Diving in Malpelo - our personal favorite! The summit of a 4000 meter mountain rising out of the water in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Wild, unpredictable, intriguing, that's Malpelo.
Malpelo island is classified as wildlife Santuary (Santuario de Flora y Fauna) by the colombian national park authorities and has the UNESCO STATUS of World natural heritage. The island is unhabited, there is only a small military outpost located on the north side of the island.
The island is located approximately 500 km (about 269 nautical miles) from either the colombian pacific harbour town Buenaventura or the Panamenian Pacific coast.
When Malpelo is at its best than there is no better place in the world to dive with sharks, big swarms and other pelagic fishes. 3 dive boats and a catamaran cruise the island SFF Malpelo in the Colombian Pacific. The Sea Wolf and Maria Patricia from Buenaventura / Colombia and the MV Yemaya and Catamaran Inula from Puerto Mutis and Puerto Pedregal in Panama.
What makes diving in Malpelo particularly nice, is the fact that there is only 1 boat allowed at the time. 1 day liveaboard crossing at the arrival and departure day is only permited.
Currently there are 4 dive liveaboard vessels operating Malpelo island; the Sea Wolf and Maria Patricia departing from Colombia and the Catamaran Inula and MV Yemaya 2 (both under German management) from Panama. From 2018 on the colombian government prohibited to operate Malpelo from Panama, the continuation of Malpelo liveaboards is at present still in the dark.
The navigation time to Malpelo takes about 32 hours mostly the same time either from Colombia or from Panama.
When good conditions prevail there is no better place in the world to observe schooling hammerhead sharks and other pelagic fishes like Tunas.
We have been diving regularly in Malpelo for more than 8 years and it remains nothing more to say than that the only constant in Malpelo is change. The conditions are permanently changing and predictions are hardly possible, despite there are seasonal trends in sealife and conditions but what one finds on the spot always a surprise, and that's what makes Malpelo so fascinating.
Arthur, the owner of Underseaventures, has performed around 1000 dives in Malpelo and this over 8 years in all seasons and at different liveaboards. The first dive trip to Malpelo in 2008 with the old pioneer boat Maria Patricia from Colombia was diving sensation. Huge whale sharks and plenty fo schooling hammerhead sharks had awaken great passion to Malpelo. Since then he had the privilege to dive with hundreds of silky sharks, action charged Baitballs and typical Malpelo surprises such as 14 meters large whale sharks surrounded by packs of silky sharks plus Mantas rays.
At that time Malpelo was unknown to most of the divers community, nowadays this Colombian island is a well-known diving spot in Europe and especially in Germany.
All this sounds great, but Malpelo is very much endangered by illegal fishing. Our experience is unfortunately that the Colombian government has other priorities than protections sharks. The future of Malpelos Underwater world is uncertain.
DIVING IN MALPELO ISLAND
Diving in Malpelo can be very demanding. The great depth and exposed location of this mountain exposes it to various oceanic currents. Some of them bring nutrient rich- waters from great depths to the surface. During a dive in Malpelo the currents and visibility can change in minutes and divers adaptation is required. Entrances from the skiff into the water are usually performed directly with negative entry wich means with empty BCD. In some places like the Gringa and David, located on the south side of the island, direct descents to 30 meters are performed!
It is not uncommon that due to strong winds and rough seas only one side can be dived on the island.
When the cleaning stations in Nevera (the Fridge), Arrecifes (Altar de Virginia), Cara de Fantasma etc are activated, which means the hammerheads come in to be cleaned, the divers remain seated in the rocks. This way the group get the sharks as close as possible but only if they are well coordinated they will achieve maximum results. Sometimes there is the unteachable Ego diver thinking he gets better shots swimming towards the hammerhead sharks usually he is stopped by the other divers themselves.
Malpelo offers walls and rock formations very interesting seamounts and pinnacles like for example "Aquario" in the northwest of the island, Ferreteria a prominent place in the far south and La Gringa. Gorgeous swim throughs as Vagamares, Cathedral (3 Musketeers) and La Gringa round up the Malpelo diving program.
WHAT TIME OF THE YEAR WHAT TO SEE IN MALPELO?
Difficult to speak about seasons in Malpelo but here are the trends:
Coldwater season is the time between the end of December to April, surface temperature from 23 to 26 degrees Celsius and Thermoclines can fall as low as 13/14 degrees Celsius often. Strong north winds can cause rough diving conditions. Good time for hammerheads in shallower water and observation of the Small tooth Sandtiger shark (Odontaspis ferox).
Warm water period in Malpelo is from May to November mid-December. 28 degrees Celsius surface temperature and Thermoclines 18-30 meters fall to 23/24 degrees Celsius. Normally calmer waters than in the cold season. May to August is Silky time and May to October Whalesharks.
Sharks in Malpelo:
Scalloped hammerhead sharks may be observed on almost every dive, from solitary animals to huge schools, the entire range is possible. Our personal sightings with most hammerheads were in the southern part of the island where we could detect enormously large schools.
Often we can see migrating at falling water temperature huge schools in the island in December. During the cold season they tend to swim in shallower waters.
Galapagos sharks are either individual animals or roam in packs of up to 12 animals over the sea bottom. They are quite regularly observed in Altar de Virginia, Nevera, 3 musketeers and between Gringa and Scuba.
Silky sharks, mainly femals, are every year gathering in more or less large groups of a few dozens up to thousands of animals in Malpelo. This is with no dout one of the highlights of this pacific ocean mountain. You never know if you will see them unless you are not getting there predictions are not possible. We saw them the last few years, especially between May and July sometimes until Septemer around Malpelo.
Whale sharks are observed regularly between May and September, sometimes few animals stay until November. Huge animals can be encountered while diving, especially Acuario is a dive spot that attracts the big whalesharks. They feed on the excrement of a huge swarm mullet snappers. Well then, have a nice meal!
The Smalltooth Sand Tiger or bumpy tail ragged tooth shark (odontapsis ferox), an endemic variation of the Sandtiger shark lives normally at deep grounds. This Prehistoric looking shark loves cold water, so usually during warm season they are inaccessible for normal recreational diving depths. In the cold time you have the best chances to observe this particular shark at 30-40 meters at Monster Reef.
Of course, really huge fish schools of Mullet snapper and Big Eye Jacks are always around in Malpelo and Bait Balls are another fantastic highlight!
DIVE SITES IN MALPELO
The island SFF Malpelo has 30 dive sites which are located all around the island.
The liveaboard concentrate diving activities usually to a few dives sites, where the most Underwater activity is concentrated.
The principal - most important dive sites in Malpelo are:
Arrecifes (Altar de Virginia)
Located on the north side of Malpelo this wall dive offers the best-preserved coral reef of the island, if conditions allow, check dives are executed on this spot. From January to March due to strong incoming north winds the availability of this place can be limited. This dive offers depth ranges from 7 to 32 meters with some of the best Hammerhead shark - cleaning stations in the coral gardens from 7-15 meters. Between Arrecifes and Cara de Fantasma we find the well-known Malpeo Pacific Barracuda swarm. This place attracts large schools of Leather bass groupers and bluefin trevally. Scallopped hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks and eagle rays are part of the standard program at this site.
Nevera (the fridge)
Probably the most popular dive site in Malpelo, location west side, just before the south end of the island. A 40 Meter deep slope fitted with large boulders and plenty of fan corals fans and the best hammerhead cleaning stations at a depth range of 12 up to 35 meters. We have experienced some of the most action packed dives in Malpelo at Nevera. Silky sharks, hammerheads often in an incredible explosion, patroling whale sharks, eagle rays and big, majestic Galapagos sharks (maybe Duskies) and sometimes just all of them together perform a large underwater dance in front of the hipnotized divers. When diving out in the blue at the end of the dive, sometimes the local bottle nose dolphin family crosses our ways.
A seamount in round shape with a diameter of about 30 meters, the top reef starting at 25 meters and reaching on the edges to 35 meters. Located south of the 3 musketeers on the west side of Malpelo. Since Acuario is exposed to currents, the descent is generally performed with a rope. In the deeper sections from 30 Meters on, this dive site is covered with beautiful white anemones. Acuario is always good for surprises, and between May and September, a popular spot for whale sharks. Here the largest swarms of Mullet snapper can be observed, a hug black cloud of fish. From time to time scalloped Hammerhead sharks get into this place for intense cleaning. Silky sharks love to circle around Acuario, close to the surface.
Well the biggest pinnacle sticking out of the water in Malpelo is located on the south side. Gringa provides a beautiful swimthrough beginning at 32 meters depth and reaching up to the surface.
The outside of Gringa offers an interesting rocky landscape at 32 meters depth and here the largest Hammerhead shark schools in Malpelo can be observed. During the season the Silky sharks form carpets of hundreds of animals near the surface.
Ferreteria (Hardware store)
The most exposed dive site and located on the south side Malpelos. Depth ranges between 18 and 35 meters. Ferreteria is not the top Hammerhead shark spot but always good for a surprise. Whale sharks and Silky Sharks like to show up regularly. The special thing about Ferreteria is the incredible density of fish and the largest accumulations of spotted moray eals in the clefts of the rock, a popular photography object for the Malpelo divers!
This 3 majestic rock are THE icon of Malpelo. When currents is soft than this is a great site to find huge swarms of big eye jacks, big Galapagos sharks and lots of Silky sharks. Whaleshark can be observed regularly on the southside. Portos the mid rock offers a beautiful swimthrough called Cathedral. There is a forth rock on the southeast side called d'Artagnan wich offers great diving. Depth ranges from 22 to 35 meters.
DIVE SITE MAP MALPELO ISLAND
HOW TO GET TO MALPELO ISLAND?
From Buenaventura in Colombia:
Sea Wolf and Maria Patricia leave from Bueanventura pacific harbour town in Colombia. The public bus leaves from Cali Bus Terminal, it takes about 3.5 hours to Buenaventura Bus Terminal. From there it is a few minutes to the tourist harbor. The airline Satena offers 3 flights a week from Bogota to Buenaventura.
From Puerto Mutis in Panama:
Private bus transportation is provided and included in the liveaboard trip with MV Yemaya. The trip from Panama City to Puerto Mutis takes about 3.5 hours each way.
From Pedregales - David in Panama:
Catamaran Inula runs from Pedregales Chiriqui Departement, located on the Panamenian pacific ocean side. Arriving by public bus from Panama Albrook Bus Terminal to the city David (approx 6 hours drive each way) or Air Panama from Panama Albrook Airport or Copa Airlines from Panama Tocumen International Airport. The transfer from David to Pedregales and back is included in the cabin rate.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION TRAVEL INFORMATION FOR MALPELO ISLAND
Minimum requirement to participate in Malpelo island determined by the Colombian park authorities is Advanced Open Water diver certification and minimum 25 dives. Personally we think that you should have at least 60 dives and drift dive experience.
Mandatory dive equipment for Malpelo is to bring a SMB (Surface marker buoy), dive computer, whistle, some operator require dive light. MV yemaya provides Nautilus Lifeline Systems.
We recommend at least a 5mm wetsuit from May to the beginning of December and a 7mm wetsuit- or semi-dry suit by the end of December to April. Bring gloves, as the barnacles and partly sharp-edged rock formations can cause hand injuries.
A diving insurance is mandatory, we recommend travel insurance. Underseaventures offers very interesting DIVEASSURE diving and Kombi to travel insurance.
|The 31 Meter / 101 feet Steel vessel FEROX offers comfortable space and capacity for 12 divers. Ferox complies with international SOLAS standards. She started operating beginning of 2018 and already has successfully performed the first Malpelo expedition|