What are the conditions like?
When is the best time to go?
What is the diving like?
What level of experience do you require?
What equipment do we need to bring?
What other activities can we do?
How much is the park fee?
How long does it take to reach the destination?
What if I suffer from travel sickness?
What kind of food do you serve onboard?
What is the custom on tipping?
Is there a gift shop onboard?
How do we get there and where do we stay?
What are the things to do in Panama?
What are the requirements to enter the country?
What are the normal modes of payment?
What if something happens at sea?
Is there anything else that we need to know?
Malpelo and Cocos have two (2) main seasons:
Dry season - starts 15 December to 1 May; prevailing winds and swell come from the north, producing an upwelling that brings cold water up and a lot of plankton that can affect visibility, but brings in a lot of fish and sharks.
Rainy (or wet) season - lasts from May through beginning of December, with prevailing winds coming from the southwest.
During the wet season it rains for 2-3 hours in the afternoon, while it’s cloudy/sunny the rest of the day. We experience heavier and more frequent rains in October-November, and occasionally it rains all day long.
Malpelo and Cocos are wild places and are convergence points for 8 major sea currents, so the conditions are quite unpredictable, with March-April being relatively calm. Fortunately, up until this moment we never had to cancel an expedition due to bad weather.
Below is some information on the average conditions in the area:
|RAINY SEASON||DRY SEASON|
|Surface temperature||27-28 C / 81-82 F||26-28 C / 79-82 F|
|Water temperature||20-24 C / 68-75 F||16-20 C / 61-68 F|
|Thermocline||25-30 meters / 82-98 feet or sometimes nothing||15-25 meters / 49-82 feet|
In the Pacific, an ocean full of nutrients and currents, visibility can change in a very short time.
|Coiba: 5-35 meters / 16-115 feet|
Malpelo: 10-35 meters / 33-115 feet
Cocos: 5-35 meters / 16-115 feet
|Coiba: 5-35 meters / 16-115 feet
Malpelo: 10-35 meters / 33-115 feet (occasionally there can be upwellings full of plankton that bring a lot of fish but at the same time reduce visibility)
Cocos: 5-35 meters / 16-115 feet
COIBA is a diverse destination for those who want to interact with nature. The conditions are favorable in Coiba year round, though whale watchers may want to come for a visit when the whales arrive for their annual migration in June through beginning of November.
You can see big schools of jacks, snappers, barracudas, groups of all kinds of rays – eagle, devil, cow-nosed, manta (frequent) – frogfish, seahorses, a diversity of corals, as well as the almost-extinct black coral. Whale sharks are seen here often along with white-tip sharks, bull sharks, and hammerhead sharks.
MALPELO is renowned for the huge concentration of sharks that can be seen at one time and the variety of species that can be found in the area, from the most frequently seen to the rarer varieties—hammerhead, Galapagos, silky, whale, white-tip, black-tip, dusky, and small toothed sand tiger sharks.
Sharks are abundant all year; however, there are greater chances of seeing some species at certain times of the year:
December-April – large schools of hammerheads; hammerhead sharks can be seen all year round, but scientists have observed that the schools are bigger during these months.
December-April – small toothed sand tiger shark, which is a very rare pelagic sand tiger shark that nowhere else in the world can be seen; in the dry season we have the chance to see it in colder and deeper (35-55 meters / 115-180 feet) waters. Note: this dive is for experienced divers only.
May-August – schooling silky sharks of up to 1,000 individuals
June-September – whale sharks; like the hammerheads, whale sharks can be seen throughout the year, but the chances of seeing them are greater during this period.
July-October – humpback whales
November – schools of hammerheads of up to 200 individuals
The other year-round star attractions in Malpelo are the free swimming moray eels, the big schools of jacks, snappers, and leather bass, the barracudas, the groups of eagle rays, and the yellowfin tuna.
COCOS is best known for schooling hammerhead sharks and being a magnet for large pelagic species. May to November are the months when the hammerhead sightings are more frequent and the schools are bigger; however, diving at Cocos is year-round. Galapagos sharks, groups of tiger sharks, white-tip sharks, and groups of marble rays are also commonly seen here.
Most diving days consist of two dives in the morning and one in the afternoon, with several night diving opportunities provided throughout each trip. Each of our dive vacations begins with the opportunity for one or two “check out dives,” providing you the opportunity to test your dive equipment, weighting and test your camera gear, along with providing an insight and orientation to the ocean conditions and marine environment of the rich waters of the Tropical Eastern Pacific.
We dive in groups of up to 9 divers plus a dive guide in each skiff; we practice the buddy system and we try to keep the group together in order to maximize our bottom time. On each dive our 2 twin-engine dive skiffs go to separate locations to ensure that the 2 groups never dive the same site at the same time. And, since only one boat is allowed at the island at a time in Malpelo, you are assured of ample space and better animal interactions on your dives.
Due to the characteristics of the diving in the Tropical Eastern Pacific Islands of Coiba, Cocos and Malpelo, new divers might find this diving environment challenging. An Advanced Open Water certification with at least 30 logged dives is mandatory in order to dive Malpelo and Cocos, while an Open Water certification is sufficient to dive Coiba. Non-divers and children are welcome to join our expeditions to Coiba National Park.
NOTE: You will need to show your certification card to our dive guide prior to diving. We strictly impose the NO CERTIFICATION, NO DIVING rule. We do not have an internet connection onboard, so we will not be able to do any online verifications for you. Please ensure that you have your card with you.
Clothing and personal items - Lightweight, breathable clothing, a light rain/wind jacket and comfortable sandals/walking shoes are recommended. Please bring your personal toiletries including a high factor sun screen.
Wetsuit - Depending on the time of year and how cold you get we recommend wearing a 5-7 mm for Malpelo and Cocos and 3-7 mm for Coiba. You may bring a hooded vest and/or hood for layering. A drysuit is not recommended due to the surface swells that are present in some dive sites. You are allowed to wear gloves in all three destinations.
Other equipment - Mask, fins and snorkel; regulator with console, pressure and depth gauges; buoyancy compensating device (BCD), dive computer and weight belt; dive knife and timing device; 1 safety sausage/surface marker buoy and Dive Alert or normal whistle; dive lights, batteries and at least 4 cyalume/glow sticks.
Equipment provided - Weights (2, 3, 4 and 6 lbs or 1, 1.5, 2 and 3 kgs), air/nitrox tanks and tank valves for Yoke or DIN attachments.
Rental equipment - We would prefer that you bring your own equipment as we have a limited selection of masks, BCDs, wetsuits, and regulators onboard that are available for rent at a reasonable fee. Please let us know ahead of time if you need to rent any equipment on your expedition. We do not rent out fins or dive lights.
Special gases - We produce Air and a 32% Nitrox mixture onboard. Nitrox is available for an additional fee of USD 100 per expedition. We recommend our divers use Nitrox to increase safety and bottom time while maintaining safe non-decompression dives. Nitrox courses are available aboard.
Our vessel is also rebreather friendly. Please inquire about our specific dates for rebreather expeditions. Do let us know ahead of time if you have any special requirements.
Tanks - We use 80 cu ft tanks on our expeditions. All our tanks are aluminium and work with DIN and Yoke valves.
Safety devices - It is necessary that all divers carry at least 3 surface signaling devices, in the form of a safety sausage/surface marker buoy, a power or manual whistle and a cyalume/glow stick. Also, as mandated by the Malpelo park authorities, divers must carry a dive light with them at all times.
Some of our Malpelo and Cocos itineraries include a few days of diving in Coiba National Park. Aside from scuba diving and whale watching, the former prison colony’s lush greenery and white sandy beaches are ideal for kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, birding, and observing wildlife.
On each Coiba expedition from June to November scheduled in our itinerary, a whale watching guide will be on board. During these expeditions, divers and whale watchers share the boat.
Whale watching tours are posible from a minimum of 3 days to 7 days. You come and go with the regular schedule.
7-day Whale Watching Tour: pricing starts from USD 2,400
3- to 6-day Whale Watching Tour: USD 350 USD/day
Most Expeditions on M/V Yemaya are scheduled for 7 days. If you want to spend less days in Coiba, you have to come (or leave) with a special boat from Puerto Mutis or St. Catalina to arrive to Yemaya in Coiba. The 3-hour boat ride from the mainland to Coiba (or vice versa) costs USD 380/trip. The boat can accommodate up to 8 persons.
Included: Guided whale watching tours every day, land tours, kayak and snorkel equipment, diving, onboard cabin accommodation, 3 meals/day, snacks, and non-alcoholic beverages.
Not included: Coiba National Park Fee (USD 20 per trip), alcoholic beverages, and crew gratuities.
Coiba – USD 20 pp per trip
Cocos – USD 70 pp per dive day
Malpelo* – USD 80 pp per dive day
*We know that this is a lot but this is the decision of the national park authority of Colombia and we don’t have any influence on it.
Our expedition itineraries vary according to the destination. We have 5-7 day trips to Coiba and 10-15 day expeditions to Malpelo and Cocos.
Below are the average transfer and crossing times:
Transfer from Panama City to Puerto Mutis, Panama or vice versa – 5 hours including a quick stop (Coiba and Malpelo itineraries)
Transfer from San Jose to Golfito, Costa Rica or vice versa – 5-6 hours (Cocos itineraries)
Crossing from Puerto Mutis to Coiba – 4-7 hours
Crossing from Coiba to Malpelo – 25 hours
Crossing from Golfito to Cocos – 32 hours
Most of the navigation around the Coiba region is fairly calm.
Our crossings to Malpelo and Cocos range from 25 to 32 hours, which include one overnight passage to the destination and another one going back to port. The crossings can be a little bumpy at times; however the diving in these remote islands makes it more than worthwhile.
M/V Yemaya is a sturdy seaworthy vessel. However, if you suffer from travel sickness, we highly recommend that you bring your own medication and take precautions prior to boarding.
Non-divers and children are welcome to participate in any of the non-diving activities that are available on our expeditions to Coiba National Park.
We are proud to offer the best liveaboard food in the western hemisphere; we concentrate on regional organic and fresh products, with an emphasis on seafood and fish. If you have any special requests on food, please let us know ahead of time. We can accommodate kosher and halal.
Non-alcoholic beverages are included in the trip fee; alcoholic beverages are available onboard at reasonable prices.
In the diving industry it is customary to leave a tip to show appreciation of a service rendered. We recommend leaving a tip of 10-15% of the expedition fee at the end of your trip if you were satisfied with the service of the crew.
Coiba Dive Expeditions merchandise and limited toiletry items are available for purchase onboard. We do not sell dive equipment; we do carry a range of service parts and rental equipment.
Please bring your own personal toiletries including a high factor sun screen.
Several airlines fly regularly to Tocumen International Airport in Panama City:
Latin America – Copa Airlines, Taca, and Avianca
North America – American Airlines, Continental/United Airlines, and Delta Airlines
Europe – Iberia, KLM and Condor
It takes 20 – 30 minutes to get to the center from the airport.
Below are our hotel recommendations in Panama City:
- Toscana Inn Hotel – a 3-star hotel in the center of town, with clean, big rooms (www.toscanainnhotel.com/default-en.html)
- Country Inn & Suites Hotel – a hotel located in the business area of the Panama Canal, with balcony rooms that have direct views to the Canal (www.panamacanalcountry.com/amador/)
- Gamboa Rainforest Resort – the only hotel in the Soberania National Park Rainforest, on the banks of the Chagres River and Panama Canal, which is a good location for birdwatching and embarking on excursions into the jungle (www.gamboaresort.com)
- Hotel California – a budget hotel in the center of town (www.hotelcaliforniapanama.net/paginas/start.html)
Panama has a multi-ethnical and multi-cultural population with a cosmopolitan capital. The country is known for its marine and terrestrial biodiversity with its lush tropical rainforests, beautiful beaches–both on the Pacific and Caribbean sides, breathtaking highlands, impressive mountains, and numerous islands. Visitors also come here to see the Panama Canal, World Heritage Sites, colonial Spanish forts, and indigenous cultures.
Things to do and places to visit:
- City tour
- Panama Museum of Biodiversity’s “Bridge of Life” project, which aims to be a hub of an interchange of nature, culture, the economy, and life—a center for learning, discovery, national pride, and a new appreciation of Panama’s natural wealth
- Panama Canal tour
- Animal observation in the wild part of the Panama Canal
- Hiking in Soberania National Park near Gamboa Rainforest Resort
- Kuna Yala, an Indian governed territory on the Caribbean, the jungle of which is one of the world’s hotspots of biodiversity (min. 3 hours)
- Darien channel, the wildest part of Panama (min. 4 days)
- Chiriqui mountains, where the highlands’ fresh temperature sharply contrasts Panama City’s humid heat (min. 4 days)
- Amistad National Park, the second largest park in Central America (min. 4 days)
- Selva de la China, the most preserved cloud forest in Central America (min. 4 days)
- Bocas del Toro, an archipelago on the Caribbean side that borders Costa Rica to the west; its 50 islands were inherited by black people and the Ngöbe Buglé indians (min. 5 days)
A passport is required and depending on your citizenship, you may need a visa or tourist card to enter the country. We recommend that you check with your local embassy prior to booking the trip.
The monetary unit is the Balboa, but the US dollar has been legal in Panama since 1903, with an exchange rate of 1:1.
At the moment, we only accept cash payments onboard. It is better to bring US dollars along or withdraw from ATM machines. Travelers checks are not common here and are not accepted in most places. In the few places where they are accepted, there is a high cost involved to exchange them. There are only a few exchange houses in Panama, and the rates are normally not favorable.
We strongly recommend that all our guests purchase some form of dive and personal medical insurance.
Panama City has several modern, high quality medical facilities. The decompression chambers and hyperbaric doctors of the Panama Canal Authority are affiliated with Divers Alert Network.
Aboard M/V Yemaya, we have a current Emergency Assistance Plan and extensive medical supplies, medical oxygen and trained personnel who can deliver basic life support, first aid and medical oxygen. For more information, please see our safe diving practices or visit the M/V Yemaya page.
Electricity in Panama runs on 110 volts, 60 cycles. M/V Yemaya has both 110 and 220 volts. The outlets on board work with grounded North American 110v plugs.