THE COIBA NATIONAL PARK, PANAMA
Panama’s ‘Twin Sister’ to Cocos Island
Season: Year-round diving
Water Temperature: 24-29°C/75-79°F
Liveaboard: M/V Yemaya
Diving: Sharks, Manta Rays, Whale Sharks, Sealions, walls, sea mounts
Willing to share option
The Coiba National Park and UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, is located to the southeast of the coast of the Republic of Panama within the Gulf of Chiriquí. With over 1,700 hectares of coral reefs, Coiba and its surrounding 38 islands are home to over 760 species of fish, 33 species of sharks and rays plus over 20 species of marine mammals. Compared with its Eastern Pacific counterparts of Galapagos and Cocos, diving here is still something of an adventure and often exploratory. It is, without question, the crown jewel of Panama’s extensive and spectacular protected natural reserves. On the surface, lush, ancient primary tropical rain forests plunge down onto the exposed, dramatic and rugged formations of the western facing coastlines with their crystalline azure waters, white sandy beaches, hidden coves and bays.
Coiba is influenced by five major ocean currents, some of which transport marine species from as far away as the Indio Pacific. Among the more popular creatures that you may encounter are large schools of Snappers, Barracuda and Jacks. White Tip Reef Sharks can be found on almost every dive and encounters with Tiger Sharks, Bull Sharks, Black-Tip Reef Sharks and Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks are also common. Add to this a great range of bottom dwellers and possible encounters with Humpback and Pilot Whales and pods of dolphins and you have a heady mix of aquatic life to tempt anyone into the water!
Dive sites range from calm, shallow, protected inshore reefs to high voltage diving on deep pinnacles and sea mounts. Most dive sites are littered with cleaning stations which are perfect for attracting shark and ray species. Bait ball activity attracts the attention of thousands of resident marine birds and a great variety of marine predators. The irregular volcanic underwater landscapes are adorned with an abundance of hard and soft corals, marine sponges and sea fans which provide habitat to an amazing array of bottom dwellers, including, Lobsters, Crab, Octopus, several types of Eel, Sea Stars, Blennies, Stargazers, Seahorse, Nudibranchs, Pipefish, Sea pens and exotic creatures such as the Harlequin Shrimp and Frog Fish.
From June to October, the Humpback Whales calve their young here and it would be unusual not to see one breaching the surface somewhere. From February to July, Whale Sharks are frequently sighted here. From October to December, the giant schools of Golden Rays fly through. January through April, the Mobula Rays school in the hundreds and often you can see them flying up to three meters out of the sea.
M/V Yemaya operates a series of 7 nights cruises to Coiba National Park, out of the harbour at Puerto Mutis throughout the year, and 10, 11 and 12 nights cruises taking in both Coiba and Malpelo, or Coiba and Cocos. These cruises also depart from Puerto Mutis but spend most of their time in Malpelo or Cocos. It is recommended that you arrive in Panama City, Panama the day before your cruise is due to depart and that you stay one night in Panama City after the cruise returns.