I recently returned from Panama where I was hosted by the Lost Coast Explorer, a 100′ converted crabber. The LCE acts as a mother ship and accommodates up to 12 guests. There are (3) 25′ cruisers equipped for diving, fishing and shore excursions.
The majority of our Panamanian adventure was spent in Coiba National Park which opened to tourism in 1992. Coiba Island served as Panama’s penal colony for 86 years. Today, Coiba is gaining international attention due to the trophy size Blue and Black Marlin that frequent the legendary Hannibal Bank. In addition to fishing, Coiba is drawing divers, surfers, researchers and eco-tourists from around the world.
The fishing, diving and surfing in Coiba are world-class. On the last day of our excursion, a member of our group hooked a 1000+ pound Black Marlin. I will always remember the look of awe on his face when he realized what had hit his bait. Other species targeted in Coiba include Sail Fish, Yellow fin Tuna, Skip Jack, Jack Travalle, Barracuda, and Grouper.
I had the supreme pleasure of diving on some of the most pristine coral reefs and pinnacles I have ever seen. There was no evidence that anyone had visited these sites before us. Giant Manta Rays, White Tip Sharks, and Green Sea Turtles seem undaunted by our presence. Whale Sharks frequent these waters September through January.
Coiba is just beginning to show up on the radar screen for the more adventurous travelers. Interestingly, very few Panamanians have visited Coiba. Its history as a Penile Colony has kept it a foreboding destination for the locals.
For an exquisite contrast to Coiba, I suggest spending a couple of nights in El Valle. El Valle is a small mountain town located midway between Santiago and Panama City. The town sits in the crater of an ancient volcano. It is much cooler at these altitudes. I stayed at Park Eden, a lovely Bed & Breakfast just out of town. The grounds were park like, and the owners spoke English. If you go, have lunch at Restaurante Bruschetta. I suggest the clams in a wonderful broth served in a clay pot.
You must also visit the historic Casco Viejo, or old City. This is the historic region and offers an interesting glimpse into Panama’s past.