For adventure activities, exotic wildlife, and spectacular scenery – without the crowds – look no further than Isla Coiba. In terms of Panama off the beaten path destinations, this island has it all.

Twelve miles (19.3 km) offshore from the beautiful town of Santa Catalina Panama is Coiba Island (Isla Coiba). The entire island is dedicated to Isla Coiba National Park, which protects its precious animals and unique ecosystems.

The island’s white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, and diverse wildlife attract travelers from around the world searching for warmer weather and scenic views. What’s more, the protected waters of Coiba Island offer fantastic spots for scuba diving and snorkeling.

Even with all of its perks, Isla Coiba remains a Panama off the beaten path destination. You won’t see nearly as many fellow travelers as other popular Panama attractions, thanks to the island’s remote location and the restrictions of the nature reserve.

Scroll down to learn more about how to get to Coiba Island, what to do, and where to stay in nearby Santa Catalina.

How to Get to Coiba Island from Santa Catalina Panama

How to Get to Santa Catalina Panama
The first step in how to get to Coiba Island is making your way to the mainland town of Santa Catalina. From Panama City, it’s a 5.5 hour drive. From David, driving takes about 3.5 hours. Coming from either direction, you can take the Panamerican Highway (Route 1), then Route 5 and Highway 34 (Carretera 34) to Santa Catalina.

If you don’t have a car, you can take a bus from the Albrook Bus Terminal of Panama City directly to Soná or to Santiago. From David, take a bus bound for Panama City and get off at Santiago. In Santiago, go to the local bus terminal to take another bus to Soná. Once you reach Soná, take one of five daily buses to Santa Catalina.

How to Get to Coiba Island
The only way to get to the island is with Isla Coiba tours. Since Coiba Island is a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you must have a permit to enter the waters surrounding the area, which tour operators have. Although the island cannot be reached on your own, the views and unforgettable experience it provides are definitely worth booking a tour with a local guide.

The tour to Coiba Island is the number one most popular day tour from Santa Catalina! Most hostels and hotels in Santa Catalina provide Isla Coiba tours that leave directly from the accommodations. If exploring Playa Santa Catalina is also on your list, then there are ferries that transport travelers to and from Coiba Island daily.

You can rent a private boat to Isla Coiba for $300 USD or share a boat for anywhere from $50-110 USD by walking onto the sands of Playa Santa Catalina where friendly locals are waiting.

While booking a tour to Coiba Island is possible once you arrive in Santa Catalina, we recommend booking in advance in order to secure your placement, especially if you are only staying for a few days.

What to Do on Coiba Island

Coiba Diving
Whether you are a newbie or an experienced diver, you’ll be amazed by the gorgeous underwater world around Isla Coiba, one of the best diving destinations in the world.

Check out our full-day diving tour. It leaves from Santa Catalina and includes all diving equipment, and most importantly, the opportunity to spot one of the island’s gray whales from the months of December through April! Even if you miss the giant creatures, the water’s diverse marine life is sure to not disappoint.

Coiba Snorkeling
Another way to enjoy both the pristine beaches and lively marine ecosystems of the island is by snorkeling. Admire large sea turtles, colorful fish, and even nurse sharks, if you are lucky!

This snorkeling tour takes you to Coiba Island as well as other neighboring islands such as Isla Granito de Oro and Coibita. The tour provides all the necessary gear so that you can enjoy a stress-free snorkeling adventure.

Hiking in Coiba National Park
For another unique experience on Coiba Island, go hiking in the island’s lush forest to observe a variety of native animals. Coiba Island used to be a penal colony, so most of the island’s ecosystems remain untouched by humans.

View howler monkeys running across the edge of the beach. Or, travel further inland to see the monkeys in the trees, along with other exotic species such as the crested eagle.

This full-day tour includes both snorkeling and hiking activities, accompanied by an experienced guide and including all snorkeling gear.

Thanks to the Isla Coiba’s secluded location, the surrounding waters are teeming with fish! You can catch marlin, mahi-mahi, wahoo, amber jack, snapper, tuna, sea bass, and roosterfish and more on our 3-day Coiba Island fishing trip.

Whale Watching
In addition to its other wildlife, Coiba Island is also a fantastic destination for whale watching. For more information about whale watching in Panama, check out our other blog post.

Another great way to experience the island is by sea kayak. You can enjoy both the scenery of the island and the waves of the Pacific, keeping an eye out for whales and sea turtles!

Panama’s Pacific coast is known for world-class surfing and the area around Isla Coiba is no exception. If you’re staying in Santa Catalina, all you have to do is go out onto the town’s main beach to shred some waves.

Where to Stay in Santa Catalina Panama

While it is possible to stay overnight on the island, the only place you can find accommodations is at the local ranger station which maintains a small amount of modest cabins. If you prefer lodging with more amenities, we recommend staying in the following places in Santa Catalina.

Isla Coiba is a must-see on your Panama off the beaten path trip. Enjoy all the water sports you can imagine in a secluded environment with amazing biodiversity.