Coiba Island in Panama is a UNESCO heritage site and a renowned destination for those interested in studying wildlife. The Coiba National Park encompasses over 2,700 square kilometers (1,000 square miles) of islets, beaches, forests, mangroves, and coral reefs. Most of the activities you can do here are outdoor activities such as hiking, bird watching, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
Coiba Island is one of those amazing diving destinations that somehow don’t see as many divers as other regions nearby. Part of this may be due to the lack of colorful corals that usually bring tourists to places like the Caribbean, for example, but that’s not what Coiba is all about.
Compared by many with the remote Galapagos and Cocos Islands, it comes as no surprise that what you can see in the two popular diving destinations you can also see in Coiba. And this is due to Coiba being part of the same underwater mountain chain as the two and thus offering much of the same wildlife. The advantage is, it’s easier and quicker to get here from the mainland, as you can reach the island by boat, not just liveaboards.
The Coiba National Park is a diving paradise for those that want to see wildlife, big pelagics in particular. More than 700 species of fish and about 33 species of sharks - including hammerhead, bull, white-tip, whale, Galapagos, tiger, and guitar sharks – can be encountered here. Dolphins, sperm whales, pilot whales, orcas, and large schools of barracudas, and snappers are also among the main attractions.
Sharks resting at the bottom of the sea. Photo by dronepicr
Diving at Coiba Island is possible year-round. The rainy season runs from May to November and it’s the ideal time to see humpback whales. The dry season lasts from December to April and offers the chance of spotting whale sharks, manta rays, and Mobula rays.
The weather conditions can be unpredictable, which is why this destination is geared more towards experienced divers. Nonetheless, you’ll also find dive sites suitable for beginner divers and even snorkelers.
The water temperature at Coiba Island ranges from 27° to 29° C/81-84° F. February through April can bring thermoclines with cooler water in the lower 20s° C/68° F, so you’ll need a 3 to 5 mm wetsuit. The rest of the year you feel comfortable in a thin shortie.
The currents at Coiba Island are strong, especially during the dry season, but that’s what brings the big fish here. For this reason, drift diving is the norm on many of the dive sites here.
The visibility at Coiba Island is typically good, 15-20 meters (50-70 feet). It’s not unusual to enjoy a visibility of up to 30 meters (100 feet) or more in December and January. However, the visibility is affected by different factors such as currents and thermoclines, so there’s no guarantee it you’ll always remain the same throughout the year.
Angelfish. Photo by Laszlo Ilyes
This huge cleaning station is a submerged circular island of rocks. Large schools of fish – barracudas, jacks, and spadefish – come to the cleaning stations at Mona Lisa. The dive site is teeming with life. Butterflyfish, kingfish, angelfish, manta rays, nudibranchs, octopuses, eels, and white-tip sharks are among the many different types of fish one can encounter here.
Jacob's Ladder features multiple pinnacles that rise from a depth of about 40 meters (130 feet). The dive site is exposed to oceanic currents and swells, so it’s a great spot for seeing a multitude of pelagic species. Galapagos sharks, tiger sharks, giant manta rays, devil rays, sea turtles, and schooling tunas, barracudas, marlin, and sailfish can be found here.
Twin Peaks is a rather sheltered dive site that features two rocks that emerge from a depth of 21 meters (69 feet) and go up to a depth of about 8 meters (26 feet). There’s an abundance of marine fauna on the walls, including sea fans, gorgonians, sponges, and hard corals. Moray eels, different species of rays, jacks, barracudas, frogfish, white-tip sharks, and whale sharks can be spotted here.