Santa Catalina, Panama – The Island of Coiba and SCUBA Diving

Posted on Posted in Central America, Panama, Travel Blogs

It has been a while since we have been in the water. After leaving Honduras for our way down to Panama City, we have been focused on getting jobs and not spending money on SCUBA diving. Well, since we are no longer going to be working in Central America and decided to go back to the USA and work, we have some extra money to spend and heard great things about Coiba Island and Santa Catalina, Panama,

 

 

Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba

Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba
Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba
Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba

Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba

Santa Catalina is the small surfing village and jumping off point for Coiba Island. There are a few SCUBA diving shops, some hostels, hotels and guesthouses, and not much else. It's a nice little town however with very little in the way of restaurants or amenities, however very peaceful, safe and beautiful.

Once getting to Santa Catalina, we priced out some of the SCUBA diving outlets. Scuba Coiba was closed for the season, Panama Dive Center seemed to be off-standish and it appeared they really didn't care to have our business, the third was Coiba Dive Center. We spoke with a guy there and got a good vibe and booked a 3 dive day the next day. We found a great place to stay in Santa Catalina just outside of the village which was a basic room, but right on the cliffs and an nice porch and great family running it.

 

 

On The Way Out To Dive

Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba
Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba
Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba

Diving Coiba Island

The next day we made it to Scuba Coiba to dive. Coiba National Park is a UNESCO declared "World Heritage Site". The Island was a penal colony for years and now is protected from deforestation and houses some rare plants only found there and wild scarlet MaCaws. The boat ride in our small panga style boat would be an 80 minute ride. The seas weren't rough, however they weren't glassy either. Coiba is known for it's whale sharks, manta rays, sperm whales and big animals underwater including hammerheads. We were really hoping to see something incredible underwater and were nervously excited to see what Coiba had in store for us. We had heard from a friend of ours who dove it a few years back that it was incredible! We made it to the first dive site and dropped in.

 

 

Eels and Barracuda

Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba
Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba
Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba

Large Schools and Eels Galore

The bottom near Coiba isn't coral reef, but rocky bottom boulders. The clarity wasn't as good as we had experienced in the Caribbean, however still 30-40 feet visibility. The water was much cooler however and the currents were stronger. We drifted around the rocky bottom spotting eels of every type. I don't think I have ever seen so many different types of morays and other species of eels on a dive. There were a lot of puffer fish species as well. We saw a school of hundreds of barracuda at around 30 feet (We were around 70) fly overhead, which made me poop a little in my shorts. It's a bit scary seeing so many barracuda in a huge group like this. I think I could handle one underwater, but hundreds really made you realize your place on the food chain underwater. It was incredible however! A visibility was getting worse as the dive went along and we got back into the boat we were a little disappointed. Nothing big at all besides the school of barracuda. Most everything else was interesting, and different than Roatan, but considering the lack of coral, not hugely impressive.

 

 

Sharks and Puffers

Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba
Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba
Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba

Dive 2 at Coiba

We got to the second dive and dropped in and saw much of the same thing, however worse visibility than the first place. We did see on this dive a few small white tipped sharks and were generally disappointed that the huge schools of Mobius rays, schools of larger fish that black out the sky, hammerheads, mantas, whales etc were nowhere to be seen. We understand that this is the way it is in diving. You can't guarantee you will see anything cool on a particular dive and as luck will have it, we didn't see much.

We went to the island for our surface interval and got our free lunch with the dive outfit on the beach and hung out decompressing from the previous two dives and realized we were done diving for the day. The prospect of going out on the third dive on a rocky bottom, seeing very little, and feeling cold, wasn't in our plans. We could also see some big storm clouds coming our way in the distance and really didn't want to spend the money for the next dive if we didn't have to. The divemaster however that took us out wasn't happy at all about it. She said we still had to pay for the dive even though we weren't going to go in. We argued for a while with her about it until she conceded. We sat on the boat after our break on the shore and watched as the other few divers went down.

 

 

A Storm in the distance

Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba

Bumpy Ride Home

As we sat on the boat, we could see the clouds darken and winds begin to pick up. We were hoping they would hurry up below the surface so we could head back to Santa Catalina before it got really stormy out. We were pretty far from the mainland and in a pretty small boat. The didn't. They had around a 50 minute dive, and by the time they surfaced, the clouds were in and windy. As we started back to Santa Catalina the rain began. MISERABLE!! It was like getting pelted in the face with little darts. Much like riding a motorcycle in the rain. Rain was coming down in buckets, the seas were rough and our 90 minute boat ride out to Coiba took us around 2.5-3 hours to get back. We ended up putting our mask on to keep the water from pelting our eye balls and trying to take as much shelter in the tiny boat with no roof. Overall not the best diving experience in Coiba, and in the end... it was darn right horrid.

 

 

Tidepools and Santa Catalina

Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba
Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba
Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba
Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba
Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba

Last Days in Santa Catalina

We stayed in Santa Catalina for another day to relax and hopefully get some sun in the warmth before heading north to Boquette where it will be much cooler and mountainous. It was pretty much overcast the entire day and we went to the tidal pools at low tide and searched around for little things in the small pools revealed.  We enjoyed Catalina and the small town feel in Panama.  After spending so much time in the big city, being withdrawn a little in a small surf town had a distinctly different feel we liked.  We wish the diving had been better and were expecting more, however we attribute that mostly to the weather and time of the year.  We are sure it was just the luck of the draw.  

 

 

Surf Kid in Catalina

Santa Catalina, The Island of Coiba

Change in Perspective

There is always something great to get out of spending time in an unfamiliar place.  Sure the diving wasn't spectacular, the town small and boring. Sure there was no meat to be found in the city and we had to drive 2 hours away to find some meat to cook. Sure the weather wasn't cooperating.  However, we found it to be one of our more memorable places.  Peace and quiet is at times just as needed as excitement and adventure and Santa Catalina, Panama certainly had it.  It's all about balance.  Our lives need a balance of all things, to truly appreciate it all.  

SCUBA Diving Video of Coiba

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