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.
2. Tour activities & schedules:
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.
In the morning the Hotel departure is at 8am for the 10 minute drive to the harbor. We leave around 8.20am 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 11am, depending on 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 the next item on the agenda, 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.
Exploration of two different reefs in the morning. At Isla Machete snappers, white-tip reef-sharks (harmless), as well as small rays can often be seen. Granito de Oro is famous for its abundance of hawksbill sea turtles and large schools of fish. With luck, you might see an octopus. In the afternoon a trip into the mangroves is on the agenda, were you might see all sorts of water birds and perhaps an American crocodile. Next we’ll walk the Los Pozos trail, which leads through secondary vegetation forest edges, some primary forest, and also hot springs. This is a good place to see monkeys and the endemic Coiba spinetail. We will be back at our campsite late in the afternoon.
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
- 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 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 your hotel 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.
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.
- 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.
8. What are the accommodations on Coiba like?
We setup a comfortable tent camp for you. 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 beds with a 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.
9. What kind of boat do you use?
We use a 24ft (8m) fiberglass boat powered by a 70hp or 90hp four-stroke outboard motor. The boat is equipped with life vests, radio, GPS and a shade awning.
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, we mostly travel in the morning when 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 though.
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. 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 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 1½ hours 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. Sorry, we cannot pick up people in Santa Catalina. But we can 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 is a Hello Travel shuttle bus leaving from Santa Catalina around noon.
14. Can you do day trips?
Unfortunately we can’t. 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 at one site.
Overnight trips will enable you to see so much more, for relatively little extra money! Also 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 mornings, going early, and leaving Coiba around 9:30am – 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 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.
16. Do you offer diving?
No. For diving you can 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, 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. Children under 4 can be more difficult, and we would expect parents taking turns to be supervising them as well. You are encouraged to bring snorkels for the children since we only 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”.
Often, children play part of the snorkel time on the beach with the many hermit crabs or finding treasures. Some are initially scared but soon find themselves enjoying everything.
In the off season (April – June and October – November), 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 too weak and irregular to allow 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 as well. We have no problem with big bills ($50 or $100), but please bring 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 for a $175 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%. If you cancel later, we cannot issue any refund.
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 of US$175 in Euros (we use the Interbank rate by the European Central Bank (www.ecb.europa.eu) 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).
Visitors from North and South America and other parts of the world can deposit US dollars into our PayPal account. However, we need to charge 5% extra to cover our PayPal cost, so we ask that you deposit $183 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!
Coiba Island Tour Activities Schedule
Coiba National Park Tour Prices & Details
Coiba Tour Costs & Reservations
Coiba Tour Schedules – Departure Dates
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