Isla Coiba

Isla Coiba Island was considered the Panama version of Alcatraz. The island is far from the mainland. The nearest town is hours away by boat. It's ten miles wide and thirty miles long (largest island on the Pacific coast of Central America) but not populated. The waters surrounding it are infamous for aggressive sharks and strong currents. Coiba is mountainous, covered in thick jungle and home to very poisonous snakes. Not a place anyone wants to be sent to.

Established in 1919, Panama’s worse criminals and opponents of the military regimes were sent to the island under the dictatorships of Omar Torrijos and Manuel Noriega. Prisoners were taken to the island twice a month by boat from Puerto Mutis, Veraguas; the trip took six hours. The longest sentence any inmate could receive was 20 years. Panama does not have the death penalty.

Isla Coiba has 30 buildings. At its peak, the prison housed 3000 inmates. Prisoners were kept in a central compound where there was a church and a small clinic. Beyond the central compound there's nine smaller compounds where prisoners worked small farms. The island provided all the food for the penal and public health system in Panama. Prisoners worked long hours and were only allowed one meal a day. They ate at noon and then was taken back into the fields to work.

Other prisoners were tortured. During the military years in Panama, the prison was turned into a concentration camp of sorts for political opponents of the regime. Inmates were hung from basketball rims for up to five days until their hands swelled up and the bones of their wrists were exposed. Flies would lay eggs in the wounds and maggots would eat at the flesh. Other prisoners were tied to the back of horses and dragged.

Those who tried to escape were shot in the jungle. Inmates who actually committed a crime spent their days killing each other while prison guards looked on and did nothing. The few who managed to escape walked about 16 hours through the jungle to the side nearest the mainland and either swam across or had a boat pick them up. The ones who were unsuccessful were carried off by the currents or died in the jungle.

In 2004, the prison closed. The last eight prisoners were taken from the island that July. Anything of value was removed from the site. The remaining structures are slowly being reclaimed by the jungle. The fear of the prison and its inhabitants inadvertently resulted in preservation of the largest untouched rain forests in the Americas.

Those who fear the prison, fear the ghosts who are believed to inhabit it. Witnesses have reported strange lights and noises, footsteps, shadows, whispers, screaming, and banging on the bars by an unknown source. Supposedly, a guard killed himself upon realizing the escaped prisoner he was chasing turned out to be a ghost.


Courtney Mroch said…
Excellent article, Andrea! I found this interesting to read about after having watched Josh and Tem Truth's investigation of it. I'm glad you posted this info about it.
Adsila said…
That place was so creepy. Josh and Team Truth had so much activity going on around them. I'm glad you went into more detail about this eerie little island.
Anonymous said…
Wow, I was shocked to know it remained opened up till 2004. Would be interesting to visit during the day. The thought of a ghostly jungle sounds something from the movies.

Is there a way one can receive new posts by email?
adrianarraquel said…
I'm Panamanian and had no idea there is paranormal activity at Coiba Island.

I brought your article into a conversation with my mother and she was surprised I wasn't familiar with what went on in Coiba while it was a prison. I also found out from her that an uncle of mine was imprisoned there and went through the whole one meal a day and working all day long for two whole years before they decided to free him.

I was not aware either that Destination Truth had been here in Panama. Do you know when did the episode aired? I would love to see it.

I have a trip to Coiba scheduled a couple of months from now and being a lover of the paranormal well I'm twice as excited about this visit.

Kudos on your blog, BTW. It is very interesting and I have enjoyed reading your posts. Keep it up, and stay in touch.

Andrea Allison said…
greg - a "Follow by Email" feature has been added to the sidebar.

Adriana - Thank you. I'm glad you enjoy my blog. So sorry to hear your uncle went through that ordeal. The Destination Truth episode this prison was featured in aired last Tuesday March 22nd on Syfy.
Anonymous said…
It was nice to read up a little on Coiba. I had seen the Destination Truth episode last night which had featured this particular location, and I was very excited to learn more about it. However, there really isn't much on the internet about it! It's seemingly a hotbed for paranormal activity, yet theres limited information on it! But thank you for at least giving us a little bit of it's history to run with!
Anonymous said…
I was on Isle Coiba back in 1982, when Noriega was a Colonel and Maciás was a Major. Macias ran the La Modelo prison in Panama City. An American, Tom, escaped on one of the rowboats and within two days was dead. They refused to give the embassy his body until 8 months passed (that way his torture scars would not be discovered with autopsy.) They did however give the visiting embassy officials his index finger... John, another American, and l were put in "the hole" for 19 days after Tom's escape. Slept on cardboard over concrete floor.
Too much to write on here. I was very lucky to have survived 8 months detained in Panama
Anonymous said…
The island turned a profit selling produce, rare wood, beef, etc. from slave labor. Weeks before each harvest the Guardia National would round up hundreds of citizens and immediately ship them to Coiba before any relatives could get them out of jail. After two months of work they would bring some back and release them. Slave labor and kidnapping... every enrich some bad criminals with a badge.

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