Coiba Tour FAQs • Frequently Asked

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1. What can be seen on and around Coiba?

Coiba is known for large numbers and varieties of fish species. You are likely to see schools of surgeon and 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 lobster and octopus. You may also see a large cubera snapper or 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 eagle rays. Out in the big blue ocean, there are roosterfish and spotted dolphins. Humpback whales visit Coiba waters from the beginning of August to the end of October. Encounters of turtles, rock lobsters, blue-fin jacks and moray eels are likely during most trips. Depending on the season, encounters with humpback whales, often females with calves, are encountered on three out of four trips. Our guide and captain will do his best to find them.

On land we often see Coiba endemic species of howler monkeys and agoutis (a kind of guinea pig on high legs). White-faced capuchin monkeys are also around. Many different kinds of birds can be observed. The scarlet macaw is one of the most striking, and is most often seen in the months of January to March. Further birds of interest are the endemic coiba spinetail, the lance-tailed manakin, the red-rumped woodpecker, bare-throated tiger heron and the king vulture. Offshore, brown & blue-footed boobies, terns, magnificent frigate birds and occasionally galapagos shearwaters can be found.

Granito de Oro, Coiba Island


2. Tour activities & schedules:

THIS IS BASED ON PRECOVID CAMPING TRIP, WHICH WE RESTART ONLY 6 DAYS PER MONTH IN 2023

After your arrival at Heliconia we’ll welcome you and assign your room (based on double occupancy). At 7pm a 3-course meal is being served for the group, and we’ll join you to answer all your (remaining) Coiba tour related questions.

Day 1
In the morning the Hotel departure is at 7am for the 10 minute drive to the harbor. We leave around 7.15 am for Coiba. Our boat will follow the northern shore of Cébaco Island, passes Santa Catalina and finally continues straight to Coiba. During the boat ride you might see dolphins, pelicans, frigate birds and terns.

Estimated arrival time on Coiba is around 10 am, depending on wind, tides and currents. After arrival, time is provided to settle into the camp before heading out for the first snorkel excursion at Islas Cocos. The islet is famous for schools of reef fish and jacks. Walking the Sendero Dos Monos trail is done with higher tides, looking for monkeys and forest birds. The trail leads through primary forest. Time allowing we might visit a few rocky islets looking for seabirds. Back at the campsite there is time to enjoy the beach and chill out in a hammock.

Day 2
Exploration of two different reefs in the morning. At Isla Machete snappers, white-tip reef-sharks (harmless), large schools of fish, as well as small rays can often be seen. Granito de Oro is still a no go zone, but Tortuga is also famous for its abundance of hawksbill and green sea turtles and schools of fish. With luck, you might see an octopus. In the afternoon we look for the American crocodile and possibly a trip into the mangroves, were you might see all sorts of water birds. We do another walk, the Los Pozos trail or the La Cruz, which leads through secondary vegetation forest edges, and some primary forest. Los Pozos trail is a good place to see the endemic Coiba spinetail. We will be back at our campsite late in the afternoon.

Day 3
After a leisurely breakfast it is time to pack up our gear, load the boat and cross back to Hotel Heliconia where we return around noon. A light lunch and a shower will be waiting for you before we say Goodbye.

 

3. What is included in the price/tour package?

  • Dinner and accommodation at Hotel Heliconia on the arrival day
  • Food, drinks and snacks
  • Entry fees and accommodation on Coiba
  • Snorkeling equipment, Use of Tents, Mattrasses and Sheets, Towels
  • An experienced multilingual biologist as your guide
  • Captain, boat, fuel, mate
  • Transport from the hotel to the port and back
  • In case of the overnight trip on Bahia Honda, the costs of the hostal are also included.


4.
I have special food requirements; can I come on the tour?

Yes of course you can! Just make sure to let us know 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, fruit and whatever else you might not be able to eat. We make sure you do not go hungry and try our best to accommodate you!


5.
Is the water in hotel Heliconia and on Coiba safe to drink?

Yes, you can drink straight from the tap without any problem. Only in the Darien and on Bocas del Toro do you have to be careful with tap water. We do take drinking water from Heliconia with us.


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 useful as well. (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
  • If you use prescription glasses consider bringing contact lenses for snorkel days or your own mask with prescription glasses. An other option would be spare glasses from which we can temporally remove the arms. Also if you use strong reading glasses (+2.5 and up)
  • For children some smaller masks are available, but you may want to buy one at home for practice

7. What about my valuables?

All your valuables can be left behind at the hotel. There is nothing to spend money on in Coiba and there is no internet or WIFI on the island, nor on the Bahia Honda island.


8.
 What are the accommodations on Coiba like?

In Bahia Honda we rent you rooms with air conditioning in a fisherman’s village.

Temporary camps will be allowed again as of this dry season and we will set up our camp 6 nights per month on Coiba itself.

It will be our usual comfortable tent camp. Tents measure 4.5 m (15 ft) in diameter, made of canvas and have fine mesh netting to keep mosquitoes out. Each tent has two semi-orthopedic mattress and a pillow. If you bring a child we can add an air mattress in the same tent.  Sheets and a towels are provided. The camp site is equipped with comfortable folding chairs and tables for dining and a few hammocks to relax. Bathroom facilities are limited.


9.
What kind of boat do you use?

We use a 24ft (8m) fiberglass open boat powered by a 90hp or 115hp four-stroke outboard motor. The boat is equipped with life vests, radio, GPS and a shade awning. There are cushions on the benches.

10.  Is the ocean 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, in the morning the ocean is relatively calm. Some guests have taken pills partly because they were nervous about it. The water is generally roughest when the winds picks up – in the afternoon of February, March and April. The ocean is generally calm during rainy periods. Keep in mind that rain showers increase water spray.


11. 
How do we get to your place by car?

We are 65 km south of the Pan American Highway. Driving directions to Hotel Heliconia, 5 km before Santiago when coming from Panama city. After 4 km towards La Atalaya, just after the small fuel station and a mini-super, you turn right on the newly paved 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 Hotel Heliconia by bus?

Yes, you can. Buses are a safe option in Panama. From Panama City take a bus at Albrook Bus Terminal to Santiago, Veraguas. This is also the end of the Metro Subway System. Buses leave every half an hour and take about 4 hours total. Tickets are only $9.10. The last stop is the Santiago Terminal in Calle 10a. There at stand 26, near the ladies toilet you can find mini-buses to Mariato/Torio. They leave about every hour, but also when they are full. The last one officially leaves Santiago at 5.30pm, but is often full around 5, so make sure to be on time! The mini-buses takes roughly 90 minutes and costs $4 pp. 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?

Hotel Heliconia is nowhere near Santa Catalina! We are located in Palmilla, about 8 km south of Mariato on the west coast of the Azuero peninsula. We have picked up people in Santa Catalina, but you will pay the full package price in advance. You will miss the dinner and night with the preparation talk. And baby turtles in the right season. However, with pleasure we drop you off in Santa Catalina on the way back from our Coiba trip, if that suits your travel plans. For folks going to Boquete next, there used to be a Hello Travel shuttle bus leaving from Santa Catalina around noon.


14. 
Can you do day trips?

We have learned that we can. It is a long day! And you do need to come and stay with us in Mariato. We give you breakfast at 5h30 am! We snorkel 2 or 3 sites (depending on the tides) and one walk. However if you want a cheap day trip you better check with (dive)operators in Santa Catalina.

Our overnight trips will enable you to see so much more, for relatively little extra money (compared to our day trip)! During 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 morning, going early, and leaving Coiba around 1:30am – 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 us 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 might be possible (we did mention we can work wonders ;)), but again, in the high season all tours might be full and if we have an unfilled tour you might be the only ones and need to pay the higher rate.

It is best to book as early as possible! Especially during holidays, like Christmas and European summer vacations. And note in departure dates that we schedule our tours around the best tides. There is 18 feet or over 5 meters difference between low and high tide in the pacific ocean, whereas the Caribbean has only 1 feet or 30 centimeters difference.


16. 
Do you offer diving?

No. For diving you can approach a dive outfit in Santa Catalina (there are several). Diving is very different from snorkeling and the two are difficult to combine in one trip. We are not equipped for diving. We snorkel and the advantage is that because we can stay so long in the water and snorkel at least 4 different reefs in an overnight trip, 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. We require children to snorkel/swim with a life vest. We also make sure that one of our assistants remains with the child at all times. That way adults do not need to worry about their children. The assistant will help the child by becoming a friendly “seahorse” and swim along with the young ones. However, with children under 4 things are more difficult, and we expect parents taking turns to supervise them. You are encouraged to bring snorkels for the children since we mostly have ‘adult size’ snorkels available (small, medium and large). 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”.

Do note that children on a coiba trip do NOT go for less money. It is an added responsibility and rather more complicated. Often, children play part of the snorkel time on the beach. With hermit crabs or finding treasures. Some are initially scared but soon enjoy. But if the child is not ok with strangers this means the parent needs to be on the beach too. This may make a family trip to Coiba with very young children a rather expensive beach tour.

We do not have a really off season ( but we close in May, June and at the end of September, October and first bit of November there is more rain and we prefer not to go), but if you are a family with more than one small child we recommend that you get in touch with us and we’ll try to put together a custom tour 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. The internet is not trusted by our Panama bank and we have no phone network. So no credit card payments. Furthermore, we have to make a lot of cash payments to facilitate the tours, so we need quite a bit of cash on hand. We have no problem with big bills ($50 or $100), but please bring new notes.

We do accept a deposit online and that is question 19.


19. 
Why, how and where do I pay a deposit and can I get it back if I have to cancel?

We ask for a 50% deposit per person. If you need to cancel more than 31 days before your arrival, we will return 90% of your deposit. If you cancel between 30 and 15 days before departure, we will refund 50% of this deposit. If you cancel later, we cannot issue any refund of the 50% deposit. Since you bring 50% upon arrival in cash, if you do not come, you have that bit, and we the other bit to compensate for the lost expenses.

Further deposit related questions can be answered in more detail in our email conversations, after you have committed to the specific tour dates.

Following payment options:

European Nationals can pay the equivalent always in USD of 50% with an international transfer to our bank in Panama. If this gets difficult we may provide a Dutch bank account. Whatever you do, never mention the word COIBA to a bank. It makes the alarm bells go off because it resembles cohiba and cuba…

Residents of Panama can pay the deposit into our Santiago BAC CREDOMATIC DE PANAMA account or into our savings account from BANCO GENERAL.

Visitors from North and South America and other parts of the world can deposit US dollars into our PayPal account. However, we do need to charge 5% extra to cover our PayPal cost, so we ask a lower deposit of 30% per person. If you reside in the US or Canada you do not need a PayPal account to make a deposit into our PayPal account. Most banks in North America have electronic checks with which you can deposit money into PayPal accounts, or you can pay via PayPal website . We can also accept payments through Western Union.

Our bank and PayPal account details will be provided once you book with us. Thank you!

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