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Dive Review of Scuba Coiba in
Panama/Isla Coiba

November, 2007, an Instant Reader Report by Laszlo Ilyes, OH, USA
Reviewer   (3 reports)
Report Number 3749
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Reporter and Travel
Dive Experience
251-500 dives
Where else diving
Bonaire & Curaçao (N.A.); Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, &
Puerto Vallarta (Mexico); Cayman Islands; Guanaja (Honduras); Punta Cana
(Dominican Republic), Maui (Hawaii); Arraial do Cabo (Brazil)
Closest Airport
Getting There


Dive Conditions

sunny, windy, rainy, cloudy  
calm, choppy, surge, currents  
Water Temp
81   to 84    Fahrenheit  
Wetsuit Thickness
Water Visibility
20   to 70    Feet  
Dive Policy
Dive own profile
Enforced diving restrictions  
Nitrox Available?
What I saw
1 or 2 
Whale Sharks
1 or 2 
> 2 
Ratings 1 (worst)- 5 (best):
  2 stars
Tropical Fish
4 stars  
Small Critters
  5 stars
Large Fish
4 stars  
Large Pelagics
  4 stars
Underwater Photography  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
Subject Matter
4 stars  
Boat Facilities
2 stars
Overall rating for UWP's  
4 stars  
Shore Facilities  
3 stars  
For still photography, there is a wide range of subject matter, from tiny
macros to large pelagics. The visibility is highly variable, sometimes even
during the same dive, depending on depth, location, and current. Conditions
are usaully better inside the National Park, as opposed to the waters
outside of it.

Search under "laszlo-photo" on the photo website for
my still-shots from this trip.

NO VIDEO is permitted in (or around) Isla Coiba without an expensive permit
($3000 USD per half hour). This is not advertised anywhere but it was
enforced during my visit. Ignore anyone that tells you this applies only to
commercial video. The park rangers and police said it best themselves...
how do they know how you plan to use your video? 
Ratings and Overall Comments  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
2 stars
5 stars
Service and Attitude
4 stars
Environmental Sensitivity  
Dive Operation
4 stars  
Shore Diving  
1 stars  

Overall Rating

Value for $$
2 stars   
4 stars    
- While the drive from Panama City to Santiago is quite easy (via the
Panamerican Highway), getting from Santiago to Santa Catalina (where Scuba
Coiba is located) is far more difficult than I was led to believe in
Undecurrent's May 2007 article (Vol. 22, No.5). It is absolutely impossible
to make the "pleasant" drive in 4.5 hours as stated, unless you
exceed the speed limits by 25% and risk a blowout in the pothole-rutted
pavement between Santiago and Santa Catalina. If you make the drive, do it
in daylight and count on at least 6 hours to make it a "pleasant
drive." Or hire a private driver through Scuba Coiba.

- The diving off Santa Catalina (outside of the National Park) is good. The
sea life is rich and varied, though there were few if any pelagics to be
found there. The visibility was fair and the conditions were better suited
for macro and "narrow angle" photography. The dive sites are, for
the most part, undersea mountains with large schools of jacks, snappers,
and grunts. Look for the Panamic Sea Cushion! They are common and are
unusually nice to photograph.

- Within the protected marine zone of Coiba National Park, I found the
visibility to be much better, although highly variable. I always saw at
least one white-tipped reef shark on any dive and on some dives I could see
three at a time. Giant frogfish are not uncommon and I was delighted to see
my first guitarfish and my first whale shark in the waters surrounding the
Coiba. There were large schools of all types of fish, including angelfish,
eagle rays, large-eye jacks, blue & gold snappers, and several species
of grunts. Be prepared for all of the Panamic Green Morays you can handle.
They are everywhere and grow very large. We also saw a Goliath Grouper
(several hundred pounds). It was the largest grouper I'd ever seen. On one
dive, we were serenaded by a humpback whale, though we never actually
spotted it.

- The accomodations on Isla Coiba were dorm-style with clean bedding
provided, along with air-conditioning and non-private bathroom
accomodations. There was running water but there was absolutely no
difference in temperature between the hot and cold taps during my stay. The
food was excellent. We ate seafood-rice (paella without the saffron), fresh
steamed lobsters, chicken stew, pork chops, Panamanian corned-beef, and a
delicious lentil soup that was often ladled over rice. Breakfasts were
always too big, featuring scrambled eggs, tortillas, fresh cut papaya or
pineapple, and fried plantains. It was all delicious! There are many cabins
on the island, along with a visitor's center and a fully staffed ranger
station. The photo in the undercurrent article is also a bit deceiving,
showing a single cabin described as "Coiba's Only Accomodation."

- On a sour note, my fellow divers from DiveTulsa had to cut their visit
short. They are avid videographers and brought 2 cameras that they were
intent on using on all of their dives. After our first day of diving Coiba,
the police became aware of the equipment and decided to enforce a law
requiring them to buy a permit for $3000 USD per half hour of
"filming." The law is supposed to only apply to commercial video,
but the officials insist that they don't know how the video will be used so
they enforce this law for ALL video. DiveTulsa was allowed to keep their
video for the first three dives without paying any fees, but they opted to
leave, as the fee was to be assessed on subsequent dives if they took their
cameras. You'll never see this law mentioned anywhere (online or in print)
when you research your Coiba scuba trip. So, if you plan to shoot video on
your dives, this is NOT the place for you. 

- In summary, I experienced some of the best diving of my life in Coiba
National Park. Scuba Coiba provided me with excellent service, great food,
and excellent, economical diving. Photo opportunities abound for still
photographers, but do not plan on shooting any video in Coiba National
Park. I plan to return some day.
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Other dive reports on Scuba Coiba

All Panama Dive Reviews and Reports
Diving Guide to Panama
Diving Reviews for All Dive Destinations

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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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