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Lined with palm trees, turquoise waters, and plenty of shade, the two small Zapatilla Islands, listed as a National Park, feature some of the most beautiful beaches in Bocas del Toro. Both Zapatilla North and Zapatilla South are partly sheltered by a coral reef and offer decent snorkeling, despite the occasionally strong current. This page is about Cayo Zapatilla South, you can also check the Cayo Zapatilla North report.

Gray angelfish at Cayo Zapatilla, Panama
A juvenile gray angelfish in Cayo Zapatilla shallows.

How to get to Cayo Zapatilla South snorkeling spot?

Cayo Zapatilla is a duo of islands at the eastern tip of the archipelago of Bocas del Toro, which are only accessible by boat. A visit to Cayo Zapatilla is included in many of the snorkeling tours offered in town and online. It can however be difficult to get confirmation about which island, Zapatilla North or Zapatilla South, will be included in your itinerary.

Full-day tours from Isla Colon often combine one of the Zapatilla Islands, another snorkeling location such as Cayo Coral, as well as dolphin watching and observation of sloths. If you want to visit the two islands, then the best option is to organize a private tour.

Cayo Zapatilla South snorkeling map, Bocas del Toro
Cayo Zapatilla South snorkeling map, Bocas del Toro. Link to Cayo Zapatilla North snorkel report.

Water entrance for snorkeling Cayo Zapatilla South

The recommended snorkel entry at Zapatilla South is from the beach, just right to the jetty. As the current usually runs in a west-to-east direction, it will allow you to drift instead of swimming against the current.

Cayo Zapatilla is more subject to waves and currents than other snorkeling locations in the archipelago. Before entering the water, get the advice of the National Park Office or your guide about the sea conditions and the best way to snorkel the location.

Cayo Zapatilla South snorkeling tips and recommendations

The snorkeling area at Cayo Zapatilla South stretches around the island’s eastern tip. It is bounded by the jetty to the west, by the reef to the north, and by the two tiny rocky islets to the west and the south (see map). As the usual current is in a southwards direction, get back to the beach and exit the water when are at the level of the two islets.

Coral reefs at Cayo Zapatilla South, Panama
The coral reef at Zapatilla South.

Starting from the beach, you first cross a dozen or so meters of seagrass beds visited by different types of surgeonfish, jacks, and the elusive peacock flounder. You’ll then reach the first coral patches (↕3-6 feet/1-2 meters), but most of them are very much damaged, as this area is exposed to the waves and currents.

You then follow the current and make your way slowly to the two islets. In this area, it is easy to see bluehead wrasse, several species of butterflyfish, and, with a bit of luck, juvenile French angelfish and gray angelfish.

Peacock flounder at Cayo Zapatilla South
A peacock flounder in Cayo Zapatilla South seagrass meadows.

Near the rocky islets, the coral is in slightly better condition. Around the massifs, you will spot large numbers of sergeant majors, and several species of damselfish, as well as the colorful Spanish hogfish.

In the deepest areas, large shoals of grunt shelter at the foot of the reefs.

Snorkeling in Cayo Zapatilla South
Snorkeling in Cayo Zapatilla South.

Restaurants and accommodations nearby

There are no restaurants on the islands. You will generally have the choice of taking a picnic with you or having lunch in a nearby restaurant, such as Restaurante Alfonso. Check what is precisely included in your tour before booking it.


  • Level required Intermediate
  • Protected areaParque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos
  • Maximum depth10 feet/3 meters
  • Water entranceEasy, from a sandy beach
  • Potential DangersCurrent
  • LifeguardNo
  • Visitor numbersMedium
  • Access costsSnorkeling tour price
  • Restaurants nearbyNo
  • Public toilets & showersYes, at National Park office

MAP Spot

These spots are accessible to anyone with basic snorkeling skills, and feeling comfortable in the water and with his snorkeling gear. You will enter the water from the shore (beach, pontoon, ladder, rocks) or from a boat. The water height in the sea entrance area is reasonable, but you will not necessarily be within your depth. Moderate currents can occur in the area, even when the sea conditions are good. The distance to swim to reach the most interesting snorkeling areas of the spot does not exceed 200 meters.

This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.