanca”, which in Spanish translates to “White Beach”.)
Even though people are much more likely to go to the Pacific beaches (they're higher end and have a reputation for being safer), there are beaches on the Caribbean side of Panama about an hour from Fort Clayton. The sea is very nice on the Caribbean side of Panama City; very calm, not many waves. Also the Caribbean area closest to Panama City is very cultural.
If I were to recommend one beach on the Caribbean side closest to Fort Clayton, I would recommend Portobelo, which is about an hour away by car. Portobelo is a small town, with the beach right in front. From Portobelo, if you would like, you can get someone to take you by boat to the several, close small islands for $2 - $5. Also, you can get the best Caribbean seafood in Portobello.