400km (249 miles) W of Buenaventura
A barren, volcanic submarine ridge just peeking out of the water way out in the Pacific, Isla Malpelo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s most sought after dive destinations. Other than a military post, the island is uninhabited except for a large colony of Nazca boobies and the mosses and lichens that grow from the guano that has built up there. What Malpelo lacks in amenities it makes up for in sharks, 500 hammerheads at a time, as well as silky sharks and occasionally the rare short-nosed ragged tooth shark. The entire island is a marine park, called the Santuario de Flora y Fauna Malpelo, and there are 11 dive sites. In the deep waters around Malpelo you can easily see whale sharks, grouper, and manta rays.
The only way to visit is on a live-aboard dive boat, of which only one has permission at a time. Anchoring is not allowed anywhere within the protected area. The trip by boat from Buenaventura takes at least 30 hours, depending on the weather, and usually makes a stop at Isla Gorgona, closer to the coast. Several agencies in Panama and Colombia make occasional trips there and can help navigate the extensive application process, including Coiba Dive Expeditions (www.coibadiveexpeditions.com) and Arrecifes de Pacifico (www.arrecifesdelpacifico.com). You can also contact Fundación Malpelo (www.fundacionmalpelo.org) for additional information.