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Dive Review of Scuba Coiba in
Panama/Isla Coiba

Scuba Coiba, Nov, 2007,

by Laszlo Ilyes, OH, USA (Reviewer Reviewer 3 reports). Report 3749.

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

Weather sunny, windy, rainy, cloudy Seas calm, choppy, surge, currents
Water Temp 81 to 84 Fahrenheit Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 20 to 70 Feet

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions [Unspecified]
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? N/A

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas 1 or 2
Dolphins None Whale Sharks 1 or 2
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 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
UW Photo Comments 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 Flickr.com 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):

Accommodations 2 stars Food 5 stars
Service and Attitude 4 stars Environmental Sensitivity N/A
Dive Operation 4 stars Shore Diving 1 stars
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ N/A
Beginners 2 stars
Advanced 4 stars
Comments - 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." Fiction...

- 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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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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