Diving in Coiba Panama

By Wayne Halladay

Wayne Halladay is an advanced diver with underwater experience in Australia, the Caribbean, and Canada. He and his wife, Lise, operate Hair & Nails Head 2 Toe from their home in Coronado, specializing in men’s and women’s hair cuts and color, manicures, pedicures, and waxing.

We took a dive trip to the Island of Coiba, a former prison to hundreds of wayward souls.  Now closed, it has since become National Marine Park. This is truly a magical place, home to many birds unique to Coiba, monkeys, iguanas, and Tito–a giant crocodile who sometimes visits the ranger station where there are several cabins available to stay in.

We traveled with friends on a four-hour drive to Santa Catalina in Veraguas province. We stayed at the oldest resort owned by Luis Silva who also established the first dive shop–now Coiba Dive Center. I’m an experienced diver, having 200 logged dives in Australia, many places in the Caribbean, Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence River.

panama usa europe real estate diving coiba
panama usa europe real estate diving coiba

These are not to be compared to the waters around Coiba. Coral is minimal and not as colorful , the visability is poorer due to the amount of nutrients that comes from the upwelling Hannibal Bank currents, thousands of feet down off Panama’s coast–and that’s what attracts the whales and whale sharks, mobula rays, dolphins, yellow fin tuna and many other species of fish.

Panama means “Plenty Of Fish” and we saw plenty, but not what I was hoping to see, the illusive Whale Shark. In three days and six dives there were lots of white tip sharks, different types of rays, frog fish, stone fish, barracuda bonito, and so many other schools of fish. It was one of my best dive adventures ever. Diving here is challenging due to strong currents that at times had me as well as my dive master pulling ourselves along the bottom hand over hand (not easy with a camera). Thermoclines also are common and would suddenly drop the temperature to where I was wishing I had a 5ml wet suit.

The ride to the island is at least one-and-a-half hours and can be rough, but worth it. Santa Catalina is also known for its surf as people come from around the world. Recently, an international surfing competition brought hundreds of surfers and spectators to Santa Catalina, putting Panama on the world stage once again. Coiba is not just for divers, but snorkelers and hikers, as well. Santa Catalina has three dive shops that offer three-day overnight trips to Coiba, including accommodation, food, beer, wine with meals, dive gear, and nine dives for around $650 plus tax.  Just search “Coiba diving” and check out the various accommodation and dive shops.

My wife and I have been in Panama for about a year and a half. We decided to come here after getting married at the Royal Decameron Resort in 2009.  It was then that our plan to retire at age 65 was born, but we couldn’t wait: two years passed, and we decided we should do it while we were still young and energetic. This was a dream that has, at times, been challenging for many reasons, but Panama is not the same as back home and sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we came for a change and we must adapt. That said, we have adapted and are not leaving–we love it here, and the diving is only one of many reasons.

panama usa europe real estate diving coiba

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