Bocas del Toro: [Under]Water

I haven’t done any scuba diving since I was rear ended in a car accident a few years ago and consequently suffered a burst disc in my neck and nerve damage in my arm. My left side is pretty weak so for now we’re sticking to snorkeling, which is just fine in a place like Bocas del Toro as much of the coral is in shallow water. 


If you take the day trip to Cayo Zapatillas (highly recommended!), bring along a mask and fins as the reef is accessible from shore and only about 15′ deep. Also essential: food, water, and good sunscreen. Pack it in, pack it ALL out. There are no facilities on the far end of the island (not sure if there are any near the Park Ranger hut). 

This is a feather duster anemone. Gorgeous, no?


Ok, so this one is a bit blurry. Can you spot the little guy hanging out in his special coral cave? I can’t remember the name of this particular fish. It’ll come to me the minute I press ‘publish’ on this post. 🙂 Spotted Lenny? Yellow Leroy? I have it written down on our species list, which is currently on board a cargo ship somewhere in the Caribbean Sea. 

The visibility (in October) wasn’t super fantastic but certainly good enough for snorkeling. It should also be noted that our underwater camera is dying a slow death. The screen doesn’t really work so you’re shooting blindly; we end up with a lot of trash photos. Once in a blue moon we get a few worth keeping. 

We paddled over to a nearby mangrove bay for some additional exploring.  

The bay was home to a type of stingless jellyfish which had a peculiar habit of floating upsidedown among the eel grass on the bottom.

You couldn’t put your feet down on the ground as instantly you’d be enveloped in a cloud of black silt. Poor visibility makes me feel a bit claustrophobic on occasion so we carefully kept our feet aloft. 

This is a dead one that had been partially eaten, which is why our guide Ramon picked it up for show and tell.  

Escargot, anyone? That would be one heck of a bite. 


Snorkeling through mangroves is a bit eerie: the water is tea-colored and the roots appear out of the gloom unexpectedly. 

The mangroves were quite fantastic but I’ll always love the coral reefs best. Floating above and watching a busy underwater world is fascinating. 



Recommendations – Bocas del Toro


National Park Cayo Zapatillas
Day trips are available from Bocas Town and usually include lunch, fishing, and a few hours lazing on the beach. The boat ride is about 35 minutes. Highly recommended as this was our favorite beach for kids, family, and general natural beauty.

Mangrove Swamp & Jellyfish Cove
Sorry, but I’m not going to tell you where this one is located, you’ll just have to stay at the resort and go with their naturalist. 🙂 It was a pretty special place and I think hordes of day-tripping tourists would be disastrous for this cove, given that it’s a small, highly-specialized, fragile ecosystem. We appreciated that the resort guides took care not to disturb the area.


Tranquilo Bay Eco Resort
Highly, highly recommended!! We would have loved to have stayed longer. The two families that own and run the place are lovely. The food was good (and plentiful), the naturalists were excellent, and the activities were fabulous. Our advice: skip the second beach by the resorts on Bastimento and spend all your time at Zapatillas – the beach and snorkeling are both better.








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