best places for snorkeling in Panama

7 of the best places for snorkeling in Panama

This narrow stretch of land splices through two great oceans – the calm, clear Caribbean Sea and the super swelling Pacific Ocean. It also encompasses Robinso Crusoe-style deserted islands, colourful coral reefs and superb shipwrecks, which makes it a popular spot for snorkeling too. From a wild national marine park to a hard coral barrier reef, we’ve rounded up seven of the best places for snorkeling in Panama. 

Where are the best places for snorkeling in Panama

Panama boasts two wildly different marine ecosystems, so you can pack a lot into one trip. It’s a great year-round destination too, thanks to its tropical climate and consistently warm water temperatures, which lurk around 82°F/28°C. 

1. San Blas Islands

Floating off the east coast of Panama, this archipelago of more than 350 coral cays is a tropical paradise. At first glance, there’s little here, beyond a few swaying palm trees, but look beneath the surface for the real magic. The deserted islands are surrounded by colourful coral reefs that are easily accessible from the beach. Isla Diablo is one of the best, with schools of Atlantic blue tangs, parrotfish, trumpetfish, Spanish hogfish and yellow starfish. It’s also home to a spectacular shipwreck, the Isla Perro Chico.

best places to snorkel in Panama

2. Chiriqui Marine Natioanl Park

Panama isn’t short on national parks, but Chiriqui Marine Park is arguably one of its most impressive. The sprawling reserve, which encompasses 20 teeny-tiny islands, is fringed by colourful coral reefs, including anemones and fire corals. Visibility is excellent, averaging around 70 feet. It’s teeming with starfish, angelfish, frogfish and Morroish idols, as well as sea turtles. If you want to make more than a day of it, you can book a night or two at the Islas Secas Resort, right in the heart of its coral gardens, too.

3. Red Frog Beach

Located in one of Panama’s most coveted corners, Red Frog Beach frequently ranks as one of the best ‘off the beach’ snorkeling sites in Panama. It takes its name from the sweet little red frogs that live by the water. Think white sand and warm turquoise waters set against a swaying tropical rainforest. Bliss.

best places for snorkeling in Panama

4. Isla Coiba National Park

Unlike many of Panama’s most famous snorkeling spots, the Isla Coiba National Park is set off Panama’s Pacific Coast. The area comprises 38 islands (including Coiba Island) and 430,825 acres of surrounding waters. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the wildlife-rich waters here are teeming with marine life, including hawksbill sea turtles. Granito de Oro is one of the park’s most popular snorkeling sites, located just one mile off Isla Coiba. To reach it, you’ll need to organize a tour of the islands with one of many reputable tour operators. Prices range from around USD 65-80 and usually include lunch, as well as snorkeling gear. 

5. Bocas del Toro

Most, but not all, of the Bocas del Toro archipelago is protected by the Parque Nacional Isla Bastimentos. The best places for snorkeling in this region are around Admiral Bay, where the coral reefs are protected and the waters tend to be calmer. Reefs reach depths of up to 60-ft, so it’s a popular scuba diving spot too. Most reefs slope gently and are covered with corals and colourful sponges. Crabs, starfish, fire corals, sponges and casiopeas like to crawl or swim by the roots too. 

best places for snorkeling in Panama

6. Shell Island and St. Andrews State Park

While Shell Island and St Andrews State Park might not offer quite as many marine adventures as some of the other entries on our list, it is the best place to snorkel near Panama City. The Shell Island Shuttle offers access to the seven-mile, 700-acre underwater playground, with transport too. There’s a ‘children’s pool’, so-called because of its calm and sheltered waters, which is popular with families and beginner snorkelers. 

7. Las Perlas

This archipelago of 90 named islands and more than 100 unnamed islets floats around 40 miles (65 km) southeast of Panama City. The Spaniards named it after the abundance of pearls they found here in the 16th century. As well as brilliant beaches, the area is renowned for its underwater offering. The Isla Contador is the best equipped for snorkeling excursions, and its surrounding waters are teeming with tropical fish, white-tipped reef sharks, manta rays and turtles.

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Allie D'Almo

Allie is a passionate traveller with a hearty interest in great food and stories. She likes to travel slowly, particularly to underrated and underloved places. She’s lived in Italy and is now based in London, where she spends most of her time either plotting her next trip or writing about her last one.

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