You are comfortable swimming your underwear, right? Then technically you’re set for a day at the beach. (And at some beaches you don’t even need that.) While you don’t really need much more to enjoy some beach and ocean activities, the proper gear and wear can make your day much more enjoyable, and the next day even better since you won’t be burned to a crisp.
Here are few items that can make your day out on the water and at the beach that much more enjoyable, whether you are staying with us at Isla Palenque, or at any other tropical location:
1. Sunscreen. Panama is just 8 degrees north of the equator, so sunscreen is an obvious necessity, especially if you plan on being out around noon or in the early afternoon. Apply often, but don’t get paranoid about it: you do want to get SOME sun on your island vacation, right? After all, the sun’s sweet, sweet vitamin D keeps you from getting rickets, and nobody wants to walk around bow-legged. By the way, if you are going to be in Panama, why not buy some Panama Jack sunscreen?
2. Hat. Speaking of sun protection, a nicely brimmed hat not only helps prevent glare, but keeps your sensitive face (and the top of your head if you are bald like me) from getting too much sun. An ideal beach hat will fold up or crunch up to fit in a small bag when you don’t need it.
3. Sunglasses. If you are going to be out on the water, polarized lenses are best, though not essential. What is essential, if you plan on a lot of activity, is a pair of sturdy glasses with heavy duty plastic frames. Yeah, aviator glasses might look cool, but they break easily and I have yet to find a pair that can stand up to saltwater and heavy, active usage for more than a year. Oakley is a good brand and has some activewear frames with polarized lenses, which is what we show above. Polarized glasses are nice when on the ocean as it lets you see into the water more clearly, so if there are turtles, whales or whatnot you can see them pretty clearly with polarized glasses. Plus, the polarization gives everything outside of the water a strange off-color sheen, like the mushrooms are starting to kick in.
4. Dry Sack. The last piece of gear for ocean activities is a dry sack. At Isla Palenque we provide them to guests on any of our Ocean Tours or water-oriented Island Tours, but you might want your own for your stay with us, or just general usage. While lots of companies make them, we show some from OceanPro. I prefer the smaller ones; you don’t have that much that CAN’T get wet, and I think they are a little more waterproof, or at least more forgiving of slightly improper sealing. And while the typical dry sack’s ingeniously low-tech design is to be appreciated, and you can throw it in the water without fear of things getting wet, I also know from personal experience that swimming for a half mile with one under your arm and your phone inside is not necessarily the best idea…
5. Board Shorts. If you are going to be really active on the beach or in the water, boardshorts beat a normal swimsuit any day. A good pair is stretchy where you want it to be, and has at least one pocket for holding car or hotel keys while you enjoy the surf (not that you need to worry about that while staying on our private island, but for the next time you are at a public beach). Vissla makes boardshorts that meet both these criteria, and look respectable to boot.
6. Tank Top. If you are a dude, then the beach is the only place other than the backwoods of Alabama where it’s socially acceptable to wear a tank top (and trust me, you don’t want to vacation in those backwoods of Alabama where everyone is wearing tank tops). So why not take advantage of it? And by the way, once you put on your tank top, it is also socially acceptable (if not expected) for you to start calling guys “dudes”. So, dude, make sure you bring a tank top. Live it up while you can.
7. Aloha Shirt. If you’ve met me on Isla Palenque, you know how much I love Aloha (aka Hawaiian) shirts… Anyway, the best ones, including those you won’t feel embarrassed to wear in the city on a summer day, are more subdued in color and often have “reversed prints”, meaning that the screen-printed side is on the inside of the shirt, and the side facing out gets a nice textured look from having only a portion of the dyes show through. Reyn Spooner makes excellent shirts like this, and while their “Spooner cloth” (of which many but not all of their shirts are made) isn’t the lightest weight fabric out there, it is remarkably breathable, very heavy-duty, and handles tropical humidity perfectly.
8. Flip Flops. I refuse to call them “sandals”. And frankly, going barefoot is usually fine. But in the afternoon on a really sunny day, when you need to cross 50 yards of dry sand at low tide, you will be glad you have them. Ditto if you decide to pop from the beach into the jungle in search of fallen coconuts or to chase down some monkeys that were howling. The best pairs for the beach and water are leather or rubber, as they can get wet, clean easily, and dry fast. The pair above is from Volcom, but you can get similarly overpriced ones from Reef, Rainbow, and any number of flavors of the month with a big marketing budget. I’m not trying to be mean or anything; I even own some Volcoms that look almost exactly like that pair. But the funny thing is, some of the best and longest-lasting pairs I’ve ever owned were bought in Conway (Panama’s Target) for $8.
9. Bikini. If you’re a dudette (yes, I am still wearing my tank top), then boardshorts probably aren’t what you want to swim in. But everyone — man and woman alike — can appreciate a nice bikini. If you are feeling modest, choose a more covering retro version like the one above. It’s actually a little more “authentic” to the bikini name, anyway. Here’s a fun fact: the word “bikini” comes from the Marshall Islands’ atoll where the US detonated a couple dozen atomic bombs starting in 1946, around the same time that the tiny swimsuit was “invented” and described by its namer/designer as: “like the atom bomb, the bikini is small and devastating.” (You know, because nuclear war is hilarious…)
10. Beach Wrap. Or sarong, pareo, cover-up… Whatever you want to call it and whatever size it is, it’s a great piece of flexible clothing that helps shade you on the beach when the sun gets too strong, or lets you go straight from the beach to the restaurant with some class. But to make maximum use of it, don’t forget to get a buckle or two.
11. Surf Shirt. Or sun shirt, or rash guard… Again, regardless of the name, a long-sleeved, quick-dry nylon/spandex shirt is the final item you might want. White or light colors are best for Panama and the tropics. Because while the beach wraps, tank tops and Aloha shirts might be protecting you from the sun while you are on the beach, if you want to keeping surfing, snorkeling, or swimming for several hours on a cloudless day, a surf shirt is a great idea, sunscreen or no.