Scuba Dive and Snorkel Coiba National Park and the Pacific Coast of the Republic of Panama. The best kept scuba diving secrets on the planet are right here in Panama.
Coiba Dive Center is located in Santa Catalina, Panama. This area is often described by many as the “New Galapagos” and the “New Cocos Islands.” How can diving in Panama, a short plane trip from the U.S., be described as similar to two of the ultimate, but remote, destinations for divers? Well, it’s part of the same underwater mountain chain and the same geographical area. The same animals you see in the Galapagos and Cocos are also here, close by, accessible by boat or Panama Liveaboard. And, the bonus is that you’ll see more coral, less boat traffic, and far fewer divers.
When you dive with us, you will also find a unique and highly personalized dive experience. We’re not fans of crowded cattle boats, so we limit the boat to 6 divers. We’ll be your personal guides and are happy to tailor your diving experience to your skill level and personal preferences.
Wow, where do we start?
There are some areas best described as diving in a can of sardines. At times the fish population here is so abundant you actually have to take care that you don’t bump into them. Of course, they are doing the same, kind of a more pleasant rush hour without the swearing and hand gestures. You’ll see hundreds of tropical ornamental fish species here along with colorful hard and soft corals.
On the edge of deep waters, you’ll find the big guys. The head honchos of the sea: White Tip Reef Sharks, Whale Sharks, Humpback Whales, Huge Yellow Fin Tuna, Bull Sharks, Enormous Marlin and Sailfish, Galapagos Sharks, Giant Turtles, Tiger Sharks, Pilot Whales, Oceanic White Tip Sharks, Giant Mantas, and everything in between. When we see an abundance of cleaner fish, it’s almost a guarantee that something big will appear.
Special Guest Stars?
There are certain seasons that bring in our “Special Guests”. From June to October, the Humpback Whales calve their young here and it would be unusual not to see one breaching the surface somewhere. From February to July, the Whale Sharks are here. From October to December, the giant schools of Golden Rays fly through, literally. January through April, the Mobula Manta´s school in the hundreds and often you can see them flying up to three meters out of the sea.
Most of the areas that we dive are either World Heritage Sites and/or National Parks. There are specific rules that must always be adhered to under the guidance and auspices of the National Park regulations. You may not touch animals, remove fauna, flora or marine plants. Even taking dead coral is heavily frowned upon. We take great pride in our backyard and are not the type of dive operator to turn a blind eye.
Remember, take only pictures and leave only bubbles.
All divers should have sufficient skills and experience. Many of our dives are considered advanced due to current and/or depth. If you are a beginner, please advise us, and we will be happy to adjust our locations accordingly until you feel comfortable. If you need a refresher class, let us know and we’ll be happy to do one for you.
The entire Gulf of Chiriqui should have been named a World Heritage Site, but that’s not the case. Fortunately, Coiba National Park was designated as such.
We Dive the “Gulf of Chiriqui” on the Pacific Coast of Panama:
- Coiba National Park
- Islas Secas
- Isla Montuoso
- Islotes Cativo
All of these areas are special and unique in their own way. And, every one of them are great dives.
Table of Content
Our instructors are PADI and Emergency First Response certified instructors. Get your scuba diving certification in the same environment that you would normally dive.
Coiba National Park
- 2-Tank Dive Coiba National Park (tanks, weights and guide included)
- 3-Tank Dive Coiba National Park (tanks, weights and guide included)
Local/Coiba National Park
- 2-Tank Dive local only (half day) (tanks, weights and guide included)
- 3-Tank Dive Coiba National Park and local (tanks, weights and guide included)
Snorkeling Coiba National Park
- Full Day Snorkel Tour Coiba National Park (mask/fins/snorkel included)
- Half Day Coiba Prison Tour
- Half Day Snorkel Tour Coiba National Park (mask/fins/snorkel included)
PADI Certifications and Courses
- PADI Open Water Certification. This course lasts 3-4 days. (includes rental gear, all course materials, 4 ocean dives)
- PADI Advanced Open Water. This is a 2 day, 5 dive class. (includes rental gear, all course materials, 5 ocean dives)
- PADI Discover Scuba Diving. A one day, one dive experience. (includes rental gear, all course materials, 1 ocean dive
Three Day Trips Coiba National Park
Coiba National Park
What do the Galapagos, Cocos, Malpelo, Gorgona and Coiba have in common?
These areas are all connected by the same underwater mountain chain. They occupy the same faults in the earth’s crust. And, share the same animals and geographic area. In fact, Conservation International calls this group of magical marine parks, “The Corridor”. In Coiba, you may see the Galapagos sharks, giant manta rays, devil rays, whale sharks, humpback whales, turtles, and a great variety of the typical Pacific tropical ornamental fishes, and even some you wouldn’t expect. You will even see species that don’t exist anywhere else and are endimic to Coiba only. Unlike the other areas, Coiba is full of hard and soft corals. Even outside of the park, on the Island of Montuoso, during the season, you may see the Galapago’s seals. They vacation here to get away from the crowds at the Galapagos…
This is a recommendation from Conservation International on how all of these areas should be managed together as the same group.
The Coiba National Park (CNP) is situated off the Pacific Coast of Panama in the Gulf of Chiriquí. These uninhabited islands that make up the park have a wild and spectacular beauty. The calm waters around these volcanic jungle-clad islands offer some of the world’s best diving. Coiba National Park is also an area of growing interest to the scientific community, for its abundance of unique marine and terrestrial flora and fauna that surround the second largest coral reef in the eastern pacific.
The Reefs are the result of a happy geographical and geological phenomena. First, Panama’s Cordillera Central, which runs from Costa Rica to the center of the country shields the Gulf of Chiriquí, protecting it’s warm waters, creating the perfect conditions conducive to the growth of coral. Second, Coiba is bathed by Indo-Pacific currents bringing organisms that would otherwise be found in the South Pacific, far from Central America
CNP’s marine fauna include 23 species of whales and dolphins, including humpback, sperm and killer whales, which habitat its waters year round according to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. It is one of the largest marine parks in the world – 2,701 sq km – made up of Isla Coiba and 38 smaller island including Brincanco Island, Uva Island, Canal de Afuera Island, Rancheria Island, Jicaron Island, and Jicarita Island.
The diving has been described as a combination of the Galapagos Islands, Equador and the Cocos Islands, Costa Rica. However this area is virtually virgin territory for the scuba diver.
The water temperature at the surface is in the low 80’s, however thermoclines are common at depth dropping the temperature to the mid 70’s, therefore a 3 mm wetsuit is recommended. Currents are variable depending on the tide. A 2 to 5 meter ( 8 to 16 feet) tidal exchange is present around the islands and can sometimes make diving challenging. The typical visibility on average is around 15 meters (45 feet), but ranges to well over 40 meters (120 feet) regularly.
Coiba separated from continental Panama about 12,000 to 18,000 years ago, isolating many endemic species (native animals and plants). There are 147 species of birds found on Coiba; one species and 20 subspecies are native to the area. The agouti of Coiba Island (Dasyprocta coibae), a subspecies of the howler monkey (Alouatta palliata coibensis), a subspecies of possums (Didelphis marsupials battyi), and a subspecies of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus rothchildi) are found no where else in the world.
It is estimated that about 1450 species of plants on the island, (only 758 have been identified) may hold the cure for diseases like AIDS, cancer, and diabetes.
Dive Sites in Coiba National Park, Panama
Here are some trip reports from diving Coiba.
Two peaks that rise up from 130′ to 25 and 65 feet. Marine life are green and fine-spotted eels, hard corals, sea horses, octopus, cortez barracuda and many of the ornamental fish. On occasion, you may see giant mantas and other rays, white tip reef sharks and whalesharks.
Pinnacles rising from 130′ to 50 and 60 feet and next to some of the deepest water in the park. Marine life ranges from eagle rays, giant mantas, devil rays, grouper, snappers, turtles and white tip reef sharks. On occasion, you’ll see galapagos sharks, hammerhead sharks, barracuda and whalesharks.
An underwater mountain that rises from 130′ to 45′. Large schools of jacks, barracuda, bull sharks, white tip reef sharks and giant mantas may be seen.
This area comes up to 25 feet from 140 feet. Like the name says, many types of eating fish are here. Also barracudas, bull sharks, white tip reef sharks and giant mantas.
A ridge of rocks that rises from 140′ to 30′. Marine life-barracuda, giant mantas, eagle rays, bull sharks and white tip reef sharks, lobster, octopus, green and fine-spotted eels and seahorses have been seen.
This is a platform of rocks at 30′. Marine life/snapper, barracuda, giant mantas, eagle rays, bull sharks, white tip reef sharks, morays, lobster and octopus. Lots of hard and soft corals.
A canal that rises from 130′ to 25 feet on each side. Marine life is white tip reef sharks, giant mantas, and bull sharks, turtles and an amazing amount of cleaner fish.
This is a ridge along a canal that rises to 35 feet. Marine life is seahorses, morays, barracuda, eagle rays, giant mantas, turtles and white tip reef sharks.
15 feet below the surface is an island of rocks. Marine life is hard corals and sponges, cleaner fish, white tip reef sharks, snapper, seahorses and octopii
In 20 feet of water, there are 2 banks of sand to the north and south. Marine life is octopii, rays, nudibranches, eels, white tip reef sharks and turtles.
In 30 feet of water, there are rocks down to 50 feet. Marine life is eels, huge frog fish, hard corals, sponges and seahorses. Occasionally there are giant mantas and other rays.
15 feet of water. Marine life is white tip reef sharks, turtles, rays, octopii and lobster. Hard coral and seahorses are there with multiple cleaner fish.
In 45 feet of water, there are pretty healthy currents that wash the 35 foot pinnacles. Marine life is barracuda, white tip reef sharks, giant mantas, lots of hard corals, gorgonias and sponges.
In 15 feet of water, there is a rock island that is circular. Marine life is huge quantities of cleaner fish, giant mantas, king angels, white tip reef sharks, and in the south, various nudibranches and eels.
The Washing Machine
50 feet of water, the waves, surge and currents give this spot it’s name. Marine life is barracudas, ocational hammerhead sharks, white tip reef sharks, galapagos sharks, giant mantas, gorgonias and hard corals.
This is one of the most beautiful parts of the park. 33 feet of water. Marine life is eels, hard and soft corals, seahorses, barracuda, snapper, giant mantas and white tip reef sharks. On occasion, there are whalesharks, galapagos sharks, tiger sharks and hammerhead sharks.
This is in the entrance of the canal between Isla Coiba and Isla Jicaron. 50 feet of water. Marine life is gigantic manta rays, white tip reef and giant nurse sharks, snapper, grouper, barracuda ,many of the colorful reef fish, colorful hard corals, colorful soft corals, and many different sponges. At times you can also see the occasional oceanic white tip shark.
These are rocky pinnacles loaded with gorgonias. 60 feet of water. Marine life is Big eye trevallies, barracuda, white tip reef sharks, giant manta rays, snapper, grouper hard corals and sponges.
These are rocky pinnacles that rise from 150 feet. 90 feet of water. Marine Life is spotted eagle rays, snapper, turtles, and white tip reef sharks. At times you will also see tiger, bull and hammerhead sharks.
City of sharks
These are 3 pinnacles that rise from 160 to 85 feet of water.These pinnacles help form a sand bank at 85 feet. The currents are strong here, definitely a drift dive. Marine life is spotted eagle rays, giant mantas, devil rays, grouper, snapper, turtles and white tip reef sharks. At times you can also see tiger sharks.
You start around 18 feet and drift dive this. You can reach 80 feet of water. Marine life is giant mantas, spotted eagle rays, and white tip reef sharks. In the deepest area, you will find seahorses, toadfish, green morays and cleaning stations with lots of barberfish and other colorful tropical fish.
Start in 20 feet and hug the wall of a canal 80 feet deep. Marine life is giant manta rays, spotted eagle rays, white tip reef sharks, and spadefish. In the deeper areas, you will see seahorses, toadfish, green morays and lots of cleaner stations.
At 45 feet, the sand bank will take you down to 90 feet. There are a couple of cleaning stations that rise to 35 feet. Marine life is toadfish, enormous green morays, barracuda and spadefish. At the lower depths you’ll see spotted eagle rays, giant mantas, snapper and turtles. Also white tip reef sharks and lots of cleaner fish. At times, you can also spot a tiger or bull shark.
The tallest pinnacle here is at 120 feet, hence the name. Marine life is spotted eagle rays, giant mantas, devil rays, grouper, turtles and white tip reef sharks. At times you can also see whale sharks, tiger, and bull sharks.
This is an old lava plume that dives like a wall. This structure rises from 120′ to a few feet above the surface. This plume is between Isla Coiba and Isla Brincanco. Marine life is white tip reef sharks, spadefish, ocean pelagics, cleaner fish, snapper, grouper, spotted eagle rays and morays.
Check out our trip reports on Islas Secas .
What a beautiful dive. Very easy, starts around 20 feet and ends around 50 feet. You’ll see at least a dozen varieties of coral and an amazing amount of colorful reef fish.
A pinnacle rising from 120′ to within 30 feet of the surface. You’ll se some white tip reef sharks, many varieties of eels, and lots of cleaner fish. I’m still waiting for something big to show up, you can’t have that many cleaner fish and nothing to clean…
Lot of great underwater photos of Cativo
On this dive, you will see lots of coral and underwater life. This dive is good for beginners, with depths of 20 – 50 feet. Divers can dive the rock outcropping in the rear with depths of 18 – 80 feet.
Check out our dive reports on Los Ladrones.
What an amazing structure. Underwater, it looks like building foundations with steps and walkways and such. Really interesting. The underwater life here is many varieties of colorful coral and an amazing variety of coral fishes. Also, you’ll see the big ocean guys blow through and some white tip reef sharks to keep it real…
This is a great structure, it looks like a humpback face when the waves move just right. This is a pinnacle that comes up from 65 feet to within 5 feet of the surface. You can see an amazing amount of big ocean pelagics here. The Freakin Zoo
Pretty much an underwater zoo… again a place that you’ll see lots of ocean pelagics along with the typical coral and coral fish.
This is an island far out into the Pacific ocean. The ride is very long (4 hours). On this dive, you will see lots of coral and underwater life. You’ll also see the large pelagics and ocean fish. During certain times of the year, you may also see the Galapagos Seals.