Santa Catalina & Coiba N.P.: breath taking beaches and marine wildlife in Panama

(April 2017)

At last we are leaving Panama City for a few days ready to get to know a bit more of this country. First stop: Santa Catalina!!

So we rented a car and get on with it, 5 hours later we arrived to our destination. Santa Catalina is in Veraguas province, in the Pacific coast; we stayed in Rolo Cabins and we organised our trip for the next day with them.

Coiba National Park: snorkel

Just in front of Santa Catalina is Coiba N.P., which was declared World Heritage by UNESCO in 2005. A prison used by the government (used as concentration camp to political prisoners during the dictatorships of Omar Torrijos and Manuel Noriega) was destroyed a year before this declaration. This National Park contains 38 islands and takes its name after the biggest of those islands with 493 square kilometres.

Our day plan was easy, see the National Park and snorkel our way. At 7:30 we were ready and at 8 we started our route from Santa Catalina’s beach. Almost two hours later we stopped in an islet called Granito de Oro (Gold Granite) and that is how we started our contact with the marine life: tortoises, white tip shark reef or puffer fish delighted us. First stop was incredible. We also stopped at Coconut Island, Coiba and Ranchería. There is an option to stay the night in Coiba and explore it a bit more (we couldn’t) but it was more expensive and you need to plan ahead as there is not much accommodation, we still enjoyed the view point, we learnt that Tito (a 3-4 metres long crocodile) camps around and got interested in the visitors centre where we gather more information and were able to see whale, sword fish or turtle bones amongst others. Near Rancheria we relaxed, we laid down and take a relaxing swim and that is how we finished the day (well, after two hours to get back to Santa Catalina). Our first day was a complete success; and it didn’t end there: we had a delicious home made Italian ice cream at La Moncheria and dine a delicious Italian pizza (you’ll see, this is a real Italian colony) at Jammin.

santa catalina 6

Coiba National Park: diving

Our second day was as exciting as the first, back to Coiba N.P. this time to dive with Expedición Coiba. Great people from the beginning and very profesional. We had 3 dives ahead and our goal was to enjoy as much as possible and if having the chance get to see the whale shark. That was not possible, but the dives were unbelievable, diving with white tip reef sharks a meter away from us, turtles, a giant grouper and an uncountable number of fish. We’ll have to go back again until we see our precious whale shark.

El Estero beach

Estero beach a few minutes away from down town Santa Catalina is just perfect: wide, clean and with cool water. Hard to believe but it wasn’t packed with tourists, only a dozen tourist for 1.5 kilometre beach. When we arrived there was low tide but there were a few waves for the surfers, the rest were enjoying those waves carefully, we protected ourselves from the sun as we could and got into the water to freshen up every few minutes. Nothing could ruin the day, and nothing did. We finished our night at Pingüino Cafe (another Italian restaurant) where we ate fresh fish and lobster linguini (you shouldn’t miss that!).

So, are you coming next time?

Find out more about Panama here.

Costs:

Car rental: $25 per day

Cabin for 5: $15 per person/per day (stayed 3 nights)

Snorkel tour: $50 per person + $20 Park fee

Food price (approximately): $15-16 per person

Diving: $150 for 3 dives +$20 Park fee

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