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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 North, you can also check the Cayo Zapatilla South report.

Elkhorn coral at. Cayo Zapatilla
Elkhorn coral at Zapatilla North.

How to get to Cayo Zapatilla North 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 visited.

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 North snorkeling map
Cayo Zapatilla North snorkeling map. Link to Cayo Zapatilla South snorkel report.

Water entrance for snorkeling Cayo Zapatilla North

The recommended snorkel entry at Zapatilla North is from the northern beach, in one of the sandy passages between the reefs.

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 North snorkeling exploration tips

The snorkeling area at Cayo Zapatilla North extends in front of the island’s northern beach. Snorkeling from the beach you will first cross seagrass beds for a few dozen yards before reaching the reefs.

Reef fish at Cayo Zapatilla
Snappers and Blue tangs abound in the reef areas.

The coral reefs are separated by sandy passages that you can use to explore the area. In the sand, you might be lucky enough to encounter a resting stingray, who appreciates this sheltered environment.

A Roughtail stingray at Cayo Zapatilla North.

In the reef areas, depth does not exceed 16 feet/5 meters, and the top of the reefs is always very close to the surface.

Despite damaged corals, Zapatilla North is home to a diversity of reef fish including schooling blue tang, bluehead wrasse, snappers, butterflyfish, damsels, and the occasional Queen triggerfish.

Bluestriped grunt
A Bluestriped grunt.

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 Beginner
  • Protected areaParque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos
  • Maximum depth16 feet/5 meters
  • Water entranceEasy, from a sandy beach
  • Potential DangersCurrents
  • LifeguardNo
  • Visitor numbersMedium
  • Access costsSnorkeling tour price
  • Restaurants nearbyNo
  • Public toilets & showersNo

MAP Spot

These snorkeling spots are accessible to beginners and kids. You will enter the water gradually from a beach, or in a less than 3ft. deep area. The sea is generally calm, shallow, with almost no waves or currents. These spots are usually located in marked and/or monitored swimming areas. It is not necessary to swim long distances to discover the sea life.

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.