The Malpelo Nature Reserve and Coiba National Marine Park are both found off the Pacific Coast of Panama. Malpelo is a very sharp, tiny rocky outcrop in the middle of the ocean about 500 km (310 mi) west of the Colombian mainland, and Coiba is a larger island found just 50 km (30 miles) from mainland Panama. Both are fantastic dive destinations which offer serious pelagic fish encounters that rival both Cocos and Galapagos.
Malpelo is shaped like a steep spire which rises up from very deep waters. When the prevailing Humboldt and Panama currents collide with the sides of the island, they force great amounts of nutrient rich water up from the depths towards the surface. Here the rich colder waters mix with plankton and are exposed to sunlight, where there is an explosive growth of food near the surface. These plankton rich waters are what support the entire ecological marine food chain. This process and overall environment is what makes Malpelo such a rare and amazing diving destination.
Divers regularly see hundreds of different species of schooling sharks during their trips to Malpelo. The most commonly seen and well known are Silky sharks. But huge schools of (up to 500) Hammerheads are also seen in the waters around Malpelo. There are also regular sightings of Whale sharks, Tiger sharks, Galapagos sharks, and even the very rare Smalltooth Sandtiger shark. Many ray species are also drawn to the island including pelagic manta rays, and hundreds of individual schooling Eagle rays can also be seen at Malpelo.
Coiba is is the largest island off the Pacific Coast of Central and South America, with an area of 500 square km (193 square miles), and is located only 30 miles off the coast of Panama in the Gulf of Chiriquí. The island was separated from the mainland only about 15,000 years ago when sea level rose. So the terrestrial plants and animals have evolved separately than species found in Central and South America. Underwater, the topography is linked by the underwater Cordillera mountain chain to Cocos and Galapagos Islands. Scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute have proclaimed Coiba an unparalleled destination for discovering new marine species. The area boasts more than 750 species of fish. It is also possible to see whales in the park all year round, with September to November the best months to see mother and calf Humpback Whales together.