National Parks & Reserves
Coiba National Marine Park
Situated in the Gulf of Chiriqui and comprised of 38 islands, Coiba National Marine Park covers 430,825 acres and was identified by UNESCO in 2005 as a World Heritage Site. 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 forest, prolific wildlife, and world class diving are just some of the many things you’ll enjoy during your visit to Coiba National Park. Coiba Island, the largest of the 38 islands, is located approximately 30 miles off the Panamanian coast and is home to the park’s headquarters, which is situated on the westernmost portion of the island - facing north. All visitors to the marine park are required to obtain a permit, which costs $20.00 per person/per day. The ranger station consists of a small beach, visitors/information center, kitchen, bathrooms, and cabins.
The island has one trail, the “Monkey Trail”, which begins to the right of the visitors center and leads to the top of the nearby hill. The trail itself is rather steep, but well maintained and easy to follow. (Note: about 3-5 minutes walk from the visitor center you’ll reach an intersection, there is a large water holding tank off to the right side. Turn right here, do not continue straight) The remaining portion of your hike should take between 15-25 minutes, depending on your physical condition. Upon reaching the hilltop, the trail levels off and you’ll find two different lookout areas, each offering spectacular views of the neighboring islands. The first, just off to the right side of the trail, offers stunning views of the ranger station and beach below, in addition to nearby islands. The latter, which is just a short distance further, offers terrific views of distant islands and the Pacific Ocean. And yes, there are monkeys on this trail!
Overnight accommodation on Coiba Island can be coordinated by consulting directly with ANAM in Santiago at (507) 998-0615. If you are traveling alone or in a small group you might be able to arrange your accommodation upon arrival, providing ample space is available. If you are traveling in a large group we recommend you contact the main office in Santiago beforehand.
The facilities on the island include a kitchen, however, you are required to bring your own food and beverages. There is a $20.00 fee/per person for each night spent on the island, this in addition to the $20.00 park entrance fee all visitors pay. Some local hotels and tour operators schedule overnight trips to Coiba Island, including all food, lodging and transportation, so you might want to consult with them as well.
For more information about Coiba Marine Park, we recommend you visit their website, http://www.coibanationalpark.com/.
Visiting Coiba National Park
The closest access point to Coiba National Park is Santa Catalina, which is about 1 - 1.5 hours away by boat. Along the main road that leads to Estero Beach there are several tour operators that offer snorkeling and dive trips to Coiba National Park. As well, bird watching and fishing tours can also be arranged. It is from Estero Beach that all of the dive/snorkel tour boats depart, normally no later than 8:30/9:00 a.m. Tours normally return to Santa Catalina between 4:30 - 5:00 p.m. If you don’t have a pre-booked tour, you can just walk around and consult with the different businesses to see what they’re offering. Some tour operators offer lunch, others don’t, so make sure you know what you’re getting before hand.
In all likelihood, your boat will consist of both snorkelers and divers, in which case the snorkelers will be dropped off at select locations (small, outer islands) while the divers complete their dives. Diving trips to Coiba National Park normally consist of 2 or 3 day dives; there are no night dives offered by land based operators).
The trip to and from Coiba Island can be a rough one, everything depends on the weather and sea conditions. The tour boats try to hug the coastline as long as possible, this helps protect them from unfavorable sea conditions. Life vests are always provided.