SANTA CATALINA

Travel Information

GETTING TO SANTA CATALINA

From Panama City & David

The main airport in Panama is Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport with airport code (PTY).

BUS – From Panama City:

Take a bus at the Albrook Bus Terminal directly to Soná. From Soná there are buses to Santa Catalina at 4:30 am, 5:30 am, 8:40 am, 11:20 am, 1:30 pm, and 3:30 pm. This is a 7-8-hour adventure. Approx. $ 15 total. If you miss the last bus in Sona, you can take a taxi to Santa Catalina for around $ 40 (approx. one hour).

CAR – From Panama City:

Assuming you rented a car at the airport, follow signs for Panama Centro, and later Punta Paitilla on the Corridor Sur highway. Once you get into the city, you want to exit on coastal road Avenida Balboa and follow signs to Avenida de Los Martires which eventually leads you out of the city on the Bridge of the Americas (Puente de Las Americas). Stay on the Inter American highway until Santiago (about 240 k, 3 hours). The only place where you may question which fork to take on the highway there is a sign “Autopista / Chorrera”, stay left here, and merge into the main highway again.

Navigating through downtown Santiago can be tricky. We recommend you continue through Santiago on the highway, another 6/7 kilometers towards David, and take a left at the sign pointing towards La Peña / Santa Catalina / Soná. Drive slowly here as there are a school, police station, and a beautiful stone church. You come to a T, and take a hard right towards Soná. Continue on this road until the Delta gas station BEFORE Soná. Take a left. This road is new from La Peña to Santa Catalina.  About 40k in, there is another sign at the “El Tigre” junction where you take a left. This is well marked. There is a final right at the police station in Hicaco, ten kilometers from Santa Catalina. The only questionable “Y” in the road where you may not be sure is pointing the way to Ya Ya. DO NOT go to Ya Ya. Stay left. This trip is approx. 5-6 hours by car.

BUS – From David:

From the Bus Terminal in David, take a bus to Santiago. From Santiago to Sona ‘- see above. Approx. 6 hours from David.

CAR – From David/Bocas:

There is a short cut, turning right off of the InterAmericana Highway in Guabalá directly after the main police check. It takes you through Puerto Vidal to Soná along the coast without having to go to Santiago. It’s a brand-new asphalt road and the scenery is beautiful. Take a right after the town of Soná just before the Delta gas station. Follow the directions above from Panama City. This route is approximately 3.5 hours from David. It saves you 1.5 hours not going to Santiago.

TRIP INFORMATION

Passport and Visa Requirements

Panama divides tourists into two groups – those that need a tourist visa, and those that only need a passport. Citizens of the following countries only need a passport to enter Panama:

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United States.

It is important to note, however, that this list can change. Check with your home embassy for the current requirements before traveling. All travelers entering Panama must have a return or onward ticket out of the country.

All guests of Discover Coiba must bring a valid passport on the boat. Once we are inside the park, the rangers will check the date of the stamp in your passport to make sure you are in the country legally. You will not be permitted to board the boat without a valid passport (or cedula for Panamanian citizens and residents).

Best Time to Visit

All year long you can experience warm, tropical weather in Panama. There are two seasons here, a wet season and a dry season.

Dry Season – falls between December and April/May and is the highest time for tourism. This is also the time that the water is cooler and rich with plankton, bringing the manta rays, whale sharks, and large pelagics. (The only time we offer overnight trips to the islands where we sleep in tents/hammocks is during the dry season.)

Whale Season – July through November is whale season when humpback whales come to Coiba to give birth to their calves. Whale season lasts until the beginning of November. (During whale season we do not offer trips for camping on the islands because this is also the wet season, but you can join our overnight trips in a hotel close to Coiba National Park)

Weather

Our expeditions put you close to nature and this includes the tropical weather. There are two seasons here, a wet season and a dry season. The dry season is from December – April/May. The wet season is from May – November, and October is the month with the highest amount of rainfall. We do not offer trips during the month of October for this reason. If you are traveling during the wet season, we recommend that you bring a light rain jacket to protect you from the windchill. Just because it is the wet season does not mean that it will rain every day. Sometimes there are weeks of uninterrupted sunshine during the wet season. It is common to have sunshine during the morning and light showers late in the afternoon. We use the local weather advisory to check the daily weather and are always prepared for any kind of weather.

Scuba Diving

We do not offer scuba diving on our trips, but we highly recommend if you are a diver that you do some diving before you leave Santa Catalina. Coiba National Park has been described by many as the “New Galapagos” and offers world-class diving. There are 5 dive shops in the village, and we recommend making a reservation with one of them before you arrive. Spots on the boats can fill up quickly, especially between December and April.

Santa Catalina Hotel Recommendations

  1. Catalina’s Hideaway (catalinashideaway.com) is a beachfront resort located in Lago Bay that offers a free shuttle service for drop off and picks up to the Discover Coiba Panama office.
  2. Sol y Mar Hotel (solymarpanama.com) is located along the main street, close to restaurants, Santa Catalina beach, and Discover Coiba Panama.
  3. Casa Brava Ventura (CasaBravaVentura) is a private 3 bedroom/3 bathroom house above Santa Catalina with an ocean view.

Camping Amenities

There are several base camps located around the islands that we sleep on. There are proper showers and toilets at one of the base camps, so this is where we will sleep unless ALL members of the group decide to adventure to one of the other base camps.

Departure and Arrival Times

We will meet at our office on the main street of Santa Catalina (next to Yolo pizza, across from Bodhi hostel) at 7:30 am. We will return on the last day of the trip sometime in the late afternoon.  Come in and see us in the office between 3-6:30 pm before the day of your scheduled trip to check in. Please present a valid ID (passport, driver’s license, cedula) upon check-in. If you are arriving late in the evening and are unable to check in before 6:30 pm, please let us know in advance.

Cash in Santa Catalina

Santa Catalina is a small village and currently, there is only one ATM machine. The last bus stop before Santa Catalina is the town of Sona, where there are ATM machines and a bank. While some of the restaurants in Santa Catalina accept credit cards, others do not. There are frequent power outages and when this happens you will not be able to use your credit card.

PAYMENTS, CANCELLATIONS & RE-BOOKING POLICY

Payments, Cancellation & Re-booking Policy

Payments – We require a full payment to confirm your reservation. This is payable by PayPal or Bank Transfer. Please be advised that there is an additional 5.5% charge for PayPal payments. You do not need to be registered with PayPal to make a payment. Instructions on how to pay will be included in your booking e-mail.

Cancellation – We only cancel a trip if there is a severe weather warning or the Coast Guard does not give us clearance to leave. If our trip cannot proceed on the scheduled departure date, we will reschedule in the next two days. If you cancel, we will not refund your payment as we were able to move the trip. Make sure that your Travel Insurance will cover this in case it happens. We will only issue a full refund if we are the one who cancelled the full trip.

If you wish to cancel a trip entirely then you will be charged a cancellation fee of 50 USD, 45 EURO or 40 GBP per person. Also, 50% of your full payment will be forfeited if notice is given less than 30 days before your scheduled trip. This also applies to cancellation or reducing the number of person/s.

No refunds will be made if you do not show up for your scheduled departure and we will not refund any amount if you have cancelled 14 days before your scheduled departure.

Making Changes to Your Reservation – Re-booking and/or changes are possible up to 30 days before your scheduled departure but subject to availability.

  1. A re-booking fee of 40 USD, 35 EURO, or 32 GBP  per person will apply.
  2. Reservation is also transferable to another person for a fee of 40 USD, 35 EURO, or 32 GBP per person.
  3. If you decide to re-book your 4 days 3 nights trip to a 3 days 2 nights trip or a trip with any number of less days, you will not be entitled to a refund equivalent to the difference in the number of days. Moreover, you are still required to pay the applicable re-booking fee to make changes.
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