Welcome to Bocas del Toro, where pristine turquoise waters, vibrant marine life, and stunning coral reefs await your snorkeling adventures. In this guide, we’ll take you on a journey through some of the snorkeling spots, insider tips, and the simple beauty of this underwater Caribbean paradise.
Getting to Bocas del Toro
Before diving into the details, let’s discuss how to get to Bocas del Toro. We recommend flying into Panama City and then taking a domestic flight to Bocas del Toro’s Isla Colón International Airport or arriving by water taxi from Almirante. Once you arrive, your aquatic adventures can begin.
Best Time to Snorkel in Bocas del Toro
Timing is everything when it comes to snorkeling. The best time to visit Bocas del Toro is during the dry season, which typically runs from December to April. During these months, you’ll encounter clear skies, calm seas, and excellent visibility, making it the perfect time to explore the underwater world.
Take a Snorkeling Tour?
The easiest way of finding some accessible snorkeling locations is to take a full-day boat trip from Bocas town. This doesn’t seem to be a bad option for just $30 per person, including 5 different activities and locations.
Our Snorkeling Tour Itinerary
The tours leave in the morning most days from the central jetties. In addition to the snorkeling, you get to visit a variety of locations including Dolphin Bay, the mangoves and coral reefs off Isla Bastimentos, the Zapatillas islands, and some smaller islands where you might sight some sloths.
Dolphin Bay – Laguna Bocatorito
Our first stop of the tour was in Laguna Bocatorito, about 12 km south of Bocas Town (15-20 minutes by boat). Here, we came to watch the bottlenose dolphins at play, and they very obligingly turned up to give us a show.
Since the dolphins come to this bay all year round, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see them. These are protected waters, so you’re not allowed to swim. Probably just as well as there are a lot of tourist boats plying their trade here, and you’d likely end up mangled in one of their outboard engines.
The Mangroves off Bastimentos
After Dolphin bay, we were scooted off to the eastern coast of Bastimentos island. Here the boat captain slowed down to let us catch glimpses of life under the shallow mangrove roots.
Nothing too exciting here, just a few patches of coral and hundreds of starfish and sea urchins.
Open Water Snorkeling
We were finally taken to an area of open water where we were able to snorkel. We spent around 45 minutes here, but the snorkeling was not spectacular. Immediately around the boat were swarms of small and very colourful fish, no doubt expecting lunch from the almost equally numerous snorkelers.
The water here was around 4 or 5 meters deep, and there were some nice corals. The sea was calm, so visibility was quite good. If there is too much swell it would be a little uncomfortable to snorkel here. On our trip there was no sign of the sharks, moray eels, stingrays (or any other larger fish for that matter) that are supposed to frequent these waters.
All in all, a little disappointing.
Time for Lunch
While we were drying off from our dip, we were taken to a jetty on a small island. Just up the gangplank, we found a large restaurant where we could order some food.
Lunch wasn’t included in the tour price, but the food and drinks weren’t expensive.
The Zapatillas Islands
The highlight of the tour was without doubt the last of our destinations.
The Zapatillas Cays is a group of two uninhabited islands surrounded by a coral reef, located east of Bastimentos Island. This area offers the most beautiful beaches and the best snorkeling of the Bocas del Toro archipelago. We stopped at Zapatilla 2 (the smaller of the Zapatillas islands).
This was about as exotic as our trip to Panama was going to get.
Zapatilla 2 belongs to the Bastimentos Marine National Park. The island is similar to San Blas, with its white coral-sand beaches and turquoise blue waters. A true tropical paradise island.
There is a series of interconnecting tracks and boardwalks passing through the interior of the island. If you get bored with the picturesque beaches, you can take a small hike through the island and discover the mangroves on the other side.
Just make sure you get back in time to catch your boat!
Hunt for Sloths
After an hour or so on Zapatillas, we boarded the boat for our return trip to Bocas. Along the way we were half-heartedly encouraged to search for sloths as we passed close to an island on the way back.
We didn’t sight any (people rarely do).
We got back to Bocas Town towards the end of the afternoon. It had been an interesting and enjoyable day out, and worth the $30 tour ticket (if only for the visit to the Zapatillas).
If you enjoyed Bocas Del Toro Snorkeling, check out our Panama Roundtrip. You may also like: