Panama is a maritime country with both history and its economy linked to the sea.
It has coasts both on the Caribbean (1207 km) and the Pacific Oceans (1700 km) and many many places where you can scuba-dive or snorkel.
The privileged geographic position of the country has generated important marine and coastal zones full of aquatic and land ecosystems like marshes, beaches and coral reefs that form incredible landscapes of submarine flora and fauna on both coasts.
Here you can scuba and snorkel in warm water all year round and be surrounded by beauty as well as memories from the past.
Under the Water in Bocas del Toro
Photo by Christian
Scuba in the Islands of Bocas can be enjoyed throughout the year, with most of the dive spots no more than one hour boat ride from Bocas town.
The water temperature is tropical and constant, so full or even short wet suits are not required. Water visibility varies from one dive spot to another, and is always dependent on weather conditions. The months of September and October are traditionally the better months, due primarily to more suitable climatic conditions. During this period there is less rain and wind, allowing for clearer water.
Even experienced and well traveled divers are astonished with the extraordinary submarine beauty of the North and South Zapatilla Keys in the province of Bocas del Toro within the Maritine National Park of Bastimento Island, as well as around the waters of Punta Vieja (Old Point), Punta Hospital ( Hospital Point), Donato, Crawl Cay, Stern Island, Tiger Cay, Wild Cane Cay and Agua Oeste Cay. On Colon Island tour operators provide equipment and guides for safe scuba diving any time of year.
Bocas - Tiger Rock
Photo by Christian
This is perhaps the furthest dive spot from Bocas down, with the boat ride lasting approximately one hour. It lies just off the mainland to the right of Zapatilla Cays. There is a large rock formation that stands above the surface, and descends well below 100 ft. Your adventure will begin with a descent to approximately 35 ft., where there is a sandy shelf, littered with stones and coral.
From here you'll head north and to the right, around the rock, descending as you do to between 80 -100 ft. The rock wall itself has a steep slope, and you can cruise alongside the rock at whatever level you feel most comfortable.
The rock is covered with plentiful amounts of soft and hard coral, and has numerous small crevices or caverns. One can expect to see moray eels, bristle tree worms, anemones, sponges, and small schools of groupers, etc. There is not much in the way of large pelagic sea life here, so concentrate on the wall. Once circling the rock and reaching the far side, you'll return back around the rock at a shallower depth, perhaps 50 - 60 ft. en route to the anchor.
Depending on your air consumption, extra time can be spend near the anchor, looking through the crevices and coral formations that litter the floor and make up the rock wall. The dive lasts approximately 45 minutes.
Bocas - Coral Cay
Photo by Christian
This start site is situated just off the southeast portion of Isla Bastimentos, near the famous Coral Cay restaurant; perhaps 30 minutes from Bocas town. It's a shallow water dive, perhaps 20 - 35 ft., over an enormous garden of soft and hard coral, separated by sandy bottom.
It's much like a drift dive, in that the pick up point is far from where you enter the water. Your dive will last upwards of one hour and will be spend gliding along the coral formations. This dive is wonderful for those interested in photography, as there is plenty of bristle tree worms, crabs, anemones, and Christmas tree worms. There is not much here in the way of large pelagic fish.
Bocas - Hospital Point
This spot is located just at the tip of Isla Solarte, only 5 minutes by boat from Bocas town. Frequented by snorkelers for its shallow reefs, the rocky point descends along a subtle slope to approximately 40ft, where it reaches the maritime channel. Along the slope you can find lobsters, moray eels, squid, and various species of soft and hard coral. Nurse sharks have been seen here, as have puffer fish, groupers and other colorful fish species.
The San Blas Archipelago is famous all over the world for its wonderful islands of coral and its crystalline waters where scuba and snorkeling are some of the main activities of the area.
San Blas is also known as Comarca Kuna Yala - "365 islands, one for each day of the year" say the Kuna Indians that inhabit these white sanded specs on the northeastern shores of Panama. While it's entirely possible to reach areas of San Blas by land, most who visit San Blas travel by plane, departing from Panama City. With daily, early morning departures, virtually the entire Comarca is accessible, as there are a countless number of airstrips that dot the coastline that stretches hundreds of miles to the Colombian border.
Porvenir, the most frequently visited community, serves as the gateway to San Blas. There, and elsewhere though out the Comarca, small thatch roof, Kuna Style bungalows can be found at reasonable prices. In addition, a limited number of more upscale resorts offering more modern amenities can be found on the outerlying islands.
Friendly, hospitable, unspoiled and clean define San Blas, which is ideal for snorkelers thanks to the vast area that these 365 islands encompass.
SCUBA-diving is not permitted on these islands, only snorkeling. Don't miss it though.
The best months for diving are April, May, November and December.
Diving in Portobelo
There are meeting sites for scuba and snorkeling like Portobelo Bay, Isla Mamey and Isla Grande. Here you dive in waters full of the history with pirates and privateers from the XVII century, where stormy battles took place and where the mortal remains of the famous pirate Sir Francis Drake, were laid to rest at sea in a leaden casket.
Along the main road, just before entering town, you'll find several dive operators that service the local waters. Common sites include "Buena Ventura Island" for shallow and deep diving, with an intriguing drop-off. Or, if your interest is in looking for pirates history, then "Drake's Island" is your site. A short boat ride can take you to "Salmedina Reef", a semi-submerged reef that has taken its share of wooden vessels.
Not far away lies "Three Sisters" islands, with varied underwater terrain, sea flora and fauna.
The best months are April, May, November and December.
The Beautiful Waters of Isla Grande
Isla Grande is a small, typical Antillean community popular with surfers, snorkelers, divers and sunbathers alike. Several guest houses and hotels line the shoreline can attend to your rooming needs. On its western end, a unique labyrinth of canyons offer a beautiful dive.
Along the main road, just before entering town, you'll find several operators that service the local waters. Common sites include "Buena Ventura Island" for shallow and deep diving, with an intriguing drop-off.
Or, if your interest is in looking for pirates history, then "Drake's Island" is your site. Said to be where Sir Francis Drake was set to rest, divers still look for Drake's coffin among the encrusted coral. A short boat ride can take you to "Salmedina Reef", a semi-submerged reef that has taken its share of wooden vessels. Not far lies "Three Sisters" islands, with varied underwater terrain, sea flora and fauna.
In the Pacific Ocean there are ample zones of subaqueous beauties like Coiba Island, in the Coiba National Park, that has the most extensive coralline reefs of the Central American Pacific becoming a great natural aquarium.
This virgin island boasts several beautiful white sand beaches, ideal for snorkeling. Below, one can expect strong currents, moray eels, large pelagic and dramatic rock formations.
For more on the fascinating and rather grusome history of Coiba Island go to
Scuba in the Province of Chuiqui
Another possibility is to visit the Chiriquí Marine Gulf National Park where there are species of great size like whales and dolphins among others, or enjoy scuba in what seems like a multicolored aquarium. In these two areas the best months for diving are December to March.
The Coast of Darien is the realm of the Black Marlin, huge Amberjacks and "Dog-Toothed" Snappera and is a spear fisherman’s paradise. You can reach the area by either flying into the town of Jaque, or by private boat. It has been known of economy conscious divers loading a zodiac with a small engine onto one of the cargo boats and go there for four or five days.
Although no formal scuba operation exists, some outfitters will gladly customize a tour for your group and guide you through the area. Be prepared to see blue and deep waters, with large inquisitive fish coming at you as if you were just driftwood.
For more about the province of Darien go to
Experiencing the Pacific Coast of Panama
The Azuero Peninsula, situated on Panama's pacific coast, has various aluring waters including Isla Iguana, Punta Mala, Cambutal, Santa Catalina, Los Frailes and Isla Cebaco. The underwater terrain and sea life is somewhat similar to the other areas in the Pacific, with current diving, wreck dives and underwater seamounts nearby.
The best time to go is between April and December, however, the sport can be enjoyed year round; water conditions between January and March are less predictable and are more day to day as a result of upwelling currents coming from the south.
Whale watching (Humpbacks) is best done between July and September as the whales migrate from South America to the warmer waters of the Caribbean. Whale sharks and pods of Orcas, while not common occurrences, can be seen at certain times of the year further out. As well, sea turtles are present year round and are very common between the months of September and October when they arrive in larger numbers to lay their eggs.
Dive shops in the area can take you any of the dive spots.
Exploring Gatun Lake
The waters next to the Panama Canal, specifically Gatún and Alajuela lakes are also a unique destination. This is a different under water experience as you get to see remains of the first trans-isthmian railroad and the old dredges that excavated the Canal pathway as well as old villages submerged under the waters.For more on Gatun Lake go to
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