THE GREAT AMERICAN VACATION
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Isla Coiba has Panama's best scuba diving, and some of the best diving in Central America, with vast reefs inhabited by hundreds of species of fish. On any given dive there you may see spotted eagle rays, white-tip reef sharks, sea turtles, giant snapper and grouper, moray eels, stargazers, frog fish, pipefish, angelfish, and Moorish idols. The reefs hold plenty of invertebrates, whereas offshore pinnacles attract big schools of jacks, Pacific spadefish, and other species.
Among the park's best dive spots are Santa Cruz, a vast coral garden teeming with reef fish; Mali Mali, a submerged rock formation that is a cleaning station for large fish; La Viuda, a massive rock between Islas de Coiba and Canales that attracts major schools of fish; and Frijoles, submerged rocks where divers often see sharks, large eels, and manta rays. Many of the dive spots around Isla Coiba require a bit of ocean-diving experience, but there are also dive spots that are appropriate for novices and good snorkeling areas. Visibility can change from one day to the next, but in general it is better during the rainy season, when it averages 70 feet and the sea is warmer. Surface water temperatures average in the low 80s, but thermoclines in the depths can be in the mid-70s, and upwelling from February to April brings colder water and lower visibility—down to 20 feet—but more fish.
Eco Circuitos. Eco Circuitos, based in Panama City, has a one-week snorkeling and hiking tour to Isla de Coiba with overnights in the ANAM cabins and in Santa Catalina. 507/315–1305; 800/830–7142 in U.S. www.ecocircuitos.com.
Scuba Coiba. Santa Catalina's Scuba Coiba are the local experts, offering boat dives at dozens of spots in the park on trips with overnights in the ANAM cabins. Santa Catalina. 507/6980–7122. www.scubacoiba.com.