Coiba was on my travel list for years! It was a sort of dream destination – spectacular yet somehow out of reach. One of the biggest stop points - how to get there?!
Turns out it is not so difficult! We left from Panama City, spent a night in the chill surf town of Santa Catalina, and took a boat early the next morning to Coiba.
Panama City to Santa Catalina. The journey requires patience, but it’s totally worth the hours on the road! In a car, the ride takes around five to six hours depending on traffic. Try to arrive during daylight, as the route can be confusing once you leave the Pan-American Highway. And, take a print map with you! We lost cell phone service en route (and with it our Waze directions) – and spent a few unnecessary hours zooming around Veraguas. You can take a bus, but you’ll need extra patience, as you’ll have to change buses in Soná. Check the departure times for the Soná -> Santa Catalina leg of the journey as well because the bus may stop running after a certain hour.
Travel tips: Bring enough cash with you. A number of places in Santa Catalina do not accept credit cards, and as far as I know, there is no ATM in town. Also, bring a flashlight! A number of roads aren’t lit in the evening.
Santa Catalina to Coiba. To get to Coiba, you’ll need to arrange for a boat or join a boat tour. The trip to the park ranger station (Estación Gambute) takes approximately one hour. There are several neat points on the Island to explore (more on that in an upcoming post!), but you’ll need a boat to reach them. One of the many amazing things about Coiba is its size – it is larger than Barbados! Usually boat drivers set their rates based on the stops you plan on taking, so it is worthwhile to do a bit of research beforehand. The Ministry of the Environment has several basic cabins on Coiba where you can stay overnight as well. There are basically no amenities on Coiba – you should bring water, food and everything you need.
Travel tips: Bring plenty of water, food and sunscreen! If you plan on hiking bring good walking shoes (the trails, especially during the rainy season, can get very slippery). If a storm is approaching, do not attempt to reach Coiba via boat. The waves can really swell between Santa Catalina and Coiba.
Walking in Boquete is fantastic. Within minutes of the downtown square, you can be strolling through absolute lushness. The flowers here are almost electric in color and the green rolling hills are immersive. An added plus is the scent of pine – a smell that brings me right back to my childhood and is hard to find in Panama City. It is even more stellar to see pine intermixed with tropical trees. This is where the North meets the South.
On this trip I was traveling alone and was somewhat hesitant to hop on a wooded trail by myself, so I opted for a roads route. I found the route on HablaYa’s blog (Thanks HablaYa – great article! See: www.hablayapanama.com/blog/2014/06/fun-things-to-do-in-boquete-on-your-own-day-trips-in-boquete/). There are a number of other recommended routes I’m looking to test out on my next visit!
I took the Buenos Aires Road – Rainbow Route (pictures above!). One of the benefits of this route is that it is very easy to follow. Beyond one right hand turn, you stay on the same road. The walk took me approximately two hours. There are several hills but nothing too strenuous.
The sidewalks during the first half of the walk were in pretty decent conditions, but they disappeared during the second half of the walk. Nevertheless, there aren’t many cars on the roads and for most of the route I could walk along the grassy side. Cars tend to go quickly when they do pass though, so be careful!
Hope you have a fantastic walk :)