10 Years Scuba Coiba – a review of 10 years of changes



   In 2013 Scuba Coiba is celebrating its 10th birthday. It is the story of setting up a dive center as close as possible to Coiba National Park.

When I arrived in June 2003 at Santa Catalina the first time, the road was paved only to the small village of Los Tigres, the last 18 kms to Sta. Catalina was on a muddy dirt road, the bus ride from Soná took 3 hours. The 2 daily buses have been pretty much all the motorized traffic at that time and the locals could play volley ball on the street undisturbed for hours.

mud road Sta. Catalina, rural village Nov 2003   Independent day on Sta. Catalina´s mud road in Nov 2003, a rural village

I have been working as a diving instructor in Bocas del Toro since 2003 for more than 3 years and have heard about allegedly world class diving around the island of Coiba. So I wanted to see, why there is no dive center close by and diving only can be arranged by paying a lot of money for a spot on a rare live-a-board vessel, offering diving and game fishing around Coiba on an unregularly basis.

Talking to surfers I met in Bocas del Toro I knew ,

  • That the small fishing village of Sta. Catalina provided some basic infra-structure for surfers visiting this place since the 90´s, like cheap lodging, one or two grocery stores and a restaurant.
  • That there was road access and public transportation
  • That local fisher men took tourists sometimes to Coiba for snorkeling tours.

Three major necessities to develop a business depending on tourists. No other village in an accessible distance to Coiba could offer these services.

I have not seen a tourist since leaving the bus on the Inter-American Highway in Santiago, but when I saw the day´s catch brought in by small fishing boats (around 15 to 20 red snappers of an average weight of maybe 30 pounds / 15 kilos per boat) this evening, the decision to open a dive center here was made. These were sizes and amounts of fish, unseen in Bocas del Toro, or any other place I have been diving before, so it was clear that there has to be abundant marine life around. In 2003 Coiba has still been a prison island (since 1919) and one needed to have the permission of the police to enter the island.

Prison Cell Coiba Central Block  Prison Cell Main Block Coiba

But it was already clear, that the prison will be closed soon, a pre-requisite to transform the national park (since 1992) into a UNESCO World Heritage Site (2005).

After doing all the legal processes to found  the company of Scuba Coiba, S.A., buying the first 15 tanks, a portable compressor  and dive equipment for 5 divers,  I rented  a small place on the main road close to the beach, hired a local fisher man as helper and opened the first land based dive center in an accessible distance to Coiba National Park.

  First Dive Center offering land based access to Coiba, founded in 2003

A lot has been achieved in the last 10 years, a lot has changed since then and the inauguration of Scuba Coiba has influenced the rise of Santa Catalina to one of the important places to visit in Panamá.

We will continue to review our history and the changes happened in these 10 years in this blog.

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