Panama lies between the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south, giving it two distinct ecosystems, each with its own completely different underwater species. Snorkeling is possible from both coasts, but the best explorations are from the many islands and archipelagos scattered along the coasts of the country.

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On the Pacific side, Isla de Coiba is the best option. The crystal-clear waters surrounding the islets of Coiba National Park are one of the best place in Central America to observe hawksbill sea turtles (for example in Isla Coco or Granito de Oro). Isla Parida (Gulf of Chiriqui), along with Isla Iguana in the Gulf of Panama, are also good options. On the Caribbean side of Panama, the Bocas del Toro archipelago, in the far west of the country, is frequently mentioned as the best snorkeling area in Panama.

Snorkeling Report Panama
Sloth, cushion starfish at Punta Manglar, and sandy beach at Cayo Zapatilla

Made up of nine main islands, some 50 keys and several hundred tiny islands, the archipelago of Bocas del Toro provides countless varied and easily accessible snorkeling options. Barrier reefs made up of hard coral (Cayo Zapatilla), reefs with many soft coral and sponges (Cayo Coral), mangroves or seagrass scattered with starfish (Restaurante Alfonso), and shipwrecks (Barco Hundido) – each spot brings a new experience. A large number of reefs in the Bocas del Toro archipelago are protected by the Parque Nacional Isla Bastimentos, and most spots are accessible by boat (many tour guides will take you there from Isla Colon). The only negative points are the underwater visibility (which can vary strongly throughout the year) and the fast deterioration of the corals, due to mass tourism.
When to go to Panama?

Snorkeling is possible all the year round in Panama, where the climate is tropical and temperatures vary between 75 and 86°F (24 and 30°C). The Caribbean coast is more humid than the Pacific coast, rainfall is more frequent and heat is omnipresent (86-95°F/30-35°C).

During the dry season, from January to April, the heat and humidity are less pronounced than during the rainy season. During the rainy season (or green season), from May to December, it rains almost every day.

The water temperature is constant (about 82°F/28°C) on both coasts, with variations according to the season and the weather.

CDC Panama EN

Where to spot them?

Cushion sea star

On the Caribbean coast only. You can't miss them at Restaurante Alfonso and Punta Manglar

Hawksbill sea turtle

Common on Isla Coiba spots, on the Pacific Side (Granito de Oro or Isla Coco)

Foureye butterflyfish

On all spots of the Caribbean side

Spotfin butterflyfish

On many spots of the Caribbean, common at Cayo Zapatilla

Stoplight parrotfish

On all spots of the Caribbean coast

Passer angelfish

On all spots of the Pacific coast (Granito de Oro, Isla Coco...)

Sergeant major

On all spots

French angelfish
Schoolmaster snapper

On all spots of the Caribbean side

White-spotted puffer

On all spots of the Pacific coast

Bluehead wrasse

On all spots of the Caribbean coast