Continuing our journey around the best snorkel sites in Central America, we land upon the underwater heaven that is Panama. Its privileged geographical location has given this country the most unusual collection of aquatic ecosystems a snorkeler could wish for. With thick, lush mangroves, white sand beaches, deep ocean valleys and vibrant coral reefs, Panama gives even the best of Belize a run for its money.
When it comes to coral reefs in Panama, you’ll be totally spoilt for choice. There are countless reefs right off the beach, and others that you can enjoy a relaxing boat ride out to. With all these options and variety, it can be hard to know exactly which snorkel site is the right one for you. But worry not, I have put together this guide of the best snorkel spots in Panama, to help you pick the perfect one.
Chiriqui Marine National Park
Panama has a few outstanding national parks and reserves, which are the perfect place to enjoy a snorkelling adventure. However, one of the most impressive is Chiriqui Marine National Park. This gigantic reserve consists of over 20 small islands, each surrounded by vibrant, colourful coral reefs. If you prefer more of a solo snorkelling experience, simply travel to one of the farthest islands, where you will be met by virgin beaches and glistening turquoise waters as far as the eye can see. Chiriqui is known for its large community of fire corals and anemones, some of which are the biggest of their kind in the world.
Imagine warm, sparkling, crystal clear waters lapping against brilliant white sands. Now imagine that just beyond those waves is an underwater world full of exotic coral, bright tropical fish and elegant eagle rays. That’s the snorkelling experience in the San Blas Islands. Although you can enjoy a paradise like snorkelling experience from any of the islands, the best is said to be in southern San Blas, from either Acqua Nasad or Kai Nura. What makes snorkelling in this particular area the best is that the local Guna people don’t allow scuba diving, this means that the wildlife and coral reef here are completely unspoilt and untouched.
This picturesque little city is the perfect place to enjoy a day snorkelling and getting to know the more historic side of Panama. With a population of only 4,000 and a rich history of pirates and 17th century corsairs, you know that snorkelling in Portobelo will be an adventure! Not only can you see gigantic parrot fish, bright red and orange fire coral and cute little grunt fish, but you may even be lucky enough to spot a lead coffin containing the remains of the famous pirate Sir Francis Drake. Snorkelling in Portobelo is definitely one of the most unique experiences you will have in Panama.
Red Frog Beach
This picturesque beach is situated in one of the most coveted areas of Panama, Bocas del Toro. Red Frog Beach is at the very centre of the island Archipelago, known purely for its outstanding water activities and unbelievable snorkelling. The ‘off the beach’ snorkelling sites at Red Frog Beach have been voted the best in Panama, and swimmers have often spotted eagle rays, turtles and even a spiny lobster or two. A little along the coast and you will hit one of the snorkelling highlights that makes Panama totally unique, the thick mangroves. This island offers a number of clear mangrove keys, perfect for exploring. Swim along the underwater jungle and enjoy the unusual marine life that calls the mangroves home.
Bastimentos National Marine Reserve
Voted the best reserve for snorkelling for a reason, Bastimentos is packed full of unbelievable wildlife. Just below the surface of the calm waters is a busy world full of angelfish, lobsters, barracuda, ocean iguanas and almost 99 acres of brightly coloured coral reef. What makes this snorkelling spot truly special is that it’s home to over five species of sea turtle, 4 of which are endangered, and 16 species of eel! If you’re looking for more of an extreme snorkelling experience, then Bastimentos also has you covered. The waters in this reserve are home to many species of shark, crocodile and caiman. Created in 1988, Bastimentos is the first official marine reserve in Panama, and it definitely set the bar high.