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

various/traveled the country, Jan, 2006,

by Harvey Monroe, N.M., USA . Report 2903.

No photos available at this time

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

Accommodations 3 stars Food 3 stars
Service and Attitude 3 stars Environmental Sensitivity N/A
Dive Operation 3 stars Shore Diving 3 stars
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ N/A
Beginners 3 stars
Advanced 4 stars
Comments 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 wasnít 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 tropicalís, Midnight Parrots, 3í-4í 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 didnít 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 Jimmyís 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 werenít very friendly and I didnít 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 wouldnít 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, Herbieís 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. Itís 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 itís 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.

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

Weather sunny, windy, rainy, cloudy Seas calm, choppy, currents, noCurrents
Water Temp 80-85°F / 27-29°C Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 20-80 Ft/ 6-24 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions The usual. 500 psi, no deco, dive with buddy
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? N/A

What I Saw

Sharks 1 or 2 Mantas None
Dolphins 1 or 2 Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 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
UW Photo Comments Mostly basic operations with panga style boat but the subject matter and the newness of the locations make up for the lack of luxury
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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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