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A lonely rock in the East Pacific Ocean, Malpelo Island’s true treasures lie beneath its waves where scuba divers will be awed by a huge shark population.

Diving in Malpelo Island

Quick facts

Malpelo Island features strong and changing currents as well as occasional rough seas and is therefore recommended for advanced divers. It is only accessible by diving liveaboard vessels so make sure to book in advance as only one vessel is allowed at the island at any given time. Liveaboard vessels depart from two locations which are either David in Panama, or Buenaventura in Colombia.

Dive sites around the island feature mostly steep walls and pinnacles as the island rises from an undersea ridge. There are also caverns and some sandy bottoms to explore. Water temperature is usually warm at 79-82°F (26-28°C) but at the beginning of the year, it can get chilly with a range of 61-77°F (16-25°C).

Cold ocean upwelling caused by strong winds bring more plankton to the surface and this makes for busy dive sites at Malpelo Island. The plankton can reduce visibility to 33ft (10m) from the usual 100ft (30m) but it is well worth it given the abundant marine life around the island.

When to go

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USD 1,441Per trip
USD 605Per trip
USD 526Per trip

What to see

Schooling scalloped hammerhead sharks are a highlight at Malpelo Island especially at the La Nevara dive site. Sometimes seen in schools of about 200 sharks, they can also be joined with even larger schools of silky sharks. They come to feed and to visit cleaning stations so expect to see plenty of butterflyfish as well. These cleaning stations and the nutrient rich waters also attract gentle giants like oceanic manta rays and whale sharks. Whale shark sightings are frequent towards the north of Malpelo Island.

At most dive sites, find your visibility limited not necessarily by plankton in the water, but clouds of bigeye trevally, red snapper, pacific creolefish, juvenile barracuda and grunts. Pelagic hunters like yellowfin tuna, Galapagos sharks, and amberjacks eagerly patrol these enormous schools for meals.

At deeper depths of 133ft (40m) you may chance upon the very rare smalltooth sand tiger shark at the Bajo del Monstruo dive site or perhaps the very strange red-lipped batfish. Dive guides will often be on the lookout for bait balls happening in the open sea which can result in a very exciting dive.


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Rising from a deep undersea ridge in the East Pacific Ocean, the oceanic Malpelo Island is part of Colombia. It lies about 310 miles (500km) west of Colombia and is uninhibited, except for a small military outpost. Tiny in size at 0.46 square miles (1.2 square km), the island appears as barren rock, but is home to one of the world’s largest masked booby colonies.

Malpelo Island is formed by volcanic rock, and its surface is covered in lichen, mosses and algae. The island is surrounded by several other rocks which include the Tres Mosqueteros off the northeast corner and four other rocks off the southwest corner. The island and surrounding rocks drop off into deep water which goes as far as 13,000ft (4km).

Established as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006, Malpelo Island, or the Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, is known for its tremendous shark population. It is one of the few places in the world to see scalloped hammerhead sharks schooling in great numbers and joined by silky sharks. It is also a place where the rare smalltooth sand tiger shark can be seen. Weather at Malpelo is tropical and scuba divers are able to visit on a year-round basis.

Other attractions

Unfortunately, Malpelo Island is almost exclusively for scuba diving. Divers can however make short excursions onto the island to see the birds and also for stunning views.

Getting there

Fly to the Tocumen International Airport in Panama City or Gerardo Tobar López Airport in Buenaventura, Colombia. If arriving at Panama City, you may take a connecting flight to Enrique Malek International Airport in the city of David or an overnight bus ride.


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