So guys we’ve got news for you – Panama is actually pretty pricey! We hadn’t really done our research beforehand but once we found out Panama mainly uses the US dollar, we had a sinking feeling it may not be as cheap as we’d first thought.
And we were right.
BUT we didn’t let that put us off.
After a blissful 4 days in the San Blas islands and a couple of days in busy Panama City, we decided to head to the Pacific coast to explore the chilled-out surf town of Santa Catalina. Apart from the surf, the main attraction is the nearby Isla Coiba, about an hour’s boat ride from Santa Catalina which used to be the site of a large prison. Once the prison closed, the island and waters became part of a national park, which is great because Coiba is actually part of the same archipelago as Galapagos and is teeming with wildlife.
The waters are known for being really clear and whale sharks are regular residents from around January until April. It’s been 2 years since we last went diving in Indonesia, so we were super keen to get back in the water. However, at around $150 each for a 2-tank dive, we had to settle for snorkelling instead, which was still a pricey $80 each including the entry fee to the national park. This also meant we couldn’t really afford to do anything else in Santa Catalina – the surf lessons will have to wait until we go to a cheaper town!
We stayed at Deseo Bamboo Ecolodge hostel in Santa Catalina and booked the snorkelling trip through the hostel, which ended up being with Coiba Snorkelling Adventures. The shop is on the main road in the village so is really easy to find and we met there at 8am before setting off on the boat to Coiba.
We were excited to see the reefs but we got even more excited when our guide Sabrina told us that dolphins had swam alongside the boat the day before. DOLPHINS!! We kept our eyes peeled the whole journey and as luck would have it, we saw a small pod of dolphins as we got closer to the island! It was amazing so see them so close.
After about an hour on the boat we got to our first snorkel spot and it was like being in an aquarium! We saw so many fish, stingrays, some gorgeous hawksbill turtles, and even a white-tip reef shark! Sabrina was great at spotting them and pointing them out to the whole group.
We spent an hour on the reef that circles a small island off Coiba and then moved to another reef, although visibility wasn’t as good and we had to tackle some pretty strong currents. By that point we’d worked up a bit of an appetite and luckily Sabrina took us to an incredible spot for lunch. Cue a few hours of chilled out beach time!
Our final snorkel spot in the afternoon wasn’t great, if we’re honest. Sabrina took us to a tiny rock island where most of the islands inhabitants live under the water. Unfortunately visibility wasn’t great and we didn’t see much, but we did get a chance to practice some free diving!
We had such a good day at Coiba, with some great snorkelling! Even though it was a bit above our budget, we’re really glad we got to experience some of the amazing marine life, which is the main draw for people visiting the area. Santa Catalina is also a great little town for some chill-out time, we definitely recommend a stop here if you’re planning a trip to Panama!
Where are your favourite snorkelling or diving spots? Have you visited Panama? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Follow us on Instagram to see our latest travel pics!