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Dive Review of various/traveled the country in
Panama/Caribbean and Pacific Coast

January, 2006, an Instant Reader Report by Harvey Monroe, N.M., USA
Report Number 2903
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Reporter and Travel
Dive Experience
501-1000 dives
Where else diving
Caribbean,Brazil,East Pacific, South Pacific, and USA
Closest Airport
Getting There


Dive Conditions

sunny, windy, rainy, cloudy  
calm, choppy, currents, noCurrents  
Water Temp
80   to 85    Fahrenheit  
Wetsuit Thickness
Water Visibility
20   to 80    Feet  
Dive Policy
Dive own profile
Enforced diving restrictions  
The usual. 500 psi, no deco, dive with buddy  
Nitrox Available?
What I saw
1 or 2 
1 or 2 
Whale Sharks
> 2 
Ratings 1 (worst)- 5 (best):
  5 stars
Tropical Fish
5 stars  
Small Critters
  5 stars
Large Fish
3 stars  
Large Pelagics
  3 stars
Underwater Photography  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
Subject Matter
3 stars  
Boat Facilities
3 stars
Overall rating for UWP's  
4 stars  
Shore Facilities  
4 stars  
Mostly basic operations with panga style boat but the subject matter and
the newness of the locations make up for the lack of luxury
Ratings and Overall Comments  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
3 stars
3 stars
Service and Attitude
3 stars
Environmental Sensitivity  
Dive Operation
3 stars  
Shore Diving  
3 stars  

Overall Rating

Value for $$
3 stars   
4 stars    
I have been to Panama several times before so this trip was an attempt to
sample most of the areas in the country with my family, all divers. We did
not head for Bocas del Toro due to its reputation for lower visibility and
a more touristy atmosphere.

Caribbean Coast- Portabelo and surrounding area- this is a historic area
with numerous Spanish forts and installations. It has a mostly
African-Caribbean influenced culture.

The diving wasnt spectacular for visibility with the closer sites having
particulate in the water.  However, the fauna was brilliant in color and
variety, if never seen such intensity in the Caribbean.  The sites further
out in particular Salmedina Reef had a profusion of larger tropicals,
Midnight Parrots, 3-4 long and hoards of schooling fish.  The area is
more exposed and subject to rougher seas. Larger pelagics are common to the
area although we saw few.  I will return to this site.

There are several dive and hotel accommodations in the area which average
$30-$80 a night.  The outfit we dove with provided a basic panga with a
knowledgeable captain who was also a qualified dive master but didnt dive.
The prices were the cheapest I ever seen, with a single tank dive around
$15 to $25 depending on the distance from the dock.  We, basically dove our
profile and where able to explore on our own. We even rented tanks and
drove up the coast to Isla Grande and dove off of a private island where we
spent the day. There were several restaurants in the area and most
reasonably priced or cheap by US standards.
I tried to get to Caribbean Jimmys further up the coast.  The place was
closed for the season which I discovered after hiking ½ through the
tropical forest which was fun. The windy season is December thru March with
rough seas making it almost impossible to get off the beach in a boat. The
staff werent very friendly and I didnt see anything at the operation that
would convince me to go back especially at the prices they charge. This
mirrors a similar recent report. Although, further out is the Coral Lodge,
near San Blas which has a reputation for excellent if not pricey diving.

The Pacific Coast- There were several regions that we explored.  The
Pacific is known for high tidal exchange with associated currents, more
variable temperatures and visibility.  The corals are more limited and the
bottom is mostly rocky but the number and size of fish more than makes up
for the lack of fauna.

We tried to dive the area near David and with Chiriqui Divers.  The
operation is about 20 miles down a dirt road which is barely passable
during the rainy season with out a 4x4.  We did not have a 4x4 and it
started raining heavily after we arrived.  The cost for the dive was over
$200 to a sea mount which was reputed to have schools of mantas and
hammerheads. The owner though a U.S. Navy Diver was not someone we could
trust.  We stopped for lunch before returning to the highway, area reminded
of a drunken pirates den with our kids picking up several new unrepeatable
expressions.  I wouldnt recommend this operation!

Santa Catalina and Isla Coiba- This was recently written up in Undercurrent
and I do think the diving is as good as represented. Although, we were not
able to dive all the sites that were reported.  It is a basic town with
several inexpensive accommodations and restaurants but still unspoiled.

There are two operations here and maybe a third coming soon, Herbies or
Scuba Coiba and Scuba-Charters. We had arranged for a trip with Scuba Coiba
but due to several missed connections not necessarily are fault were bumped
from there roster for a Coiba dive.   From what I hear talking to other
unnamed locals this is common. 

Scuba Charters is run by a couple from Jacksonville, Florida.  Having had a
Dive operation in Florida they are much more familiar with what a US diver
would expect out of a dive.  However, they also are a modest operation
compared to many of the Caribbean destinations.

The diving is worth experiencing with good to excellent conditions and
unexplored areas which provide a great opportunity for exploring. Both
operations do fill up their boats and there is no shore diving, so reserve
or confirm in advance.  I will return to this area.

The Pearl Islands, in particular Isla Contadora is due west of Panama City.
Its about a ½ hour plane flight on a small twin engine plane.  This
is known through-out Panama as a destination resort island with 2 modern
hotels and many more modest bed and breakfasts.  The island is very scenic
and laid back at only 3-4 miles long and less than a mile wide. There are
several upper class homes on the island so its very residential but
tropical. This was also the staging area for two of the Survivor Panama
shows, so you may have some idea of the terrain.

The Diving is provided by Coral Dreams, owners Guillermo and Roxanne.  They
are connected with the local hotels but independent.   They are also a
modest operation and mostly cater to the resort crowd.  There are several
sites that have a profusion of large fish.  The visibility can vary and the
currents are dependant on the tides which can be up to 20 feet. I have been
to few places that have the quantity and profusion of fish we experienced.
I will probably return to this area as well because of the total experience
and it is much less third world than other parts of the country.  

I hope this review will be of use to the readers and feel free to contact
me should you have any questions.     

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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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