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We've been writing about all things Panama for over 10 years. So search our blog to plan your vacation. From must do's, where to party or eat, to which beaches and hiking trails you shouldn't miss. You'll find great insider info about Bocas del Toro, Panama City and Boquete, as well as Panamanian culture, customs and traditions, and certainly tips and advice for learning Spanish while on vacation!


My Snorkeling Experience in Bocas del Toro

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I am a spoiled brat. Not in life in general, but definitely when it comes to beaches and wildlife. Hence, I am very picky when it comes to snorkeling. This may be due to the fact that I have been living in a paradisaical country for over 3 years now, and I'm not easily impressed when it comes to taking part in a tour.

That was, until I signed up for a snorkeling tour with a company called Coral Surfing. What they do is simply awesome - they will not take you at all to the same spots most boat tours take you (meaning spots where corals have bleached, and where can you barely see a fish unless it got lost). They actually take the time and make the effort to constantly find new snorkeling spots, where marine life is still abundant and unaltered by humans (and they emphatically instruct you on the do's and don'ts when snorkeling) . I was so pleasantly surprised and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to share my experience with all of you.

The tour started at 9 am in the center of town (they tell you where to meet) and the guides Mattia and Maurizio (father and son!) greeted us and took us to their Panga. Aquiles, the captain of the boat already waited for us, with fruits and refreshments ready to be served. Mattia and Maurizio are both experienced divers, with an extensive knowledge and a passion for sea life. They guaranteed our safety at all times during the trip, and I was very impressed by their effort to be a part of the experience, meaning that they actually swam with us the whole time, as opposed to just waiting on the boat.

View of Bocas Town from the Water. We had a stunning day ahead of us!
View of Bocas Town from the Water. We had a stunning day ahead of us!

Dolphin Bay: we were first taken to dolphin bay, where we had the opportunity to observe bottle-nose dolphins play at about 12 km south of Bocas town (about 15 - 20 minutes by boat). This stop didn't not involve any snorkeling, as it is prohibited to swim in these protected waters to avoid bothering the dolphins. Also, you don't really want to snorkel here - the dolphins just love this place because it is full of jellyfish =)

Dolphins do not work on appointments, so be patient! They will come up to breathe eventually! Just be quiet and look in all directions! Maurizio said that the first one to spot a dolphin wins a beer (yeah well it didn’t take much to motivate me!)

Most tourist boats arrive later, so arriving early allowed us to see these beautiful animals in their natural habitat without being crowded by noisy tourists on boats. The captain actually turned off the engine to avoid hurting the animals and avoid making noise which could scare them away. That made me like them even more...We stayed there for a while, and then moved on to the most fun part of the trip. Dolphins are fun too, but again I am a spoiled brat, and I see dolphins in front of my house.

Bottle-nose Dolhin at Dolphin Bay in Bocas del Toro, Panama
Bottle-nose Dolhin at Dolphin Bay in Bocas del Toro, Panama

Snorkeling in the Mangroves: once the captain reached the perfect spot in the mangroves, the boat stopped and we got off to snorkel for about one and a half hours through the mangroves, in mostly shallow water. Maurizio and Mattia swam with us, and pointed out several coral species, different types of starfish, sea anemones, lobster, and any other creatures we came across. They also made sure to tell us which plants or animals are poisonous and should not be touched!

Nice and healthy coral and abundant marine life by the mangroves on the Southeast of Bastimentos Island
Nice and healthy coral and abundant marine life by the mangroves on the Southeast of Bastimentos Island

This place is also called "the home of the coward" as the crew calls it as an inside joke: "la casa del pendejo" in Spanish. This is in fact the resting place of a small nurse shark who was sleeping under a huge piece of brain coral. We dove to the bottom to take a better look at him, and I found out that seeing a shark in front of me took away some of that fear I have of these big fish with pointy teeth. No worries though, nurse sharks sleep during the day, and their diet consists primarily of crustaceans, molluscs, tunicates, sea snakes, and other fish, particularly stingrays, so white European chicks are safe!

Lunch & Relax on Zapatillas Island: after this intense snorkel session, everyone got really hungry! Aquiles steered the boat towards Zapatilla 2 (the smaller one of the Zapatillas islands), where we stopped for a home cooked Italian meal prepared by the crew. That alone was worth the tour! Having our bellies full, we relaxed a bit on the beach to digest, and later on Mattia took us on a short hike through the island. This island is a national park, which is why you will not be allowed to take any type of shells with you. I was really tempted, but it is prohibited by law. If you have been to San Blas before, this is what it looks like - simply stunning!

Didn't I say I was spoiled? What about this place for a break to have lunch? The Zapatillas Islands are simply stunning!
Didn't I say I was spoiled? What about this place for a break to have lunch? The Zapatillas Islands are simply stunning!

Snorkeling in the open sea after lunch: after the short hike, and after some time relaxing, swimming and sunbathing on zapatillas, Mattia, Maurizio and Aquiles took us to yet a different snorkel spot located at only 5 to 10 minutes by boat from Zapatillas. It was in the open sea, and therefore offered a totally different environment than the first session. This last spot is hard to describe in words, because the variety of fish and corals we saw was just unbelievable. Here you can spot anything if you are lucky and if weather conditions allow - sharks, murenes, stingrays, and all sorts of fish of different colors you can possibly imagine.

Lots of fishes in this open water reef by Zapatillas Island... I simply loved it!
Lots of fishes in this open water reef by Zapatillas Island... I simply loved it!

Finally, after being so happy of realizing that Bocas del Toro truly does have some of the most amazing snorkeling I have ever experienced, I went back to the island with the rest of the crew. My tour was a full day trip, however they do offer half day tours for students who wish to fit this into their schedule while having Spanish classes at Habla Ya Spanish Schools.

Big thanks to Paola, Maurizio and Mattia for this unforgettable experience! I would do it again anytime!

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ISLAND TOURS IN BOCAS DEL TORO... »

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We've been writing about all things Panama for over 10 years. So search our blog to plan your vacation. From must do's, where to party or eat, to which beaches and hiking trails you shouldn't miss. You'll find great insider info about Bocas del Toro, Panama City and Boquete, as well as Panamanian culture, customs and traditions, and certainly tips and advice for learning Spanish while on vacation!


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