When I came to Santa Catalina the first time in spring 2003, the bus stopped in front of the beach and local fishermen carried in the catch of the day. Being used to the catches seen in Bocas del Toro and other places, it was obvious, that the stories heard about the amount and sizes of fish around Coiba Island are the truth.
While working as diving instructor in Bocas del Toro since 2000 I have met tourists, who told me about the fishing village of Santa Catalina, where they visited for surfing. Evidentely there had to be some hostel beds and probably some places to eat, so I came over to the Pacific side to check out why nobody offered scuba diving at Coiba National Park. I still do not know, why I was the first one, as everything needed (bus connection, accommodation, food and boats) was already available – though basic. Probably nobody thought of it before, as tourism was pretty much concentrated around Panama City, Boquete and Bocas del Toro.
But I was looking for something adventurous and new. Santa Catalina and Coiba promised to offer exactly this, just there were very few tourists. But I was sure, that I found the best place to set up a dive center in Panama.
I ordered a small compressor, 15 tanks and 6 sets of rental gear, rented a small place on the main road, hired a local guy – Luis – and started doing some local diving first with local fishing men, taught Luis diving and certified him as Open Water Diver.
On 7th of December 2003 we made our first dive trip to Coiba National Park, it took more than 2 hours to go there, but the diving was well worth the boatride on a small fishing boat.
Since then and 10 years later we have done and logged about 5500 dives at Coiba and about 400 at local sites around Sta. Catalina.