Coiba is the largest island in Central America (500+ km2 / 190+ sq mi), off the Pacific coast of the Panamanian Isthmus in the Gulf of ChiriquรญCoiba National Park is a marine reserve comprised of a group of 38 islands including at its core, Isla Coiba.

coiba reefs

In 1992 after Panama created Coiba National Park, encompassing nearby islands, forests, beaches, mangroves and coral reefs.

Due to the Gulf of Chiriquรญ’s capacity to buffer against the effects of El Niรฑo temperature swings, the marine ecosystems within Coiba National Park harbors a high degree of biodiversity rivalign those of the Galapagos Islands.

It’s a massive marine habitat providing protection for coral reefs, humpback whales, pilot whales, killer whales, dolphins, sea turtles, manta rays, marlins for a total of 760 species of marine fishes, 33 species of sharks and 20 species of cetaceans other marine creatures. In July 2005, Unesco declared it a World Heritage Site.


Around 17,000 years ago when sea levels rose after the last iceage, plants and animals on the new island became isolated from mainland populations and over the millennia most animals have diverged in appearance and behaviour from their mainland counterparts.

coiba swimming iguana


The island is home to many endemic subspecies, including the Coiba Island howler monkey, the Coiba agouti and the Coiba spinetail. The island also harbours tree species that have long disappeared from the mainland and close to 100 bird species.

From 1919 – 2004 it served as a notoriuos penal colony under the dictatorships of Torrijos and Noriega and the prison on Coiba was a feared place.
As such, the island was avoided by locals, and other than the old prison, was completely undeveloped.

Coiba Island

The Coiba Island howler a kind of New World monkey, endemic to Panama. Though the Coiba Island howler is usually acknowledged as a separate species, mitochondrial DNA testing is inconclusive as to if itโ€™s really a subspecies of the mantled howler. The dermal ridges of its arms and toes differ.

coiba birds

The 20-21 Panana Posse also the year of the howler monkey !

howler coiba

Photographs by Christian Ziegler, Tim Laman, Pacific Advent, Vackova, a.m.o.

penetentiary coiba

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