coiba marine park santa catalina veraguas panama
Situated in the Gulf of Chiriqui and recognized since 2005 as a World Heritage Site, Coiba National Marine Park encompasses 430,825 acres. Once a penal colony, the park is currently managed by the National Authority for the Environment (ANAM) and offers visitors an opportunity to appreciate its pristine natural resources. White sand beaches, lush verdant forests, prolific wildlife, and world-class diving are just some of the many things you will enjoy while visiting Coiba National Park.
The Park’s headquarter resides on the westernmost portion of Coiba Island and faces north. All visitors must obtain a permit, which costs $20.00 per person/day. The ranger station comprises a small beach, visitors/information center, kitchen, and bathrooms.
You can contact ANAM at (507) 998-4387 or call the National Park office at (507) 998-4271.
Coiba Island, the largest of the 38 islands, is located approximately 30 miles off the Panamanian coast. The closest access point to Coiba National Park is Santa Catalina, 1-1.5 hours away by boat. Along the main road to Estero Beach, numerous tour operators offer snorkeling and dive trips to the nearby islands. Tours typically depart no later than 8:30 - 9:00 a.m. and return between 4:30 - 5:00 p.m. You can consult with the operators if you do not have a pre-booked excursion. Bird-watching and fishing tours are also available.
Your tour boat will likely consist of snorkelers and divers. Snorkelers are unloaded first at select locations — small, outer islands — before divers conduct their dives; divers are retrieved later in the afternoon. Dive trips to Coiba National Park consist of 2-3 tank dives. There are no night dives.
The trip to and from Coiba Island can be rough, depending on the weather and sea conditions. Tour boats hug the coastline for as long as possible to reduce exposure to inclement weather. Life vests are provided and required throughout your trip.
From the Albrook Bus Terminal in Panama City, there are no direct buses to Santa Catalina. You have two options. You can take a mini-bus to Soná, which departs several times throughout the day and stops briefly in Santiago; the trip takes approximately 4.5-5 hours. Alternatively, you can take a direct bus to Santiago, which takes about 3.5 hours; the buses servicing Santiago are larger and more comfortable. From Santiago, you will need to take a mini-bus to Soná.
From Soná, you will need to take another mini-bus to Santa Catalina, which departs 2-3 times daily and takes an additional 1.5 hours.
If you are driving to Santa Catalina, take the Panamerican Highway until you reach Santiago — turn left at the Shell station (Ave. Central.) Continue along this road for approximately 2 miles, passing a church on the left-hand side. At the second crossroad, turn right, and continue until you reach the Shell station. Here, turn left, and follow the sign to Santa Catalina. Upon arriving in El Tigre de Los Amarillos, turn left and follow the sign for Santa Catalina, Lagartero. Continue along this road until you reach an intersection, turn right, and follow this road until you reach the town of Santa Catalina. The trip from Panama City to Santa Catalina takes approximately 6-7 hours.