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Dive Review of Coiba Dive Center in
Panama/ Isla Coiba

Coiba Dive Center: "Good (not great) Eastern Pacific Diving", Jan, 2016,

by Sean Bruner, AZ, US (Contributor Contributor 16 reports with 1 Helpful vote). Report 8802.

No photos available at this time

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 1 stars Food 3 stars
Service and Attitude 4 stars Environmental Sensitivity 4 stars
Dive Operation 4 stars Shore Diving 1 stars
Snorkeling 1 stars
Value for $$ 4 stars
Beginners 3 stars
Advanced 3 stars
Comments We drove six hours from Panama City to Santa Catalina where we spent the night in a nice, small hotel up on the hill, the Sol y Mar, run by a Portuguese expat, where we heard German, Portuguese, Italian, French and, of course, English and Spanish, during the course of dinner. We left our dive bags off at the dive shop down by the harbor and in the morning headed off on our first dives. We had elected to stay on Coiba Island, a national park and world heritage site, for the next two nights. You may want to elect to stay in Santa Catalina, however, and endure the 45 minute to 1 hour boat rides to the dive sites. That's because the accommodations on the island are worse than basic. You are assigned to a dormitory with eight single beds. We were lucky to have it to ourselves, but it is primitive. No hot water, no towels, no soap and electricity only from dusk to dawn. It did have a window air conditioner, however; otherwise it would have been impossible to sleep. The dive guides sleep in a tent ... really. Also, lather up on the bug spray because the beach is full of sand fleas, which one doesn't feel when they bite and the bites only show up days later. L was covered in bites and I had quite a few, despite largely staying off the beach and being fairly diligent about the bug spray. The beach was filled with large, ugly vultures who hopped around everywhere.

If we had not been to Galapagos and several times to Islas Revillagigedo, we might have thought the diving was quite good, but compared to those Eastern Pacific locations, it was ho-hum. We saw a few white tip reef sharks and an eagle ray cruised by quickly once. The dive guide claimed to have seen a manta ray, but no one else did. There were plenty of fish, green moray eels and rock formations. Snapper, a few barracuda, angel fish, large titan trigger fish, a large school of machete, puffer fish, butterfly fish, turtles, Mexican hogfish, you get the idea.

Coiba Dive Center did a decent job. They had three boats: one a true dive boat and two converted pangas. The first day we headed out for the hour trip to the dive sites, a couple of submerged sea mounts, in one of the pangas. The shade cloth and supports flew off the boat during the ride; it was a miracle nobody was injured. Since we had left our bags in the shop the night before and our equipment was already set up on the boat, I was nervous that I hadn't been able to check to see that everything was there. It wasn't. My snorkel had been left at the shop, along with our rain gear. Luckily we didn't need the rain gear but I would have liked to have the snorkel to use for our afternoons at the beach. The dive guide that first day, who is also the owner, got annoyed that I was distracted during her briefing wanting to check my equipment. Since it wasn't a real dive boat, they had the tanks with our gear stored under the bench in front and I didn't get a chance to look it over before we backrolled into the open ocean. The fills were consistently light, usually around 2800 psi. In any case, we all surfaced together, so there was enough air for the 60 minute dives.

On the two subsequent days of diving, we were with two different dive guides. Our second day paired us with the biggest group we dove with, three other couples for a total of 8 divers and one dive guide. The dive guide was a great guy but not a great guide, in my opinion. He checked that everyone was okay at the beginning of the dive and then scarcely looked back the rest of the dive. Being "senior" divers, L and I like to go slowly, but the guide was a real hurry-up type. On our second dive, we dropped into a fairly stiff current and moved against it for a 100 meters or so. When we got to the cut there was plenty of action, including three white tip sharks, the most we had seen on a single dive. We were hanging out enjoying the show when we looked up and found that we were alone with one other diver. The dive guide had hustled around the corner and disappeared with the other divers obediently following. The open Pacific is not somewhere you want to be on your own, so we hurried to catch up. The rest of the dive, the majority, was spent in the lee, quite boring. The third day we had a new dive guide and she was terrific. We were alone with her and had a nice couple of dives, including a close turtle encounter.

Our travel agent had made a mistake and booked us for three nights on the island, which wouldn't have worked out for our next scheduled departure, since the boat back to Santa Catalina only leaves in the afternoon and we had to leave Santa Catalina in the morning. Coiba Dive Center took care of booking us a room that night in Santa Catalina and even got the travel agent to pick up the tab. They really went above and beyond to make our trip easy and enjoyable. Overall, I would recommend Coiba Dive Center and the trip to Isla Coiba. There are a couple of jungle hikes we took in the afternoons and saw capybara, capuchin monkeys, a tarantula and heard howler monkeys screeching in the distance. If the park service would upgrade the facility even a little it would be a magical place.
Websites Coiba Dive Center   

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 501-1000 dives
Where else diving Indonesia, Galapagos, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Islas Revillagigedo, Hawaii, Cozumel, Roatan, BVI
Closest Airport Panama City Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, windy, cloudy Seas calm
Water Temp 86-°F / 30-°C Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 25-60 Ft/ 8-18 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile no
Enforced diving restrictions We had to stay together and surface together.
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? no

What I Saw

Sharks 1 or 2 Mantas None
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 1 stars Tropical Fish 4 stars
Small Critters 2 stars Large Fish 3 stars
Large Pelagics 1 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 3 stars Boat Facilities 3 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 3 stars Shore Facilities 1 stars
UW Photo Comments [None]
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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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