Visit Coiba – The hidden paradise of Panama

Surrounded by the second largest coral reef in the Pacific Ocean, Coiba attracts hundreds of visitors to the south of the province of Veraguas and the height of the districts of Monjito and Soná. Separated of the continent by 52 km of water; Coiba, invites adventurers to submerge into paradise surrounded by beautiful landscapes and exotic creatures. Although back in 1919 till 2004, part of these lands was used as a prison.

Back then there was a detention center of criminals and a concentration camp of rebels during time of the dictatorship, which came to house up to 22 camps with 30 to 40 inmates were fleeing was the only desire even if this freedom could lead to death. Today, this mythical place is one of the richest ecosystems on the planet and considered one of the country’s main ecological destinations.

Fauna and Flora

The old prison was refuge of multiple species of fauna and flora in danger of extinction: Birds like the Gallinazo King, the Red Macaw, the Amazon Frentirroja and the Amazon Harios; Sea turtles such as the Canal, Carey turtles, Olivacea and the Caguama; Whales like the Boreal, the Bryde, and the Jorobada; Some trees like “garlic”, “Nazarene”, “sativa” and “Pinotea”; They coexist with the species and subspecies of plants and endemic animals of the place like a ñeque, a howler monkey, a deer, a coral snake, a honey bee and a water worm, among others. In addition, migrations of 33 species of sharks, 19 cetaceans and 40 birds have room in this magical place, declared in the 2005 Coiba National Park and Natural World Heritage of UNESCO.

Touring the island

Coiba and 38 surrounding islands: Jicarón, Jicarita, Canal de Afuera, Afuerita, Pájaros, Uva, Brincanco, Coibita, Granito de Oro and others add 270.125 hectares of lands, whose currents are part of the East Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor, which links four other national parks in the continent, now protected by the environmental authorities. For $5 you can enter the visitor center which is open to adventurers interested in touring this space that mimics geography and history. Clear sand and clear waters welcome tourists as well as a small museum that shows the history and importance of the island for the ecosystem. Hot springs and natural trails promise an exciting stay.

From a scenery viewpoint, you can check one of the stops: The Island Granite of Gold, 4 km away, this small white sand paradise amidst a crystalline ocean and coral reefs ideal for snorkeling. Here you can see corals, hedgehogs, fish of all colors, turtles, and small sharks. And hundreds of small hermit crabs fighting for crumbs in the beach.

At 10 kilometers of the Gold Granite there’s a completely different view worthy of visiting, the ruins of the Old prison, where you can find the remains of the cells, a small hospital, church, and a map with the location of the 22 camps, some weapons confiscated from the former prisoners and a dilapidated house that was once used by the Dictator Noriega, as an indelible reminder of history in Panama. There is a cemetery called El Marañón, where a plaque of the institutional commission of truth and several unnamed crosses constitute the only memory of those who disappeared in Coiba.

Lodging and food

-The visitor center has comfortable cabins with beds, bathrooms, and air conditioning, newly refurbished, which costs 15 dollars per person per night, and you must book in advance with ANAM (National Environmental Authority) – it is the only place where you can sleep, as it is not allowed to camp. There are also no places to eat, you must bring your own food or hire an agency that includes food.

-You can spend the night in Santa Catalina and take an expedition on the day to the park. In Santa Catalina, there are places to camp for $5 dollars and cabins that cost from $10 to $80 per night.

– There are 3-day tours organized by tourist agencies that include: transfer by bus, boat, stay in the cabins of ANAM in Coiba, Food and guide for $250 per person.

How to get there

To reach Coiba There are three routes: 1) by boat from Puerto Mutis 2) by boat from Santa Catalina 3) by plane (after authorization of the ANAM). Santa Catalina is the most recommended because it is the closest. There are several tour operators authorized by the ANAM with daily excursions (with appointment). There is also village that attracts surfers from all over the world.

The Santa Catalina-Coiba expeditions cost between $50 and $55 dollars per person, but only if you got a large group to go. One option is to organize a large group and contact a boat with capacity of 10 people that costs about $300 per day. It is worth mentioning that the prices of the excursions vary according to the price of the fuel.

To get to Santa Catalina you can go by car or bus. By car you can take the Pan-American route to Santiago de Veraguas and then the road to Soná, following the signs. You can also take a bus to Soná from the Albrook terminal and then another bus to Santa Catalina.