Coiba National Park

Courtesy of UNESCO World Heritage Site

Coiba National Park (CNP) is located some twenty miles by boat to the southeast of the Archipelago of Las Secas. Full day trips to the Coiba National Park and its many attractions and activities are available to all our guests. Guide, packed lunch and refreshments are included.

Attractions include;
* Inshore and Offshore Sports Fishing.
* World Class Scuba Diving.
* Snorkeling with the Reef Shark on the vibrant reefs.
* Whale and marine mammal watching.
* Visits to a variety of spectacular beaches and islands.
* Guided Treks and Hikes on several interpretation trails.
* Visit to La Central, main prison camp of Coiba Island.
* Trek and Visit to "Las Thermales" Thermal Springs.
* Hikes to the Volcanic Fault.
* Bird Watching.
* Visit to the Park Ranger Station and Information Center.
* River and Mangrove Excursions.

Coiba was declared a National Park in 1992 and received UNESCO World Heritage Site status in July of 2005.

The Coiba National Park is, without question, the "Crown Jewel" of Panama's extensive and spectacular protected reserves. Remote, wild, uninhabited and of great natural beauty, it is a biological "Hot Spot" which provides protected and undisturbed habitat for thousands of terrestrial and marine species and is a "Mecca and complexity of animal migratory routes and reproduction sites".

A thick carpet of lush, primary tropical rain forests plunges down onto the exposed, dramatic and rugged formations of the western-facing coastlines, in contrast to the islands' eastern shores, with their crystalline azure waters, white sandy beaches, hidden coves and bays.

The park and its special zone of protection boast protected ecosystems from its highlands to the deep waters of the continental abyss.

The CNP encompasses 2,701 kms2 or 1043 mls2 and includes Coiba and thirty-eight smaller islands. The total land area covers 535 kms2 or 207 mls2 while the oceanic area is 2,165 km2 or 836 mls2. Coiba Island has a total surface area of 503 kms2 or 194 mls2

The CNP's Special Zone of Marine Protection was included as an annex to the park as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. This added 1,607 kms2 or 621 mls2 to the marine component. This special zone includes Panama's only oceanic island, Montuosa, and a seamount called the Hannibal Bank. The total protected environment of the CNP covers an area of 3,300 kms2 or 2,052 mls2, and is one of the largest marine protected areas in the world.

The CNP still has approximately 85% of its ancient primary tropical very humid forest, surrounded by 240 km of coastline and irrigated by an extensive network of rivers, the largest of which, Rio San Juan, is 23 km or 13 mls long. Its highest point is Cerro La Torre at 435 mts or 1,430 ft. Extensive old mangrove forests are habitat for caiman and an abundance of large American crocodiles.

Botanical surveys suggest the existence of around 1,900 species of vascular plants, including an abundance of endemics and numerous very rare and threatened species.
A high level of endemism is reported for many groups of mammals and birds. Coiba Island is home to one of the last and largest groups of the Scarlet Macaw in Central America and a nesting site for the extremely rare and elusive Crested Eagle.
These protected waters are vibrant and alive and host a rich and diverse community of marine fauna including over 1,700 hectares of coral reefs, mollusks, echinoderms, sea turtles and cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), and 760 species of fish, 33 species of shark and rays, including whale shark, tiger shark, bull shark, white-tip reef, black-tip and scalloped hammerheads. Oceanic currents that sweep the region transport lava, fish and coral species normally associated with the tropical Indio-pacific.

The park's extensive deserted beaches are some of the last remaining protected nesting areas for marine turtles in Panama. They include undisturbed nesting habitat for the giant Pacific Leatherback, whose status of conservation is cited on the UICN list as "Critical".

The Island of Montuosa and the Hannibal Bank contrast the protected reef environments of the park. These areas are totally pelagic/open ocean deep-water environments. Perched on the edge of the abyssal depths of the Mid-American Trench, 2,500 mts/8,000 ft deep. Giant pelagics, such as Blue and Black Marlin, Sail Fish, Giant Yellow and Pacific Blue Fin Tuna and a host of large, schooling, predatory fishes and sharks frequent these sites.

The ancient formation of Coiba Island first rose from the abyssal depths of the ocean approximately a thousand miles south of its present geographical position, and 300 miles south of where the Galapagos Islands are situated today. It is a product of a huge submarine lava outpour called the "Galapagos Hotspot".

The Pacific Tectonic Plate, riding on a bed of molten lava, shifted to the north and carried this newly formed island and several other new land masses towards what then existed of the Central American Isthmus. The Pacific Plate collided and sub-ducted below the Caribbean Plate, forming a mid-ocean ridge, triggering a whole chain of submarine volcanic activity, which formed Panama's extensive highlands. Rising sea levels triggered extensive coastal erosion, inducing massive shoaling which eventually closed the gap in the Central American Isthmus.

The isthmus of Panama rose from the deep ocean, the land bridge between the two super continents of North and South America was formed, and the tropical ocean divided.
Coiba, once an oceanic island for over seventy million years, became a continental island.
The consequences of these events had much wider reaching affects, and are considered to be some of the most significant in our planet's natural history since the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Coiba Island was once considered the Devil's Island of Central America. From 1918 until the year 2000 the island was used as a Penal Colony. Twenty camps were established, which held up to 2,000 inmates. This was a model prison, which produced enough food to feed all the inmates on the island, other prisons on the mainland and supplied food to some of the local schools.

La Central was the principal camp and distribution point of prisoners to other camps. The regime was rigid but, for the most part, relaxed. However, beneath the carpet of  the ancient forests of Coiba lies a very dark and sinister past. Recent international investigations have revealed terrible events and the apparent disappearance of hundreds of prisoners, who to this day have never been accounted for. Coiba's distance from the mainland, strong currents and very healthy shark populations deterred most escape attempts.
Half-day excursions to "La Central" can be arranged.

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