Posted by purplelibrarian
Although I live in Panama, I don’t dive here for personal reasons. If you are an advanced diver, go to Coiba. If you are a diver with high expectations, don’t choose Panama. If you want to see Panama, and do a bit of diving on the side, then the following information will get you started on planning your trip. (If I’m home when you pass through Panama city, let’s meet up for meal and a chat.)
extracted from Americans in Panama Yahoo Group, APR11, author: Richard ?
"There is diving around Boca Chica, Isla Coiba, the Pearl Islands out from Panama City (most people just call PC Panama), Portobello, Nombre de Dios and Bocas at least. Unfortunately the Kuna only allow snorkeling in the Kuna Yala, but that’s definitely the healthiest reef and clearest water I’ve seen in my limited time in Panama.
The mud diving right in Portobello kinda sucks due to the vis, but I’ve heard that boat trips to Drake Island have been enjoyed by friends. There used to be 2-3 dive shops there. In Nombre de Dios, there’s only one resort (Jimmy’s Caribbean Dive Resort) but I believe they allow a la carte diving. There a little shore dive right in front with lots of swim-throughs, but the best diving is miles away, by boat. We dived there 2-3 times a day for a week, and 60% of the dives were very good. We dived the Pirate’s Junkyard one afternoon and found lots of old bottles. Lots of fun raking through the muck in 15’ of water and coming up with bags of loot. And Jimmy, a rocker from the deep south, is always entertaining.
I’ve dived several times in Bocas, but the sites we dived had very limited vis or not much to see or both. The best dive was between Bocastown and Isla Caranera, right in the middle of the channel. There was quite a bit of nice coral there. The dives in Bocas were cheaper than elsewhere and there are at least a couple of dive shops near the water taxi pier.
Friends have dived with Carlos in Boca Chica (just ask anyone in town for directions to his dock and boat storage), and went just around the corner of Isla Boca Brava where they encountered large schools of fish.
I don’t know anyone that’s dived the Pearl Islands (Isla Contadora) but know people spearfish there. I’ve heard it mentioned a lot so might be worth checking out.
Isla Coiba has the best diving I’ve done in Panama. The closest dive shop and boat ride is in Santa Catalina, a town that gives many the creeps. There was one dive shop there a couple of years ago that Herbie Sunk owned that’s open all year long. There were another 2 or 3 that only opened in the dry season. That IS dated information. It’s about 1.5 hours out to Coiba and surrounds, and a rough 1.5 hours back usually, in an open panga. When we were there, the vis ranged from 15-25’, dark at 60’ with a stiff thermocline as well so we stayed above 60’. Saw lots of whitetip reef sharks, turtles, mobula rays, tons of reef fish, some coral and sponges, crown of thorns starfish, etc. I could spend days diving that area and not get bored. For the surface interval they’ll take you to Isla Coiba to register at the ranger station, pay a fee, and hang out for lunch. There are barebones accommodations there if you want to make a multi-day trip out of it. There were 1 or 2 liveaboards that offered multi-day trips out there, well worth it if still available.
There is also diving off of Pedasi on a couple of islands just offshore. I’ve heard good things about that, and plan to check it out in June. I remember at least one dive shop there but that was 4 years ago. There may be more by now.
Nitrox and deep diving are pretty much unknowns here for the most part. I think one shop in Panama offers technical training, but since you’re probably not diving below 60’ anyway it’s a moot point.
The water is temperate on both sides, so a 3 mil wetsuit would probably be plenty, with a hood for extra warmth.
I haven’t been snorkeling much but I hear it’s fantastic in some places in the Kuna Yala. We dived off of one of the Kuna islands, and the shallow coral was pristine, with excellent vis. You can get package deals with hotel/lodging, food and maybe some boat trips to the Kuna Yala. I’ve never made the trip but it’s on my bucket list and I’ve heard great things about stays there if you’re easily entertained and enjoy simple food.
If you google SCUBA and each of those destinations, you might find some info online. Otherwise, look in your Panama guidebooks for contact info and general info. A guidebook might help you determine your itinerary as well, as there’s lots of local information and you can zoom in by area.