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Diving in Panama - Bocas del Toro to Coiba

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Hi,

We'd like to go to Panama for 2 weeks over Christmas/New Years and the main places (I think) we want to go to are Bocas del Toro and Coiba. My boyfriend has been diving for years and really wants to go to Coiba, I'm a newer diver so I think Bocas would be better. I can make photos in Coiba while he's doing the more advanced dives. We'll fly into Panama City. Any recommendations which to visit first? I know we can fly into or out of Bocas, but am unsure if we should go there before or after Coiba. And how do we get from one place to the other?

Thanks!
Jen

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    You absolutely can do both, as we took in both destinations as part of our trip to Panama last year.

    We flew in to Panama City and rented a car. We drove to a tiny, off the beaten path place called Santa Catalina. There, they have a few small hotels and a dive shop with trips over to Coiba. Sadly, we made this trip, only to have lousy weather and no sun, so we did not dive.

    Then, you can drive back from Santa Catalina toward David and on to Almirante where you pick up a water taxi over to Bocas del Toro.

    Personally, I'd make Santa Catalina only a two night stay. Other than the diving on Coiba, or surfing La Punta, there really isn't much there beyond the tiny town and very friendly locals.

    There are two hotels I'd recommend. We stayed the first night at La Buena Vida. It was charming and just fine if you are on a budget. http://www.labuenavida.biz/santacatalina.html

    We loved On the Reef the second night because LBV was booked the second night with a large group. It's a little pricier. http://www.onthereefpanama.com/reservations/

    When you've done enough diving and snorkeling, head on up to David and take the main road over to Almirante. Almirante is a dusty little port town and you should not count on finding restaurants or lodging there. Park your car at the fire station just to the right of the port. They are fully prepared for this and your car will stay in locked parking with 24 hour attendants there at the firestation. The firemen will take a fee that goes to support the firestation and community services. I think it was $15 per day, which was incredibly reasonable given that our car was protected! Hubby says he thinks it was only $8 or $10 per day. The fireman on duty will also call a cab for you to take you to the ferry docks. From there, it's about $6 per person for the 40 minute boat ride out to Bocas.

    It seems like a lot, but we left Santa Catalina around 8:30 or so, drove up to David, bought some groceries and were in our cottage on Bocas by 2:00 or so. This has to be one of the most beautiful drives I've ever taken, so it was well worth the time on the road. Just beautiful.

    There are other stops you could make between, but we did not. We just couldn't wait to get to Bocas.

    Bocas del Toro is my favorite place on Earth. I can't wait to go back there and probably think of it every day. If you do some searches here on Fodors, I've posted about it before and gave details on things to do, places to eat as well as how to find a great boat captain or two without paying the full tourist fare. We rented a VRBO cottage, but if it's just the two of you, you wouldn't need all that! There are great over-the-water hotels and inns to chose from.

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    I am a relatively new diver. Is Coiba very difficult to dive? Also, can anyone recommend a dive shop in both Coiba and Boscas del Toro, especially ones that will accommodate single diver? Thanks!

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