Morro Negrito Surf Camp: Last Minute Changes Are Not Appreciated

Morro Negrito Surf Camp: Last Minute Changes Are Not Appreciated


Morro Negrito Surf Camp: Last Minute Changes Are Not Appreciated


We recently booked a trip months in advance on, which was going by the name of Morro Negrito Surf Camp. We paid $1330 (not including our flight) in full for an exotic getaway on an island with uncrowded waves. Three days before we left for our trip, we got a surprise email from the owner, Steve. Here is what it said:

“There is going to be one change concerning the information that I previously sent you. Instead of staying at the camp on the peninsula/island, you will be spending the week at Puerto Morro Negrito on the mainland…”

Excuse me?!

He went on to say that we would still get picked up by the boats to be taken to the surf spots during the day, but mentioned nothing about where exactly our accommodation would be. No details about it, no pictures, nothing.

In my opinion, he just expected us to say, “Ok! Yes, we would love to pay the same amount of money to stay in a place we know nothing about in an area that we can’t find any information about online.”

Every time I asked why he waited until three days before our trip to tell us about the move, he never answered my question. Instead, he gave me the email address and phone number of a “5 time client” who had just left the camp and said he loved this new place so much more than the camp on the island.

Yea, I’ll get right on calling your buddy.

Now, I would have considered this new place if I felt that the owner was not trying to pull a fast one on us. He told us to visit his Facebook page, which would prove that he is rebuilding the camp on the island.

This only made me more uncomfortable after realizing the camp rebuilding began months ago, which means the owner most likely knew that he could not offer the original agreed upon location the day we booked our trip with him!! So why did he wait to tell us until after we paid in full and THREE days before we were scheduled to arrive??

Hmm.. Sounds shady to me.

We no longer felt comfortable paying this amount of money for a place we knew nothing about. Not to mention, the reviews online about the owner of this camp are not favorable, so we should have gone with our gut from the beginning, but we turned a blind eye because we liked the idea of uncrowded waves.

Here is the real kicker.

In Steve’s second email to me, he said if we weren’t satisfied with the change, he would be happy to give us a full refund.

After several emails trying to pry information out of him about the new location, Scott and I decided to cancel and find a place elsewhere. I sent Steve an email informing him we wanted a refund.

The next day, instead of receiving an email from the owner of the camp, I opened my inbox to an email from his “5 time client” explaining why he thought we should still visit the camp.

I emailed Steve again requesting a refund.

No response.

On my third attempt, I told him to stop ignoring my requests for a refund.

Steve finally responded, a day later, with this:

“Unfortunately, it is not going to happen today. I have spent about $2,000 in gasoline, food and supplies for your stay here with us. Since you will not be coming, I need to generate some income to refund you. That should be available in about a week. Have a nice vacation.”

Fortunately, we paid for this trip with a credit card and instantly called our credit card company who informed me it is illegal for Steve to keep our money since he is no longer providing a service to us.

We had to do a chargeback on our credit card in order to get our money back. Something I feel should have been done by Steve the day I requested it since he is the one who changed things around on US! This is just bad business practice, in my opinion.

First of all, who asks for a full payment before the trip has even begun? A deposit is customary, but usually the rest of the payment is made at the time of check out. This should have been our first clue that this guy doesn’t play by the rules.

If you are considering a trip to Morro Negrito Surf Camp with Steve Thompson, I would definitely pay with a credit card and be prepared for possible last minute changes.

Those of you who follow this blog already know how our Panama trip turned out. Steve’s last minute change cost us flight change fees in order to catch a flight home early because our trip happened to fall on a huge Panamanian holiday.

We have heard good things about hostels and hotels in Santa Catalina and Bocas Del Toro. There are a lot of other great spots to choose from in Panama.

Have you ever had a situation like this happen to you?



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  1. Having lived in Panama (Chiriqui Province) for ten years, this story doesn’t surprise me at all. Whether Steve was an expat or not, he was married to a Panamanian. Therefore, he absorbed the local mentality. And the culture of Panama is so divorced from any semblance of customer service it’s laughable. We found that our service in, say a restaurant, actually declined as we became regulars. Who tip. Even the “best”.places forced us to completely adjust our expectations. Panama has great natural beauty but DO NOT go there expecting anything close to what you’re used to. Expect the Waldorf or the Hilton to treat you about the same as a Days Inn. If that. I’ve been around the world many times. Panama has, hands down, the worst hospitality industry in the world.

  2. Thompson has been doing this scam for about 10 years now, ever since his ex-wife ended up with the surf camp after the divorce. He visited to be religious, but not sure what religion is o.k. with lying, cheating and stealing

  3. Steve Thompson is SHADY. Everything described in this article happened to us, except we went through with it.

    Just days prior to arrival, emails us there are some “changes” – should have jettisoned right then.

    We arrive by bus to motto negrito and are supposed to be picked up by a driver Steve is sending to meet us. We’ve been traveling for 24hrs at this point with little sleep. We call and call and call… FOUR+ HOURS LATER 7am local time, the driver shows.

    We arrive at camp. It’s on the mainland, nowhere near the ocean, Steve can’t even muster an apology for the late pickup. Instead he says if we want to surf, we need to leave ASAP before the tide is to low to take the boat out through the mangroves. I’ll be dammed if I miss day one of surf – I quickly eat a bowl of cold oatmeal full of ants and suck it up – tired as hell, pissed, but ready to get wet and deal with it.

    We get back from surfing and I go talk to Steve. 1. WTF – we paid to be on an island in front of a surf spot- not stuck in mangroves nowhere near surf. 2. You left us hanging for hours at the bus stop. 3. I found out that he hasn’t had the camp I thought I was going to since before I booked. 4. The price tag was way too high for what we received – he said if we wanted to leave he’d refund us.

    He offers no apologies about any of this and genuinely seems disconnected from reality. We decide to leave early because we paid to be on a beach – not in the middle of the mangroves. he blames us for leaving because the surf wasn’t that great and says he won’t refund or discount us…

    1. Christy Woodrow says:

      I’m sorry to hear this happened to you as well. I’m honestly shocked that he is still getting away with this same trick!!

  4. I went there in 2002 and had a blast waves were great!
    I know things have changed since I met a former surf guide from there while in Nicaragua , its ashame about the divorce he was building a great house and had a nice set up several boats went to different breaks to split up the crowd etc, no other surfer but guests food was great!

  5. Morro Negrito says:

    Unfortunately this article is damaging to the reputation of a legitimate operation. To Christy and Scott, “Morro Negrito” is a keyword, bringing some traffic to their site. No consideration to the impact on the local islanders who depend on the surf camp for their livelihood. Instead of doing some basic research, which I’d expect from professional travelers, the whole thing is written off as “Morro Negrito screwed us”. Steve has stopped falsely advertising himself as Morro Negrito, but the original surf camp that had nothing to do with this scam, is still subjected to these accusations. I’d be surprised if my comment is allowed to be posted as it doesn’t quite fit the narrative of this article.

  6. Cliff Hawley says:

    If you are ever looking for a great place to visit in Panama you should check out the Canopy Family. They run the Canopy Tower in an old US radar installation not far from Panama City and the Canopy Lodge in El Valle de Antón. The Forbes article said you were a bird lover and these folks are an amazing ecotour group. My trip down there in January 2016 was one of the best birding experiences of my life.

  7. AbigailatSea says:

    I stayed at Morro Negrito ca. 2009 before Steve and his wife split, and while there was a lot of fun surf to be had, even then it was pretty disorganized and moderately sketch. Steve himself was nowhere to be found, and he had a couple of volunteer surf guides running the place plus a cook who really knew how to feed people. Overall, lots of waves and lots of food kept me happy, but on the other hand the visit was full of almost-major accidents like boats nearly capsizing, plus poor communication with the “staff”. I had a blast, but it’s emblematic of this place’s story that it keeps calling itself a surf camp on an “island”, while it’s actually located on a peninsula….

    1. Ordinary Traveler says:

      Good to hear about the waves! We just weren’t willing to take the risk after the last minute changes. Something didn’t feel right. 🙂

    2. Morro Negrito says:

      I invite any of our future guests to try and walk (not swim) off of the “peninsula”. If you succeed, your stay is free : )

  8. Draintheswamps says:

    Never partner with a panamanian. Period.

  9. Im not sure when this story is from…but here’s the back-story.

    Steve had married a panamanian woman and together they started the camp. One day, steve came home and she kicked him out, keeping “Morro Negrito” for herself and her son Glen. (Everything was in her name since she’s panamanian). Steve moved out and started another surf camp a little ways away. Morro Negrito is still a legitimate place to visit, but I’ve heard from others that Steve’s new place is not as great as he says it is. Long story short, stay AT morro negrito, not with Steve.

  10. Glad I found your blog post. It comes-up in the top of the search for surf camps in Panama! What a horrible experience! Sorry to hear but thanks for sharing and saving us all from the same. I’m trying to find a camp to surf in Panama in a few weeks, have you heard of any good places since? I’m debating between Bocas and somewhere on the Pacific Coast side incase you know anything. Hope you’ve had better luck elsewhere since!

  11. Shady people eh? I know the type. It’s a shame people choose to operate their business like this, the difference these days is that it’s far more difficult to get away with when people are sharing their experiences online like yourselves, or on social media or holiday review web sties.

  12. Steve Thompson – remember the name – and avoid him at all costs.. shady and deceptive. My group lost multiple thousands of $ as he accepted our money, but could not provide one quarter of what he promised. One broken bathroom for 29 people. One brita – pour by the pitcher – water filter to serve the needs of 29 people. The boats he transported us in were suspect – and two of the three broke down during our stay with him… ludicrous. We pulled out and left two days early for safety and hygiene/health reasons.

  13. Wow what an ordeal and terrible business practice. Sad part is there are probably plenty of people who just say OK and he gets away with it…

  14. suzyguese says:

    Wow! That sounds like horrible customer service. I’m sorry you guys had to go through that. I haven’t had anything this awful occur, but I did rent an apartment in Italy that the owners didn’t represent accurately. From the location, building to the utility costs, I ended up paying quite a bit for a place for three months that I didn’t love. Those in the hospitality industry as a whole need to learn that if the customer is unhappy, business can suffer.

  15. Candice Walsh says:

    THIS is the beauty of travel blogging…thanks to you guys, others won’t fall into the same trap. 🙂 Thanks for the honest review. 

  16. UGH- what a nightmare! We have had a crazy situation too and to make matters worst, they only spoke and wrote in mandarin and we couldn’t and didn’t understand until we got to the resort. Fun… not! 

  17. Randy Kalp says:

    Man that is a rough situation. Glad to hear you got your money back, but, like you, I would have been pretty pissed off, especially because of the consequences and stress that comes from situations like that. Will do my best to get the word out about Steve and the Morro Negrito Surf Camp.

  18. dtravelsround says:

    WOW. That sucks! So glad you were able to get everything sorted in terms of payment. I would have been furious!!

  19. Sick on the Road says:

    Oh man, that’s awful. Will definitely avoid this company if I’m ever in Panama. What a nightmare. 

  20. Rease Kirchner says:

    I am still angry about this for you. I hope word gets around and this guy loses a lot of business for what he did to you!

  21. Horrid experience! I hate having to deal with things (and people) like that. Good thing you got it sorted; using credit cards is definitely the way to go. We sailed through the Panama Canal a year ago and I’m interested in seeing more of the country, so I’ll get myself a cuppa and have a look at your Panama posts now 🙂

  22. Technosyncratic says:

    Bah, I hate when this kind of thing happens!  Thankfully we haven’t experienced anything to this extreme, but I get so infuriated when businesses don’t deliver what they’ve promised – and what you’re paying for!  Glad you’re writing a post about it so hopefully others will know that this company is shady.

  23. Some people just shouldn’t be service providers – they have no clue how to go about treating people with respect.

  24. wow.  that is nuts! i’m always afraid when I research online of places like this but at least you were able to get out of it before you got STUCK there!

  25. The Travel Fool says:

    Man he sounds like a jerk. I have run across less than honest operators also but never had a problem getting money back, although I don’t usually pay a deposit. I just tell them it will be paid in full upon arrival.

  26. Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate says:

    I’ve never had this happen but I would be PISSED. Man, I’m sorry your trip was ruined.

  27. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy says:

    Wow, that is super shady. Glad you got the refund worked out on your own. It sounds like this guy probably had no intention of giving you a refund anyway.

  28. Christopher says:

    Yikes. I’ve had similar experiences, not quite as bad as this but at least a learning experience.

  29. Annie-FootTracker says:

    wow, I am sorry to hear this happened. I would be really really pissed off if this happens to me. That owner sounds totally unprofessional to tell you guys about the change so close the trip. So far I only had to deal with shady airlines that change my seats last minute and bad service from time to time.

  30. Try My wife and I just got back from a trip we booked with them to Bali and they stood up for us when we needed to cancel the last night. We needed to come back a day early and, even though the resort we stayed at had a no refund policy once you’ve checked in, someone from SurferLiving called them and worked it out so that we could get a refund for our last (unused) night. I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have had the same luck since it was our first time at this particular surf resort but I guess because they work with them a lot they have more pull. It was also the same price to go through the agency as it was if we’d booked directly. Plus, it sounds like there are lots of surf camps started by people who don’t really have a clue. Anyway, great trip and really good service all around. I’d definitely recommend using them in the future. I’ve stayed at a few other camps and resorts in central america too so if you’re headed back I can recommend some good ones.

  31. forrest walker says:

    Don’t go to Bocas!