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Coiba National Marine Park

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Coiba National Marine Park

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Coiba National Marine Park in the the Gulf of Chiriqui in the Pacific West of Panama.


The park consists of the island of Coiba (the largest island in Central America) and 37 surrounding islands and islets, all of which are about 30 miles off the Panamanian coast in the Gulf of Chiriquí. From 1919 to 2004 this island was a penal colony and quartered political prisoners and some of the most dangerous criminals in Panama. Known as Panama’s Devil’s Island, the government closed the penal colony in 2004, and turned it into the largest marine park in Central America. UNESCO named Coiba National Marine Park a World Heritage Site in 2005 [2] identifying more than 800 marine species in the waters surrounding the park.

Coiba is known for its superior diving and was recently said to have the best diving "to be found along the Pacific Coast from Columbia to Mexico".[3]

Get in[edit]

Though its remote nature has helped to preserve the flora and fauna, it also served to deter visitors. It is about an hour long boat ride from the coastal town of Santa Catalina or Mariato on the West Coast of the Azuero Peninsula.

Cala Mia Island Resort located close to Boca Chica also offers daily trips to Coiba Island, the travel time is 1.5hrs however the boats are higher quality than the usual panama panga making the trip worthwhile.

Most travelers rely on tour operators to reach the island. In the early morning, the journey is usually pleasant, but in the afternoon the sea can be choppy and the boat ride somewhat uncomfortable. This journey’s inconvenience is negligible, however, compared to the opportunities for scuba, snorkeling and sport fishing Coiba offers.

Coiba offers much more. 21 endemic species of birds for the bird watchers, exciting trails through primary rain forest, encounters with the endemic coiba howler monkey, American crocodiles, the last refuge of Scarlet Macaws and Crested Eagles in Panama.

The immediate surroundings of the ANAM station are not very exciting. To get to the good trails and the good snorkeling spots, you need a boat. The trails are easy and not very long, a couple of trainers or sturdy sandals are good enough to get around, certainly in the dry season.

See and Do[edit]

Scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute have proclaimed Coiba an unparalleled destination for discovering new species. Rachel Collin, a Smithsonian project coordinator said, "It's hard to imagine, while snorkeling around a tropical island that's so close to the United States, that half the animals you see are unknown to science.” [4] Its unique location protects it from the damaging winds and other effects of El Niño, allowing it to sustain the uninterrupted evolution of new marine species including whale and tiger sharks, sperm whales, sea turtles, angel rays and giant schools of fish. It is also the last refuge for a number of threatened terrestrial animals such as the crested eagle and several sub-species of agouti, possum and howler monkey (including a Coiba Island Howler Monkey). The park is gaining a reputation for being what the Moon travel book calls a “Garden of Eden”; touting the second largest coral reef (Bahia Damas Reef) in the Pacific. The Veraguas province of Panama is well known for its great surf, with Santa Catalina on the mainland being the most famous of Panama's surf spots on the Pacific side. Coiba and the surrounding island have many epic surf breaks that you can find to yourself. Day trips are available form Santa Catalina in small boats but there is nothing like a surf charter on a yacht to stay near these remote breaks in your own floating hotel.

Eat and drink[edit]

There are no restaurants at Coiba National Marine Park. However there are numerous eating places at Santa Catalina while a few more higher end resorts operate around Boca Chica. From Boca Chica you can take a day trip with Panama Nautical Club who operates a Island resort 1.5 hrs from Coiba they provide quality boats and meals when booking a Coiba excursions. They also offer overnight boat trips to Coiba Island with a Chief on board.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

The only overnight facility available in the Coiba National Marine Park is at the ANAM ranger station on Isla Coiba [5]. The station has several modest 2 room cabins with air conditioning.

There are resorts and hotels close enough to make Coiba a day trip, like Cala Mia Island Resort, Gone Fishing[6] and Seagullcove [7], located near the fishing village of Boca Chica (considered to be the go-to place for fishing in the Gulf of Chiriqui) that offer comfortable bed and breakfast experiences in moderate price ranges. Luxury Island resorts in the area include Cala Mia Island Resort and Isla Palenque [8] and Playa Grande [9].
Another popular option is to go to the small village of Santa Catalina. Several diving and tour operators are happy to take you from Boca Chica, it is about 1.5 hours by boat and the top operator is Panama nautical Club.

Accommodation on Santa Catalina ranges from budget (for example, Blue Zone Surf Camp [10]: dorms start at USD 10) to mid-range (for example, Palmeras [11]: bungalows start at USD 28) and premium (for example, Cabanas Time Out [12]: bungalows start at USD 80).One option is from cebaco island. There is accommodation available.

  • Coiba Lost World Ecolodge, Cebaco Island (El Jobo), +507 67524516, [1]. *  edit

Get out[edit]

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