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Start Here: Part I and Part II of my dive trip to Isla de Coiba.

With limited electricity on Isla de Coiba, we soon returned to the rhythm of the land — dozing off no long after sunset and rising naturally before sunrise. On our third day in Coiba National Park, we made the short walk over to the abandoned pier to catch front row seats to the show. The sky showed off a brilliant array of hues while eagle rays leapt out of the water, competing for our attention — and tempting Anders to futilely attempt to film them.

It was a beautiful start to a stunning day. Our first dive of the day was at Suena de Pescador. I was somewhat apprehensive after the previous afternoon’s incident, and the deep ocean moorings and the promise of bad visibility and strong current didn’t help. But I eased back in — I requested to be one of the last few to enter the water so I wouldn’t tire myself out waiting for the others to get in, I de-fogged my mask with care and asked the dive guide to bring a spare, and I told my dive buddy to stick close.

It was worth it. A giant stingray, an awe-inspiring school of jacks, and several snappy morays kept me smiling into my regulator throughout the dive.

Another day, another abandoned beach safety stop. This time we found one with dramatic dark sand — and, unfortunately, a cove filled to the brim with plastic waste washed in by the tides. It was a sad reminder that while completely undeveloped, even Coiba National Park is not safe from the influence of man.

Our second dive was at Sombrero de Pelo, a dive site known for great visibility and a resident colony of garden eels — the latter being notoriously difficult to photograph. So instead I turned my camera on more cooperative subjects, such as a gaping frogfish, an aggressive eel, and some of my fellow divers.

Our final dive of the day was at Mali Mali, which I quickly mentally renamed as Mucho Sharkies. While white-tip reef sharks had been present on pretty much every single one of our dives, on this one in particular they swarmed and swirled curiously around us. We had heard this dive site was a cleaning and feeding station for large pelagics and kept our eyes peeled through our masks for some manta rays — they, along with whale sharks, continued to allude us — but we had no luck in that particular department. There was, however, a whole ocean-worth of other fish to keep us busy.

That night we toasted to our final night on the island — and to the hope of seeing whale sharks. Among our group, as among most divers, they were almost an obsession, and we wouldn’t leave fully satisfied without seeing one.

Stay tuned for the final installment of posts
about our expedition into Coiba National Park!

Many thanks to for their hospitality. As always, you receive my thorough and honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.

. . . . . . . .

Curious about my underwater photography setup? Check out my Obsessions page for information on my camera gear, editing programs and more.

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30 Comments...
  • Shaun
    April 8 2014

    Man, good job making both eels smile for the camera! Also the pictures with the big schools of fish, it kinda looks like they’re trying to photobomb each other.

    I see a face in the….fish star, picture too. Pretty cool.

    That sunrise is worth the early wakeup call.
    Shaun recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 9 2014

      Thanks Shaun! Underwater photography is such a challenge… it really feels good when something goes right πŸ™‚

  • Katie
    April 8 2014

    Are the currents always pretty strong at Coiba? I’m still very much a newbie diver, so I get a little nervous about currents! Another great post that has seriously convinced me that I have to get to Panama next. Do you use any type of light when taking pictures diving?
    Katie recently posted..

  • Janice Stringer
    April 8 2014

    White tip reef sharks… can’t wait till I get the opportunity to dive with them! πŸ™‚
    Janice Stringer recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 9 2014

      They are really magical. I am lucky and have dove with them so many times I don’t feel even a hint of fear being around them. Tiger or bull sharks, on the other hand…

      • Janice Stringer
        April 9 2014

        Hi Meihoukai,
        My husband had the opportunity to dive with Bull Sharks at Beqa Lagoon in Fiji, he didn’t feel any fear with them. I’ll be putting up a post about that soon. It just was so different than we are taught to believe, I think!
        Janice Stringer recently posted..

  • Lindsey
    April 8 2014

    Coiba looks like such an AMAZING place to dive! You mentioned in one of the other posts that divers should be experienced to dive here. How would you recommend deciding if you have enough experience to take on challenging sites like these?
    Lindsey recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 9 2014

      That’s a tough question! I think the best thing to do if you aren’t sure would be to base yourself in Santa Catalina and try a day trip or two before committing to a big multi-day trip. That way you can test the waters and if you’re overwhelmed it’s not a huge loss… and if you’re up for the challenge, you can go big!

  • MCVK
    April 8 2014

    Excellent photographs, great stories. I hope you were able to see the black sand on a cloudless night with a full moon – the sand sparkles as if a giant hand has strewn diamonds all across the beach. It gives the nighttime star-filled sky in Panama serious competition. “Excuse me while I kiss the sky!” as Jimi Hendrix sang. There are many black sand beaches in Panama.

    • Meihoukai
      April 9 2014

      We stayed at a kind of black sand beach in Santa Catalina, Estero beach. It was indeed beautiful πŸ™‚

  • I know I’ve mentioned this on other posts, but your pictures and stories about Isla de Coiba are so lust-worthy. I absolutely can’t wait to try diving! Theres a whole different world down there!
    Emily from Let’s Roam Wild recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 9 2014

      Thanks Emily! You’re going to be hooked as soon as you do try it, I’ll bet πŸ™‚ Enjoy the ride!

  • Janice Stringer
    April 9 2014

    Hi Meihoukai,
    A question. On your travels what size dive groups are you finding you are scuba diving with?
    Janice Stringer recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 9 2014

      Hey Janice, this was a group of eight! It was actually a little large considering the conditions I think six would have been better. It really varies by destination and dive shop though.

  • Erin
    April 9 2014

    These are some gorgeous pics! You’ve really inspired me to learn to dive, it looks so amazing.
    Erin recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 9 2014

      I’m so happy to hear that, Erin! That’s always my goal πŸ™‚

  • Suki F
    April 9 2014

    Good lord! Thos photos of the sunset and the one of the beach took my breath away. I wish I could visit that island.

    • Meihoukai
      April 15 2014

      It will be there when you are ready πŸ™‚ Coiba is a beautiful place!

  • Jade
    April 9 2014

    The colours of Coiba! Awesome photos are usual. I cannot get over how cool that frogfish is!

    • Meihoukai
      April 15 2014

      Thanks Jade! Yeah, I loved those guys! I think we saw five or six on this trip which is nuts, because I remember how excited I was to see my first one ever in Hawaii last year. They are amazing creatures.

  • Taylor
    April 9 2014

    Loved the frog fish and eel picture… Never saw a frog fish before I saw your first post in Coiba. I really want to get my dive license now :p
    Taylor recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 15 2014

      That’s my plan — get ya’ll addicted to diving like me! πŸ˜‰ Glad you’ve enjoyed this series!

  • tammyonthemove
    April 10 2014

    Glad that this dive was a little less scary. What on earth is that scary looking yellow thing next to the photo od the aggressive eel though? Looks like something from a different world.
    tammyonthemove recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 15 2014

      It’s a frogfish! Yup, they are weirdos πŸ™‚

  • Hamish Healys
    April 11 2014

    Your love for photography shows with the photos you’ve taken of ISLA DE COIBA. They’re awesome! Am I an ignoramus or what? First time I’ve heard of this beautiful island. This must be in South America.

    • Meihoukai
      April 15 2014

      Indeed, it’s in Panama πŸ™‚ I hadn’t heard of it either, don’t feel bad!

  • Adam
    April 14 2014

    Nothing like getting off the grid for a few days (I may need to do something like this soon!) … but diving in the cerulean waters off Panama makes it even better!

    • Meihoukai
      April 15 2014

      I need to do it a lot more often πŸ™‚ Definitely recharges both the mind and soul.

  • Andres
    April 16 2014

    Hey Meihoukai,

    What’s your diving experience? (how many dives have you done, what certifications you hold)You take really good photos and was wondering how long it took you to come this far.

    • Meihoukai
      April 17 2014

      Hey Andres, I’m a divemaster with somewhere between 200-300 dives (I really need to count them up again!) I practice photography often above and below water, which I think is the key πŸ™‚ Hope that helps!