Diving: Two Oceans for All Your Diving Fantasies
Whether it is snorkeling or scuba diving, Panama offers both the colorful clarity of Caribbean and the vast and mysterious Pacific full of large marine species. In addition, you can do a historical dive in the Panama Canal.
Most of information for this article was provided by Scuba Panama.
Scuba Panama, Panama’s original and largest diving company, offers all these tours. You can also get PADI certified by taking a course at their Panama City center- a complex dive shop & dive operator, with its own training facility with a private swimming pool, classroom, five bilingual instructors with multiple certifications, two exclusive dive sites, 7 dive boats, private island and professionalism in their personal touch with the diver.
Contact info: (507) 261-4064 / (507) 261-3841
Cell: (507) 6673-3173
Owner: Rene Gomez
Cell: (507) 6617-1111
Atlantic/Caribbean Diving: Portobello, San Blas and Bocas del Toro
On Panama’s Caribbean coast just an hour and a half drive from Panama is a great place for both historical and regular diving. This historical port city is where all the gold stolen from South America was shipped for Spain. Lusted after by pirates, it harbors in its depths ship wrecked galleons and mysteries. For pirate diving “Drake’s Island” is the place- right where Sir Francis Drake met his end. Divers still look for Drake’s coffin, that is perhaps totally encrusted with coral. A short boat ride can take you to “Salmedina Reef”, a semi-submerged reef that took its share of wooden vessels; cannons and cannon balls on the reef attest to that.
Among the diving highlights is “Buena Ventura Island” for shallow and deep diving with an intriguing drop-off.
Also, nearby are the “Three Sisters” islands with a mix of underwater terrain, sea flora and fauna. Moving east, are two idyllic islands: “Isla Mamey”, for both divers and sun-worshipers and “Isla Grande” a typical Antillean community with a beautiful beaches and several lodging options. This island has a magnificent northern shore with shallows, canyons, caves, and deep dives. Crab and lobsters are the main goal of any diver that goes here. On its western end, there’s a unique labyrinth of beautiful canyons. For diving in Portobello: Scuba Panama.
Continuing East, we come to the famous “San Blas Islands”; 365 of them, one for each day of the year, say the Kuna Indians that inhabit this white sanded paradise. See your lodging options on our San Blas Islands page. This is “snorkeling paradise”, because of the vastness of the snorkeling area of 365 islands. Your hosts will make the necessary arrangements to have a dug-out cayuco boat take you to the best snorkeling spots. There, you can either stay in a thatched roof, Kuna style home, with a white sandy floor, or you can stay at a nearby Coral Lodge upscale eco-lodge with luxury Tahiti style cabins over the sea.
Bocas del Toro
The isthmus of Panama runs on an east-west axis, so the Atlantic Ocean is on its northern shores. Starting near the border with Costa Rica, the first dive site is the islands of Bocas del Toro. You will be glad to have discovered this beautiful spot, visited by Christopher Columbus in 1502, during his last trip to the Americas. Bocas offers clear waters great for diving along fabulous live coral reefs. A typical diving excursion to Bocas del Toro would be a three-day excursion. On the first day, you would leave from the Albrook airport early morning, settle in your hotel and make arrangements with the several PADI dive shops in town. After lunch, take a Bocas boat tour to Dolphin Bay, Red Frog Beach and snorkeling at Coral Keys with its colorful coral gardens. On the second day, you can go diving with your operator or take either a boat or taxi ride to Boca del Drago, a one 1 hour ride to a special beach, ideal for picnics, beachcombing, swimming, or snorkeling.
Please make sure to check the Zapatillas’ Dive Club at the Al Natural Resort located on the beach of Punta Vieja in the island of Bastimentos. They offer scuba diving and PADI courses and some of the most exclusive dives in the whole archipelago; indeed, they are the only dive operator in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro who regularly offers dives to the protected waters and reefs around the Zapatillas Cays in the National Marine Park where many impressive wall dives and caves can be explored, and who offers them at a competitive price due to their location, as they are far away from Bocas, but closest to the best dive sites and the Bastimentos National Marine Park. Al Natural and its lagoon is also a great and safe place to do a Discovery Dive and experience for the first time the magic of the underwater world. For all the info and complete pricing please go to Al Natural Tours. They are also offering new Multi Dive Packages & PADI Courses Special at Al Natural Rate Discounts.
Pacific Ocean Diving: Pearl Islands, Azuero Peninsula, Coiba and the Darien
Panama’s Pacific Ocean has deep water, big fish and rocky formations- a real contrast to the shallows, small colorful fish and myriad corals of the Atlantic. There are four primary diving areas:the Perlas Islands, Azuero peninsula, Coiba Island and the coast of Darien.
The Pearl Islands has it all, from shallows to deep water, from coral heads to rocky drop-offs, from the tiny sea wrasses to the four-hundred pound Jew Fish (large sea bass). Underwater photography and spearfishing is a must. The upscale Hacienda del Mar eco-resort is the best place to stay in the Pearl Islands. They will make arrangements for every kind of diving and fishing excursion. The other place to stay is Contadora Island, best known as the place selected by the late Shah of Iran for his retirement. This beautiful island has several attractive lodging options. For diving trips in the Pearl Islands: Scuba Panama.
The Azuero peninsula has several luring diving areas; Isla Iguana, Punta Mala, Cambutal, Santa Catalina, Los Frailes, Isla Cebaco, among others. The diving is similar to the other Pacific areas in the underwater terrain and sea life. Most divers travel by car to Pedasi, a five hour drive. There are several good diving operations in Pedasi.
The snorkeling on Isla Iguana is very good.
Coiba is the largest island on the Pacific Ocean coast. Because of its inaccessibility it became a “Devil’s Island” like penal colony where prisoners worked the land during the day and went back to their cells at night. Being a penal colony contributed to its preservation making it one of the most pristine nature reserves anywhere. Few places top big fish diving in Coiba.
The snorkeling is also fantastic- the best in Panama. You can sign up for a Coiba snorkeling tour at several shops in Santa Catalina.
Surrounding Coiba are other large and small islands where the crystal waters and white sands make you feel like Robinson Crusoe. For diving trips to Coiba: Scuba Panama”.
The coast of the dense jungles of Darien, are the realm of the Black Marlin, huge Amberjacks and “Dog-Toothed” Snapper is a spear fisherman’s paradise. It is also home to the famous Tropic Star Lodge, rated by the Robb Report as the best sportfishing lodge in the world. You reach the area by either flying into the town of Jaque, or by private boat. Economy conscious divers load a zodiac with a small engine onto one of the cargo boats and go there for four or five days. Although no formal dive operation exists, there are reputable local divers that will gladly guide you through the area. Be prepared to see blue and deep waters, with large inquisitive fish coming at you as if you were just driftwood.