Planning to dive on the Pacific side this year? Are the Caribbean islands calling you? A good suggestion would be to think of Panama, which offers you both in one trip! Plus, fresh, clear water lakes await you in between!
The Isthmus of Panama is the southernmost point of North America or the end of what is considered Central America. The country’s east coast faces the Caribbean Sea while the west coast plunges into the Pacific Ocean. The small strip of land, called the isthmus, offers several rivers and lakes.
Besides, Panama is renowned for its environmental protection programs. The seabed is protected and offers an incredible primitive dive.
This content is a detailed guide to the best scuba diving and snorkeling in Panama.
Best Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in Panama, Caribbean Island
The best scuba diving sites in Panama
It is possible to identify at least a dozen diving destinations in Panama. Various scuba diving sites are accessible only a few hours’ drive from each other. Beginners, as well as experienced divers, will live a beautiful diving experience.
Here are, from one coast to another, the most beautiful scuba diving sites in Panama:
Bocas del Toro Islands:
Located in the Caribbean, the Bocas del Toro archipelago offers a great selection of scuba diving sites. Diving around the different islands surrounded by corals promises to be interesting. The primitive beauty of the islands offers a great opportunity to dive into the clear waters of the Caribbean Sea.
The archipelago of Las Perlas:
The Las Perlas archipelago is located on the side of the Pacific Ocean in the Bay of Panama. It is a grouping of about 90 islands and 130 small islands and cays. It is, therefore, various scuba diving options that are available to divers.
You will find some dive sites very quiet while others are exposed to the strong currents of the Pacific. The latter make excellent sites for drift diving. Humpback whales and many other pelagics are frequently encountered in the Las Perlas archipelago.
Coiba National Park
Coiba National Park is the largest national park in the country, being classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located on the Side of the Pacific Ocean, Coiba National Park offers a large coral reef system to be visited by whales, orcas, and whale sharks.
Portobelo National Park
Portobelo National Park is located on the Caribbean side, near the Panama Canal. Portobelo National Park is known for its crystal-clear water dive sites and incredible corals. Also, divers enjoy mangrove forests and white sand beaches.
Gatun Lake is part of the Panama Canal. The lake is the widest part of the canal and allows navigation for 33 km (21 mi). The lake was created thanks to a dam that diverts the Chagres River. So everything that was once between the hills is now underwater, and the hills are islands. Besides, the land surrounding the lake is covered with rainforests.
Reviews of scuba diving in Panama
Local resorts and dive centers mostly do scuba diving in Panama. Indeed, liveaboard-dive options are practically non-existent. That said, there are some adventure cruises with snorkeling. Panama’s expedition boats are mainly like the Safari Voyager, which also offers itineraries in Costa Rica.
Panama’s liveaboard-diving, or cruise-adventure boats, are presented on this site. Also, the site has good offers, and you can book without paying.
The different archipelagos of Panama are located off both coasts and offer a very different diving experience. So, the best way to dive in Panama is to do it locally, depending on the interesting sites.
The ideal way to dive into the most beautiful sites of Panama is to do a few days on the Pacific coast, then go to the Caribbean side. Besides, a stop in between to dive into freshwater lakes can be an interesting option.
Prices of dives in Panama
Rates for diving in Panama vary depending on the region or island, especially the type of dive. Here is still an overview of the average price of dives for Panama:
A snorkeling excursion: +/- 70€
Discovery dive: +/- 120€
2 Dives: +/- 130€
Price Course level 1 / Open Water: +/- 350€
Price Course Level 2 / Padi Open Water Advanced: +/- 350€
Price Course Level 3 / Rescue Diver: +/- 560€
Divemaster : +/- 1200€ + certain fees
We advise you not to look only for the lowest rate but choose your dive center according to where you feel best. Sometimes it makes sense to pay a little more and be in better conditions!
Best time to dive in Panama
The best time to dive in Panama is all year round. The country’s tropical climate brings very little temperature variation. The main changes that occur are according to the seasons.
More specifically, the dry season extends from December to March and attracts many tourists. Not only is this the best time to visit Panama, but it’s also when Europeans and North Americans go south to escape the winter. Otherwise, the rainy season, also called the green season, is a nice option to visit Panama. If it rains almost every day, it does not rain all day.
By the way, if swimming with humpback whales is of your priorities, then the best time to dive in Panama is between July and September.
Panama has several sites suitable for learning scuba diving. On the Caribbean coast, it is the ideal place to take a certificate or go for a discovery dive. As for the Pacific coast, it offers excellent sites to spend a drift diving specialization.
Scuba diving conditions
As mentioned above, Panama’s tropical climate experiences little variation during the year. This applies to ambient and water temperature, but the latter varies slightly.
Indeed, the water temperature varies by a few degrees, and the sites of the Pacific are colder. For example, marine temperatures are expected to be around 27°C/80°F in February and 29°C/85°F in July.
As for the ambient temperature, it generally varies between 24°C/75°F and 29°C/84°F. Besides, a few days a year, temperatures in Panama will climb to 32°C/90°F.
Scuba diving visibility in Panama is generally very good. Indeed, while some sites have visibility limited to 30 feet/ 10 meters, most offshore sites enjoy visibility of 100 feet / 30 meters and more.
Snorkeling in Panama City
The majority of dive sites on the Caribbean side are shallow and perfect for snorkeling. Also, several beaches in Panama are going to be perfect for snorkeling, snorkeling. On the side of the Pacific Ocean, the sites in the Gulf of Panama or islands surrounded by reefs will be superb for snorkeling.
Underwater fauna: Fish and Coral
Panama’s Caribbean coast offers an assortment of tropical fish and soft, hard corals. Indeed, Panama’s marine fauna and flora are similar to other destinations in the Caribbean Sea. There are also sharks, dolphins, and turtles in abundance.
Panama’s Pacific coast offers less diversity in terms of marine life but compensates with many pelagic species. We also think of the whale shark that passes by!
If you are planning to go on a trip to Panama, I advise you to invest in good travel insurance that also covers scuba diving. You never know what can happen, and good insurance can get you out of difficult situations.
Panama is a well-known travel destination but still little explored by scuba divers. Indeed, Panama is known above all for its canal and its very rich culture.
Like Belize, where the diving industry predominates, Panama lives in the shadow of many other attractions. In short, Panama is a great addition to a diver’s bucket list!
We hope the content “Best Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in Panama, Caribbean Islands” was helpful to you.