WHAT LODGING OPTIONS ARE AVAILABLE IN SANTA CATALINA?
Santa Catalina offers a variety of accommodations ranging from dorm rooms and basic cabins to suites with air conditioning and entire beach-front rental homes. Dorm rooms and cabins with fans and a shared bathroom are available for as low as $10.00 (USD) while rooms with air conditioning and hot water begin at around $35.00 (USD) and go up to over $100.00 (USD).
Our suggested hotel is Santa Catalina Inn, located just minutes away from Scuba Coiba, with rates beginning at $45.00 (USD) for private rooms with hot water, air conditioning and private balconies or patios.
ARE THERE MANY RESTAURANTS IN THE VILLAGE?
Santa Catalina offers nearly thirty establishments where one can dine on local specialties, fresh-caught fish, pizza, tacos, pasta and more.
WHAT SHOPPING CAN BE DONE IN SANTA CATALINA?
Our village offers two small stores which sell basic food items. Santa Catalina does not offer a big supermarket, so stop in Soná or Santiago on the way for any specific items you may want to bring, such as liquor, sunscreen, bug spray, beach towels, cigarettes, etc.
IS THERE A GAS STATION IN SANTA CATALINA?
There is no gas station located in Santa Catalina. The nearest operating gas station is located in Soná, so do ensure that you have enough fuel in your tank to drive the 70 kilometers (43 miles) to Soná.
WHAT CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT INTERNET AND CELLULAR SERVICE IN SANTA CATALINA?
Cell service is available here but internet service tends to be slow via cell phone providers. Most hotels offer (slow) WiFi
IS THERE A BANK OR ATM IN SANTA CATALINA?
There is no bank or ATM in our village. The closest ATM is in Soná which is a 1.5-hour drive away. VISA and Mastercard ARE accepted by Scuba Coiba and by some more expensive hotels, however most hotels, restaurants and tour operators DO NOT accept credit cards and no one accepts traveler checks or foreign currency.
IS THERE ANYTHING IN SPECIFIC WE SHOULD EXPECT IN SANTA CATALINA?
In and around Santa Catalina you will find a lot of sandy beaches, one of the best surfbreaks of Central America and world-class dive sites. You will also find rooms and food, shops satisfying your basic needs and friendly people in a friendly village still unspoiled by masses of tourists. You will not find any nightlife, shopping possibilities, banks, 5-star hotels, etc.
IS MALARIA PRESENT IN SANTA CATALINA?
No! Malaria is not a problem in this part of Panama.
DO WE NEED A 4X4 VEHICLE TO REACH SANTA CATALINA?
No, as the streets have now been paved the entire duration of the trip from Soná to Santa Catalina.
ARE THERE COMMERCIAL FLIGHTS INTO SANTIAGO, SONÁ, SANTA CATALINA OR COIBA?
Although there is an airport in Santiago and a landing strip on Coiba Island, there are presently no commercial flights into the city or the island. Neither Santa Catalina nor Soná have an airport or landing strip. Contact My Flight Corp for rates on private air transport into Santiago or Coiba Island.
WHAT ARE THE BOATS AND BOAT DOCKS LIKE LIKE IN SANTA CATALINA?
The typical boat with proofed reliability on the Pacific coast of Panama are fiberglass boats called pangas or lanchas, fast, outboard-engine powered boats. Our boats were custom designed to be both easy to dive from and comfortable, coming equipped with a roof, cushioned benches and tank racks. Neither in Santa Catalina, nor in Coiba National Park will you find boat docks, making your entrance and exit from boats by beach.
CAN I SHOOT PHOTOS AND VIDEOS IN COIBA NATIONAL PARK?
Photography and videography for private use is free of fees in Coiba National Park, however professional and commercial filming does require a permit. Permits should be applied for at least fourteen days prior to your planned stay. You should also apply for a permit if you are using equipment that could be easily characterized as very professional-looking. We will gladly assist you in obtaining a permit, as well.
WHAT ACCOMMODATIONS ARE AVAILABLE IN COIBA?
The only accommodations available in Coiba National Park is at the ANAM ranger station. They offer several modest two-dormitory cabins with air conditioning. Each basic dormitory sleeps 4-6 people and has a private bathroom. The accommodation is basic, though the rooms do have air conditioning. (*Note: Electricity and air conditioning are provided by the ANAM rangers as long as their generator is fully functioning.)
HOW LONG ARE THE TRANSFER TIMES TO COIBA NATIONAL PARK?
Depending on weather conditions, it takes around one hour and fifteen minutes to reach Coiba.
WHAT IS THE WEATHER LIKE IN SANTA CATALINA?
You will find the weather here to be tropical and warm all year around. Our dry season is from November/December until April/May. February until April tends to be windy and dry. Rainy season is from May until October, with the most rainfall taking place typically in September and October. From May until August it usually only rains in the later afternoon and night.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE DIVING DURING THE DRY SEASON MORE IN DEPTH?
At the beginning of the dry season in December and January visibility can be best and reaches sometimes 30 or more meters (100 or more feet). Currents can be very strong this time of the year. Beginning at the end of January/middle of February until the end of March/middle of April a continuous north wind brings very dry weather but can affect the surface conditions and may restrict the access to remote dive sites in the open sea. The upwelling caused by the north wind and the influence of Pacific currents bring lots of nutrients and with it big schools of migrating pelagic fish like whale sharks, manta rays, giant pelagic sting rays, tunas, amber jacks, orca whales and more. But these conditions also bring a thermocline of 19-20 ºC (66-68 ºF) reaching depths of up to 25-30 meters (80-100 feet). While the visibility at the surface and also down in the cold water is excellent, a layer of greenish water between the two layers starts at between 5-15 meters (15-50 feet) depending on dive sites and tides and can reduce the visibility.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE DIVING DURING THE RAINY SEASON MORE IN DEPTH?
In the rainy season the wind ceases and the water calms, while the thermoclines are deeper. Until July and August the visibility can range between 12-20 meters (40-65 feet) down to recreational depth limits and the water temperature does not drop lower than 24-26 ºC (75-78 ºF) all the way down. Thunderstorms and heavy rain should be expected in the late afternoons. Humpback whales are visiting the area from July to October. September and October are the wettest months and winds can make the surface choppy. Big amounts of fresh water in the rivers can reduce the visibility especially at sites close to mainland or to big rivers at Coiba Island and lower the surface temperature to 25 ºC (76 ºF). Diving is still excellent this time of the year, but because of rain and wind it is recommended to take a multi-day trip into consideration where you can stay at the ranger station on Coiba Island and experience diving at a lot of dive sites within a 15 minutes boat ride. In this way you will avoid daily boat rides to and from Santa Catalina.
WHAT IS WATER TEMPERATURE LIKE IN COIBA NATIONAL PARK?
Water temperature is usually around 27-29 ºC (81-84 ºF). Sometimes, normally from February to April, you can expect thermoclines with cooler water reaching down to the lower 20s ºC (68 ºF). See our dive site description for more details on typical water temperatures at specific sites.
WHAT IS UNDERWATER VISIBILITY LIKE IN COIBA NATIONAL PARK?
Visibility is usually really good, between 10-15 meters (30-50 feet) in Santa Catalina and between 15-20 meters (50-70 feet) in Coiba but can be affected by currents, thermoclines and tides. Especially in Santa Catalina visibility can be reduced by water movement (swell) and rain run-off while Coiba is less effected because of its remote location. Between February and April the steady north-wind is creates upwelling, which brings cold, and sometimes murky water up, but also attracts a lot of pelagic and big fish. We cannot guarantee perfect visibility on every dive. See our dive site description for more details on typical visibility at specific sites.
DO WE NEED A WET SUIT FOR OUR DIVE IN COIBA NATIONAL PARK?
From February to April it is highly recommended to use a 3 to 5 mm wet suit, because of thermo climes and (sometimes stingy) plankton. The rest of the year we are recommending to use at least a thin shorty. We offer wet suits rentals if you prefer to not bring your own.
WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT TO SEE UNDERWATER IN COIBA NATIONAL PARK?
Perhaps the more appropriate questions is What will we NOT see in Coiba National Park! In general, the time for big fish (whale sharks, mantas, big pelagics) is between December and April, when the water is cooler and rich with plankton. June to September there is a good possibility for seeing humpback whales. But there is plenty of marine life 12 months of the year.
WHAT IS THE TIDAL EXCHANGE LIKE IN COIBA NATIONAL PARK AND IN SANTA CATALINA?
Tidal exchange of 2-5 meters (6-15 feet) is present in this area of Panama and causes at some times currents at several places, which can affect the diving in Coiba as well as around Santa Catalina. Currents can be strong depending on tides, moon phases and dive sites. Some of the best dive sites are frequently swept by currents, therefore you should not accept “swimming pool” conditions on every dive.
TELL US ABOUT THE SHARKS!
If you are browsing the internet looking for information about Coiba and its marine life you will find a lot of stories about big sharks, giant sharks and schools of sharks. It is a fact that 33 species of sharks have been spotted including hammerhead, bull, tiger and whale sharks. But it is also a fact that they are not a regular or common sighting. What you will see during almost every dive are lots of whitetip reef sharks all year around, as well as big schools of snappers, jacks, grunts, barracudas, bat fish, colourful reef fish like angelfish, butterflyfish, sturgeon, trigger and parrotfish, as well as all kinds of moray eels and rare species such as frogfish and seahorses. At certain times of the year you will see big schools of small manta rays (mobulas) and other schooling rays like pelagic sting rays, eagle rays or cownose rays. There is a fair chance of seeing turtles and also giant mantas, whale sharks and big sharks from time to time at certain dive sites, but do not expect to be surrounded by hundreds of hammerheads at every dive.