I recently came back from a liveaboard dive trip to Malpelo, which remains a relatively unknown diving destination compared to Cocos and the Galapagos. I have not been to the latter two (although my friends and I have been talking about going on a trip to Cocos to see schooling hammerheads for some time now), so I can only relate my experience in the former.
We spent one day in Coiba for our checkout dives and then proceeded to Malpelo for 8 days of diving. Coiba National Park is one of three UNESCO Natural World Heritage Sites in Panama that is a great destination in its own right. With the extreme biodiversity of its waters and the high variety of endemic wildlife in its forests, laid-back divers like myself have plenty of things to see and activities to choose from in between dives. But my objective on this trip was to experience some of the best that Malpelo had to offer (as seen on vimeo: http://vimeo.com/28263951
), so I chose the itinerary that would allow me to make that plan a reality.
I was not disappointed. We encountered hammerheads, silkies, and galapagos on almost all of our dives. One of my best dives was at La Gringa, where we had 5 galapagos sharks coming in for a closer look at the divers while the hammerheads were swimming 5 meters above us. We simply had to look up if we wanted to watch the unmistakable shapes of the hammerheads and look in front if we preferred to gaze upon the more robust silhouettes of the galapagos sharks. When we went up for our safety stop, around 500 silkies circled our group, sniffing and watching curiously. We had to force ourselves to get out of the water when our time was up.
At some point we took a break from the sharkfest and went in search of "smaller" stuff. We were rewarded at the Altar with a big school of barracudas. At Three Musketeers, we back rolled smack-dab into the resident school of mullet snappers and then moved on to watch a school of big-eyed jacks so large that we lost sight of some of the divers from our group for a while. Along the way we came upon a congregation of spotted eagle rays resting on the sandy bottom. When three broke away from the group, we followed them around for a bit until we reached the Cathedral, which is a split in the rocks that is open on both sides. There, we captured a few Kodak moments while exiting on the shallower end.
Speaking of photo opportunities, Malpelo is a great location for expanding one's collection. From start to finish, a diverse array of subjects would catch the eye of budding photographers and full-fledged lensmen alike. In addition to getting spectacular underwater images, chances for topside shots are also abundant — ships passing through the Panama Canal; a couple of howler monkeys vocalizing in the Gamboa Rainforest; an indigenous Kuna woman in colorful traditional garb; the bright beak of a toucan resting on a leafy branch a tall tree; the silhouette of a crocodile in the water as it navigates through lush mangroves in San Pedro River; the fine powdery sand of Coiba's beaches and the palm trees that thrive on the island; Malpelo's wild beauty with its resident colony of boobies, tiny waterfalls formed by recent rains, and pinnacles that jut out of the water like northern and southern sentinels of the island.
Many thanks to Coiba Dive Expeditions (http://www.coibadiveexpeditions.com/coiba/
) and the crew of the Yemaya for this unforgettable experience.