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Panama: Snorkeling Marine Parks of the Pacific and Caribbean

An 8-day expedition to snorkel protected marine ecosystems on both of Panama’s coasts.

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Overview

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS

  • Spend three days in the Gulf of Chiriquí exploring the second biggest coral reef in the eastern Pacific. 800 species of fish, 33 species of sharks, and 20 species of cetaceans can be found in this extremely productive ecosystem.
  • Travel to Isla Uvas and the Islas Secas Archipelago, two rarely visited gems of the Panamanian Pacific.
  • Snorkel the warm, calm seas at Bocas del Toro, home to hundreds of different sponges, seahorses, tropical fish, and almost 80 coral species.

Panama is a country full of hidden treasures. This small country is the bridge between continents and the narrow division between two oceans, a unique position that has bestowed it with enormous biodiversity. Our 8-day expedition will focus on exploring the natural bounty found within Panama’s outstanding marine national parks, with visits to three important marine protected areas—Coiba Island and the Gulf of Chiriquí in the Pacific, and Isla Bastimentos (Bocas del Toro area) in the Caribbean.

There will be plenty of opportunities for snorkeling (on 6 different days) and wildlife observation throughout our itinerary. We will also visit the famous Panama Canal and hike along the original road built by the conquistadors to transfer their South American plunder to waiting galleons on the Caribbean coast. Join us for this engaging exploration of Panama’s Pacific and Caribbean marine ecosystems!

Trip Dates & Cost

2019: May 2–9. $4,695 / person. Single supplement fee: $775. Group size limit: 12.*

2020: May 3–10. $4,895 / person. Single supplement fee: $775. Group size limit: 12.*

* Trip price does not include international airfare. Click here for our full expedition terms and condition

Photos
Naturalist

Roger Harris is a long-time Oceanic Society naturalist with 30 years of experience working as a guide. In addition to working with Oceanic Society, Roger has frequently worked as a naturalist for Lindblad Expeditions and the National Audubon Society. As a naturalist he has led eco-tours in Honduras, Belize, Kenya, Great Barrier Reef, Galapagos, Baja California, and SE Alaska. Roger is also a professional conservation biologist specializing in endangered species, wetlands, and native habitat restoration. He earned a graduate degree in ornithology from U.C. Berkeley, and is both a NAUI diver and an expert world birder.

Morrison Mast is an Oceanic Society naturalist and special projects manager, and has devoted his career to wildlife conservation and education. Morrison holds a dual B.S. in Biology and Environmental Policy from the College of William and Mary and is a U.S. Student Fulbright Scholar.

Keoki Stender is a native Hawaiian photographer, educator, diving industry specialist, and owner of marinelifephotography.com, a popular species identification resource for Hawaii and beyond. He studied marine science and botany at the University of Hawaii and shares this passion as a guest speaker and volunteer educator for many organizations. Keoki is a PADI scuba instructor with more than 25 years of experience in the dive industry.

Itinerary

The following itinerary is provided for informational purposes and is subject to change due to unforeseen circumstances or circumstances beyond our control. Accommodations may be substituted with comparable hotels based on the final group needs or changes to the itinerary. Note: (B, L, D) denotes the meals provided each day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner).

Day 1: Panama City
After arrival you will be transferred to our hotel in the Casco Viejo neighborhood, the historical center of Panama City. Early arrivals can join a walking tour around Casco Viejo. This evening we will have a welcome dinner with introductions and trip orientation. Overnight at Hotel Magnolia Inn Casco Viejo. (D)

Day 2: Panama Canal - Santa Catalina
After breakfast we drive across the Panama Canal and along the Pacific coast towards the province of Veraguas (~4 hours). After a stop for lunch, we will embark by boat on a sightseeing trip through the Golf of Montijo wetlands reserve en route to our hotel in the small coastal village / surf town of Santa Catalina, the departure point for our trip to the famous Coiba Island. This evening, we will have dinner with local marine expert and begin to learn about the unique attributes of this area as well as marine conservation efforts. Overnight at Hotel Santa Catalina. (B,L,D)

Day 3: Isla Coiba National Park
Today we will devote a full day to snorkeling and marine wildlife observation at different sites within Isla del Coiba National Park, which consists of big Coiba Island and about 38 small islets. Coiba National Park is home to one of the biggest coral reefs in the eastern Pacific at Damas Bay, which spans some 335 acres. 800 species of fish, 33 species of sharks, and 20 species of cetaceans are found in the park’s extremely productive ecosystem, and many large marine species are also found here including humpback whales, manta rays, and sea turtles. Coiba Island is often compared to the Galápagos in terms of its diversity of marine wildlife diversity and geological similarities. On our outing today we may visit Granito de Oro, a famous snorkeling spot with fields of brain and fan coral, and enjoy a hike on the island. Return in the afternoon to the hotel in Santa Catalina (a 75 minute return boat trip). Overnight at Hotel Santa Catalina. (B,L,D)

Day 4: Islas Secas Archipelago and Boca Chica
Today we will make the long but scenic boat trip to Boca Chica, made worthwhile by opportunities en route to snorkel at the Islas Uvas and the Islas Secas archipelagos, rarely visited gems of the Panamanian Pacific. In the afternoon we’ll arrive to our hotel at Boca Chica, the Hotel Bocas del Mar. (B,L,D)

Day 5: Bocas del Toro Archipelago
Leaving Chiriquí province toward Bocas del Toro, we will drive a scenic route that takes us across the continental divide to the Caribbean port town of Almirante (4 hours). Small boats bring us to the main island of the Bocas del Toro archipelago, Isla Colón, where we will check in to our hotel in the center of town. This afternoon we will enjoy the chance to snorkel at nearby Hospital Point on Solarte Island. Afterwards we will meet with an expert at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute to learn about the diversity and threats of marine life and Caribbean coastal ecosystems. Overnight at Hotel Bocas del Toro. (B,L,D)

Day 6: Bastimentos National Marine Park
Today we will spend a full day on the water visiting Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park, home to some of the best snorkeling in the region. Hundreds of different sponges, tropical fish, and almost eighty coral species attract snorkelers to the area’s warm, calm seas. Sheltered areas on the south sides of the islands offer calm waters with varied coral reefs to explore. Today we will visit snorkeling sites at Crawl Cay and Cayos Zapatillas and have the chance to enjoy beautiful white sand beaches. Today we will also visit Delphin Bay and a local farm where artisanal chocolate is produced from organic cacao. Overnight at Hotel Bocas del Toro. (B,L,D)

Day 7: Bocas del Toro - Panama City
This morning we’ll board a flight back to Panama City where we have lunch and visit Camino de las Cruces National Park, with a historical trail set in the tropical rainforest. We will also visit the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal, where the ships from the Pacific float up towards the level of Miraflores Lake. This evening we’ll have a farewell dinner in the historic Casco Viejo neighborhood. Overnight at Hotel Magnolia Inn Casco Viejo. (B,L,D)

Day 8: Fly home
Today you will be transferred back to the airport in time for your return flights.

Accommodations

Participants will stay in a variety of hotels that offer a balance of comfort, amenities, and proximity to our planned activities.

Hotels are subject to change due to unforeseen circumstances, and will be substituted with a comparable alternative.

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