Updated on January 15, 2024

A big rock in the middle of the ocean, exposed to oceanic currents and adverse weather, was the destination for our next travel adventure. Diving with hammerhead sharks has been in our list for years and finally we were about to make the dream come true. A Malpelo liveaboard trip is the only way to get to this remote island and thanks to Coiba Dive Expeditions we were going to be on board the MV Yemayá for the next 10 days.  

The first sailors called the island Malpelo due to its bad shelter for boats. These days it’s one of the best spots in the world for scuba diving. The waters surrounding the island are full of life and swarms of hundreds of sharks can frequently been seen while diving here. Among the diving community, Malpelo is also known as the “Shark Heaven”.




Getting closer to this mighty rock, I didn’t know what to expect. Malpelo is world known for its great shark diving but, if there is something I’ve learnt over the years is that you need to be lucky to have memorable ocean encounters. We are not visiting a zoo here. This is nature and the animals are free to come and go. A spot that is activated with hundreds of sharks at some point, it might be completely deserted only a few hours later.

Currents are also something to consider when signing up for a Malpelo liveaboard. Other liveaboard dive trips can be more relaxed, but Malpelo is a bit different. Diving here can be challenging. It’s definitely not a place for beginners. But the good news are that the stronger the current, the bigger the fish in that current. 




We did 40 dives in total and some of them were the best ones we’ve done to date. It’s a big fish destination so don’t expect nice coral walls or good macro-diving. The thrill of Malpelo is sharks. Big schools of hammerheads are frequently seen and rare is the dive where you don’t see at least a dozen of them. The dive sites as El Bajón, Sahara or La Nevera are almost a warranty that you will see some of them and, if you are lucky, you might see some of the large groups (100+).

But the hammerheads are not the only sharks that can be spotted during a Malpelo liveaboard. Huge Galapagos sharks, which can grow well over 3 meters long, can also be seen around the island. And these ones are much more curious and tend to get very close to the divers, which makes an encounter with one of these type very special. 




The biggest fish in the ocean, the magestic whale shark, is also a frequent visitor while scuba diving in Malpelo. Safety stops are normally performed drifting in the blue making this a prime time to spot these giant creatures. 

Apart from sharks you also have good chances to spot massive schools of snapper, barracuda, tuna and bonito. If you are very lucky, during certain times of the year “baitballs” might be formed. As it happens off the coast of South Africa, huge schools of sardines come close to shore where tons of other fish try to enjoy the feast the way they can. Silky & Galapagos sharks are the kings of the party here, together with large specimens of tuna. A truly spectacular phenomenon of nature that can be seen in very few places on Earth and Malpelo island is one of them. 



  • Lots of hammerhead sharks. Schools of hundreds can be seen regularly.
  • Huge schools of pelagics like mullet snapper, bonito, jacks, barracuda and tuna patrol the waters around the island.
  • Whale sharks. The biggest fish in the ocean can also be seen in Malpelo.



  • Currents can be very strong. Malpelo is for advanced divers only.


In theory the best time for diving is between April and September, but Malpelo is very unpredictable so you can have great diving any time of the year. January-February is when the conditions are the toughest, the currents are strong and you can have rough seas also this is when the water is at it’s coldest (around 20°C).

You need about a week of diving to experience what the island has to offer.

Malpelo is over 500km from the coast of Colombia, making it only accessible to tourists by liveaboard trips.  There are different companies departing from either Panama (Puerto Mutis, David or Panama City) or Colombia (Buenaventura).

Get Nitrox certified before you go and bring your own diving gear. On most of the dives you go to 30 meters and wait for the sharks to appear. With air, you won’t have much time (5-8 minutes) until you hit deco.



It’s a long way sailing from mainland Panama (36 hours +) and the cost of a Malpelo liveaboard trip  is well over $3,000 USD, but this quality of diving is only possible at very few places in the world. Every dollar is worth the investment. Your memories about Malpelo will last for years.

Without any doubt we can say the diving in Malpelo is the best we’ve ever experienced. It’s also a very specific diving, it’s all about big fish, particularly hammerhead sharks. And there is no feeding here so you can observe the sharks in their natural state. If you would like to see big sharks in their natural environment and in big numbers, you should plan a trip to Malpelo.



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39 Responses

  1. Michael Belk

    That was a very good video. Antonio I would be scared. I have only that many sharks on tv.

    I can see why that is a shark haven. So many fish.

    I never heard of Malpelo. You put the island on my map. Thanks for the adventure.

    • Antonio Cala

      Hey Michael,
      I’m glad you liked the video. Unfortunately, the sharks have a bit of bad reputation but they are amazing creatures to observe underwater. I’ve gone from “scared” to “amazed” since my first encounter with them.

      Have you ever tried scuba diving?

  2. Katrina

    Wow!! That is amazing! I hadn’t even heard of this place before but now it’s on my radar. I am dying to swim with whale sharks and see hammerheads. Looks like the place for me!

    • Antonio Cala

      Hey Katrina.
      Yep, Malpelo is incredible place to spot whale sharks and hammerheads. It’s not a very developed place, that’s probably why is not very popular. You should go soon before it gets too busy! 🙂

  3. Carol Colborn

    My husband dives. Gotta tell him to check this out!

  4. Laura Lynch

    I’ve never been able to scuba dive because I can’t seem to clear my ears well enough. It looks so incredible though. I know I’m missing a lot.

    • Antonio Cala

      Sometimes it takes a while to equalize the ears, specially at shallower depths. Some people take longer than others. You only need a patient divemaster or instructor with you! 🙂

  5. Meg Jerrard

    Your photos are amazing! I would love to have the opportunity to scuba dive at some point – we’ve done snorkelling but this looks like it would a completely different experience. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Antonio Cala

      Hey Meg!
      You should definitely give diving a try. Not just for what you can see (which is plenty) but also to experience the feeling of zero gravity.

  6. Anna

    WOW!! This is amazing. Although I might get too freaked out with the schools of hammerheads! Whale sharks are amazing creatures though. Been diving and snorkeling with them loads.

    • Antonio Cala

      The other good thing of the whale sharks is that they often stay around, while the hammerheads tend to be more shy 🙂

  7. Elaine J. Masters

    I’ve been diving for years in calm and scary waters but the chance to be with the hammerheads sounds incredible. Nothing like being close to major pelagics.

  8. Aileen

    This is AMAZING! This is exactly what I would love to do (even if I’m so afraid of sharks and the deep blue ocean — besides, it was only just a year ago that I learned how to swim lol) BUT still! This is on my to-do list! Kudos to you guys for making it come true.

  9. Aileen

    This is AMAZING! This is exactly what I would love to do (even if I’m so afraid of sharks and the deep blue ocean — besides, it was only just a year ago that I learned how to swim lol) BUT still! This is on my to-do list! Kudos to you guys for making it come true. 😀

  10. Natalie Deduck

    Woooow… What an experience!
    I´m not sure if I have courage enough to swim with those huge sharks but definitely is a dive to remember forever.
    Great job!

  11. Jenna

    Wow–Malpelo looks amazing! I can’t believe all the sharks–that sounds so cool and like such an awesome adventure!

  12. Elena

    You have made me want to go diving again! After too many years of being away from SCUBA, I went on a shallow dive last year in Cancun and have been thinking about needing to get back under water sooner rather than later. It is adventures like yours that are what I love about being below the surface – you just never know what you will see.

    • Antonio Cala

      Exactly. It’s better to go without expectations. Just get under the water and see what happens!

  13. Ben

    I would love to go scuba diving there, but sadly my ears can’t handle the pressure. Awesome video by the way. Sharks sure do look mystics.

    • Antonio Cala

      They do look mystics. I’ve been always fascinated especially with the hammerhead sharks and their group behaviour.

  14. Nathan

    Great article. Reminds me when I was exploring the Baja of Mexico and had an encounter with a rather large whale shark. It was quite peaceful swimming along side the giant until he turned my way with its huge mouth and my only thought was the Moby Dick book. Amazing experience though!

    • Antonio Cala

      Whale shark encounters are among the most special ones for me. Such a huge animal, curious and peaceful at the same time.

      Did you get to dive in Baja much?

  15. Krishnendu Kes

    Thanks for sharing your adventurous experience and the information about the place with us. I love the adventurous trip and have been travelled to different part of the world. I have never seen so many sharks at a time in one place specially in a situation when I’m scrubbing. It looks dangerous but on the other hand, it is adventurous too and the best of this situation is Currents are very strong there which will take the scrubbing experience at another level.
    After reading this article Malpelo Liveaboard Diving is now added in my travel list.

  16. Soraya

    Hi there,
    if we cannot afford a liveabord experience, how do you suggest we go about diving in Colombia. My boyfriend and I are advanced divers. Thank you