Coordinates: 7°29′N 81°47′W / 7.48°N 81.79°W / 7.48; -81.79
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Coiba National Park
Isla Granito de Oro, Coiba National Park
Map showing the location of Coiba National Park
Map showing the location of Coiba National Park
Location in Panama
LocationChiriquí, Panama
Coordinates7°29′N 81°47′W / 7.48°N 81.79°W / 7.48; -81.79
Area503 km2 (194 sq mi)
Official nameCoiba National Park and its Special Zone of Marine Protection
Criteriaix, x
Designated2005 (29th session)
Reference no.1138rev
State PartyPanama
RegionLatin America and the Caribbean

Coiba is the largest island in Central America, with an area of 503 km2 (194 sq mi), off the Pacific coast of the Panamanian province of Chiriquí. It is part of the Tolé District of that province.


Coiba separated from continental Panama about 12,000 to 18,000 years ago when sea levels rose. 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. The island is home to many endemic subspecies, including the Coiba Island howler monkey, the Coiba agouti, and the Coiba spinetail.

Coiba was home to the Coiba Cacique Indians until about 1560,[dubious ] when they were conquered by the Spanish and forced into slavery.[citation needed]

In 1919 a penal colony was built on the island and during the years that Panama was under the dictatorships of Omar Torrijos and Manuel Noriega, the prison on Coiba was a feared place with a reputation for brutal conditions, extreme tortures, executions and political murder. Nobody knows exactly how many people were killed in the prison during this period, but sources claim that the number could be close to three hundred. As such, the island was avoided by locals, and other than the prison, was completely undeveloped.

After the prison was closed down in 2004, the island's pristine condition made it ideal as a reserve. It is now said that the prison is haunted by the ghosts of prisoners. One story is that a guard was chasing a prisoner, but the prisoner was a ghost. The guard was so scared that he shot himself. It is also one of the last places in Central America where the scarlet macaw can be found in large numbers in the wild. The island is about 75% forested with a large fraction standing ancient forest. Coiba Island is home to rare flora and fauna found only on the island.[1] The island also harbours tree species that have long disappeared from the mainland due to deforestation and overharvesting.

Coiba National Park[edit]

In 1992, Panama created Coiba National Park, encompassing over 1,042 square miles of islands, forests, beaches, mangroves and coral reefs, and in July 2005, Unesco declared it a World Heritage Site.[2] The park includes Coiba island, 38 smaller islands off the southwest coast of Panama, and the surrounding marine areas within the Gulf of Chiriquí[3] providing protection for coral reefs, humpback whales, pilot whales, killer whales, dolphins, sea turtles, manta rays, marlins and other marine creatures.[4]

Due to the Gulf of Chiriquí's capacity to buffer against the effects of El Niño temperature swings, the marine ecosystems within Coiba National Park harbor a high degree of biodiversity. The park harbors 760 species of marine fishes, 33 species of sharks and 20 species of cetaceans.[3]


  1. ^ "How a Deadly Prison Island Became a Natural Paradise". National Geographic Society. 29 April 2017. Archived from the original on 14 August 2019. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  2. ^ Leonard, Thomas M. (2015). Historical Dictionary of Panama. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 81.
  3. ^ a b "Coiba National Park and its Special Zone of Marine Protection". UNESCO. Archived from the original on 2019-06-10. Retrieved 2020-01-25.
  4. ^ "The Coiba National Park, declared a world heritage site by UNESCO". Madrid. July 20, 2005. Archived from the original on January 25, 2020. Retrieved January 25, 2020.

External links[edit]

Coiba travel guide from Wikivoyage