1. What can we see on Coiba?
Coiba has a huge number of fish species and they are present in large numbers. You are likely to see schools of surgeon fish, parrot fish, chromis, panamic sergeant majors, blue-lined snappers and more. The reefs are inhabited by king angelfish, black-nosed and three-striped butterfly fish, rock-mover wrasses, blennies, hawk fish, moray eels, rock lobsters and octopus. You may also see a large cubera snapper or a white-tipped reef shark (harmless to humans), hawksbill turtles and olive ridley turtles. The reefs are visited by jacks, chubs, black-tail barracudas (harmless), and sometimes by eagle rays. Out in the big blue ocean, there are wahoos, tuna, roosterfish and spotted dolphins. Humpback whales visit Coiba waters from the beginning of August to the end of October. To give you an indication of our success rate: we see turtles, rock lobsters, blue-fin jacks and moray eels on 24 out of 25 trips. During the season, we see humpback whales, often females with calves, on three out of four trips. Our guide and captain do their best to help you find them.
On land we often see the Coiba endemic species of howler monkey and agouti (a kind of guinea pig on high legs). White-faced capuchin monkeys are also around. And then there are of course many birds… The scarlet macaw is one of the most striking but is only relatively often seen in the months January to March. Other interesting birds are the endemic coiba spinetail, the lance-tailed manakin, the red-rumped woodpecker, bare-throated tiger heron and the king vulture. Out at sea, you can see brown and blue-footed boobies, terns, magnificent frigate birds and occasionally galapagos shearwaters.
2. How does the tour program work?
We welcome you in the afternoon of day 0 in Hotel Heliconia where you get a room (based on double occupancy). At 7 pm we serve a 3-course meal for the group and join you for this dinner to answer all your (remaining) questions with regard to Coiba.
On day 1 we serve you breakfast around 7 am and we like you to make sandwiches for yourself. Around 7:45 am we like to get everyone in our car to go to the small port in Palo Seco to leave around 8 or 8:15 pm. It takes about 2.5 hours to get to Coiba, depending on wind, tides and how often we stop to look at dolphins, turtles or seabirds. Upon arrival at Coiba ANAM station we register and get a cabin assigned. The group shares the cabin. We unpack the boat and as soon as possible go back in the boat to go to our first snorkel site. (This is why we take the sandwiches – so we maximize our snorkel time). If the first site is Granito de Oro, there is a pristine white beach and even first time snorkelers can easily get used to the mask and breathing. Our guide will be there to assist you and make sure you have a good time. After exploring the reefs around Granito de Oro, we go to a forest trail to look for monkey and birds. Sometimes we walk the trail first and snorkel later, this depends on the tides. Around 5 pm we go back to the ANAM camp where you can enjoy yourself until we serve dinner.
On day 2 we serve breakfast around 7 am. Around 8 am we leave. If the tide is low or outgoing, we go snorkeling at Isla machete and Rancheria Reef. After lunch we go south to explore the mangroves and the Pozos trail. If the tide is high or coming in, we go south first and snorkel after lunch. Around 5 pm again we return to the camp and the guide will cook you a dinner.
On day 3 we have breakfast around 6.45 am. We pack and take everything on the boat and leave around 7:45 am. We make a stop at Isla de los Cocos for one more snorkel trip and then head back to the mainland. We reach Palo Seco around noon and take you back to the hotel where you can shower and have a light lunch before you go on your way.
3. What is included in the price/package?
- Dinner, one welcome drink and accommodation at Hotel Heliconia on the arrival day
- All food, drinks and snacks while en route to and on Coiba
- Entry fees and accommodation on Coiba
- Use of snorkeling equipment
- An experienced multilingual biologist as your guide
- Captain, boat, fuel, mate
- Transport from the hotel to the port and back
4. I have special food requirements; can I come on the tour?
Yes of course you can! Just make sure that you tell us at least 3 days in advance what you can and cannot eat. We especially need to know about eggs, fish, shrimp, gluten, nuts, meat, lactose deficiency, lactose intolerance, fruits and whatever else you happen to not be able to eat. We take it into account and make sure you do not go hungry! We cook generally with fresh produce.
5. Is the water in your hotel and on Coiba safe?
Yes, you can drink it straight from the tap without any problem. Only in the Darien and on Bocas do you have to be careful with tap water.
6. What do I need to bring?
The following items are useful on Coiba:
- Sandals with profile (Teva, Keen or similar) are ideal for this trip. A combination of flip-flops and light walking shoes are also good. (flip-flops are easily lost in the water)
- A rash guard shirt and shorts (or sports leggings) for snorkeling.
- Waterproof and preferably reef-safe sun block (SPF 50)
- Insect repellent
- Flashlight or headlamp
- Shorts and a shirt for walks
- Light long-sleeved shirt and pants for evenings
- Basic toiletries (toothbrush etc.)
- Your personal (water) bottle to refill (we can provide a few if needed)
- If you want to charge cameras etc., bring a portable charger
- A waterproof bag for your valuables, camera, electronics is useful
- If you have prescription glasses try to bring contact lenses for 2 snorkel days or bring your own mask with prescription glasses
- For children we have some smaller masks but you may want to buy one at home so they can practice
7. What about my valuables?
All your valuables can be left behind in the hotel. There is nothing to spend money on in Coiba and there is no internet or WIFI on the island.
8. What are the accommodations on Coiba like?
The accommodation is simple. The beds are good, ANAM provides sheets and pillows. There is power from 6 pm to 11:30 pm. Air conditioning is usually functioning. All participants of the group sleep in a dormitory style room with 6 – 8 beds. You will not have to share with another tour group. The room has one en suite bathroom with cold water only. There are extra toilet/shower blocks which you can use too. We will bring towels for you.
9. What kind of boat do you use?
We use a 24 ft (8m) fiberglass boat with a 70 hp four-stroke outboard engine. We have life vests, radio and a GPS on board. The boat has a shade cover as well.
10. Are the seas rough? Do I need sea-sickness pills?
So far we have not had people hanging over the sides of the boat, so we assume it is not so bad. Furthermore, we mostly travel in the morning when the seas are relatively calm. Around Coiba the sea is generally calm. Some guests have taken pills partly because they were nervous about it. The seas are generally roughest when the wind picks up – in the afternoon of February and March and April. The seas are generally not rough when it just rains but a small bit of wind during a rain shower might get the splatter increased.
11. How do we get to your place by car?
We are 65 km south of the Interamericana and you turn south in La Atalaya, 5 km before Santiago. After 4 km in La Atalaya, just after the small fuel station and a mini-super, you turn right on the road to Mariato and Torio. There is one more Y-junction where you keep to the right. After the National Bank in Mariato it is 8 more kilometers South. We are on the right hand side of the road. More general details for the whole Mariato area can be found HERE.
12. Can we get to your place by bus?
Yes. Buses are a good option in Panama. From Panama you take a bus in Albrook bus terminal to Santiago. They leave every half hour and take about 4 hours. It costs $9.10
The last stop of these buses is the Santiago Terminal in Calle 10a. There at stand 26, near the ladies toilet, are mini-buses to Mariato/Torio. They leave about every hour, but also leave when they are full. The last one officially leaves at 5h30 pm but is often full around 5 so be on time for that one! This part of the trip takes about 1 ½ hour and the costs are $4. Ask the bus driver to drop you at Hotel Heliconia. When you return, the bus will also pick you up right in front of our hotel.
13. Where are you located in Santa Catalina?
We are not. We are located in Palmilla, about 8 km south of Mariato on the west coast of the Azuero peninsula. To get to us, see above, under 7 and 8. We do not pick people up in Santa Catalina, but, we can drop you in Santa Catalina on the way back from our Coiba trip if that suits your travel plans.
14. Do you do day trips?
No. Going and returning to Coiba in the same day is not a viable option from where we are. There are day trips from Santa Catalina where they take you snorkeling in one site.
We prefer overnight trips because you will see so much more, for relatively little extra money! Also in the rainy season there may be thunderstorms in the afternoon that are no fun when you are on open water, and in the dry season the wind always picks up in the afternoon. So by staying overnight we travel in the mornings, going early, and leaving Coiba around 9:30 am – always safe and much more comfortable.
15. We are currently in Panama and would like to go to Coiba this week/tomorrow. Can you tell us if this works?
Sorry, but tomorrow is usually impossible. It takes a day or two to prepare for a tour and although we can work wonders, miracles are still beyond our means. We can only take you tomorrow if there happens to be a tour leaving tomorrow (unlikely in the low season) that also happens to have 1 or 2 open places (unlikely in the high season).
This week may be possible (we did mention we can work wonders ;)), but again, in the high season whatever tour may be there may be full and if we have no tour yet you may be the only ones on that tour and thus pay the higher rate.
Best is to book as early as possible! Especially on universal holidays, like Christmas and the European summer.
16. Do you offer diving?
No. For diving you will have to approach a dive outfit in Santa Catalina (there are three). Diving is very different from snorkeling and the two are difficult to combine in one trip. We also are not equipped for diving. We snorkel and the advantage is that because we stay so long in the water and snorkel at least 4 different reefs that you will see a lot of fish and turtles without getting saturated with nitrogen.
17. Is it safe for children?
Yes. We have taken families with children as young as 5 year old. We oblige children to snorkel/swim with a life vest, but we also make sure that one of our assistants stays with the child all time. That way the adults do not need to worry. The assistant shall help the child by becoming a very kind ‘sea-horse’ and so they swim along with the group. Children under 4 are maybe more difficult, but we would expect the parents to take turns to be with them also. It may be needed to bring snorkels for the children as we only have ‘normal’ snorkels available (small medium and large sizes for adults). Some small children do not actually snorkel but use goggles for swimming and just look down once and a while, holding on to the our assistant seahorse.
Often, children play part of the snorkel time on the beach with the many hermite crabs or just finding treasure. Some are initially scared but soon find themselves enjoying everything.
Especially in the off season (April – June and October – November), we recommend that if you are a family with more than one small child, get in touch with us and we’ll try to make a special offer for your family alone.
18. Can I pay with Debit/Credit Card? Can I pay the whole amount as a bank transfer?
Unfortunately you cannot. Internet is too weak and irregular to allow credit card payments. Furthermore, we have to make a lot of cash payments, so we need quite a bit of cash on hand as well. We have no problem with big bills ($ 50 or $ 100), but please bring the new notes.
19. Why, how and where do I pay a deposit and can I get it back if I have to cancel?
We ask a deposit of $125 per person. We need this money to pay for food and fuel etc. If you have to cancel more than 21 days before your arrival, we will return 90% of your deposit. If you have to cancel between 20 and 10 days before departure, we will refund 50%. If you have to cancel later, we cannot refund you.
The where bit of the deposit question will be answered in more detail in our email conversation after you have fixed with us the dates for your tour. Below the options:
People from Europe can pay the equivalent of US$125 in Euros (we use the Interbank rate published at www.oanda.com ) into our Dutch ABN AMRO account.
Residents of Panama can pay the deposit into our Santiago BAC CREDOMATIC DE PANAMA account (which can often be done online).
People from North and South America and other parts of the world can deposit in dollars on our PayPal account. However, we have to charge 5% extra to cover the PayPal cost, so you have to deposit $130 per person. When you live in North America, you do not have to have a PayPal account to deposit in our PayPal account. Most banks in North America nowadays have electronic checks with which you can deposit money into PayPal accounts. If you are familiar with Western Union, we can also accept that, since we will go to Santiago anyway for shopping, we can pick up the money there…
Details about bank and PayPal accounts are provided when you book with us.