Hospital Point is at the north end of Isla Solarte, just a 5-minute boat ride from Bocas Dive Center. A shallow sandy bay with about 2 meters of water, it is a good site to learn and practice beginning open-water skills. The reef starts at three meters and consists mainly of lettuce and brain coral, which gradually descends until it becomes a wall with a depth of sixteen meters. The coral wall has numerous cracks and caverns and some dark overhanging ledges that are home to a wide variety of marine life. It’s great to dive at night here when the sandy plain at the bottom of the reef comes alive with southern rays, nurse sharks, and hermit crabs. When the tide is right a small current will convey divers across the entire site. Hospital Point is also popular with snorkelers.
Coral Garden is a 10-minute boat ride from BDC on the west side of Isla Solarte, which boasts some of the healthiest corals in the region. From about late April through early June, you might get a glimpse of both Hawksbill and Green turtles. For those of you interested in eco-diving, the Bocas del Toro coast has been one of the most crucial nesting grounds in the western hemisphere for the much diminished Hawksbill turtle. This site is also known as Grandma’s Garden and its depth ranges from four to eighteen meters, making it another good place to snorkel.
The Wreck was a ferry boat that transported cars from the mainland. A number of years ago, the old boat was cleaned up and intentionally sunk to create a beautiful reef that is also an easy dive for beginners. The wreck is positioned upright in 5-11 meters of water at the southern tip of Isla Colon. The surrounding reef is brimming with snapper, sergeant major and blue tang, and a large nurse shark is often seen underneath the rear of the ship on night dives. Sightings of hogfish, spotted drum, and mangrove jellies are also common. Although it was a ferry boat with little of interest inside, divers can peek through the old engine room window with their flashlights.
Buoy Line is a shallow dive site at the north end of Isla Solarte. The buoy once marked the beginning of a deep water channel used for the passage of container ships carrying bananas. It is now a convenient descent point for beginning a lovely dive that slopes past a reef descending more than twenty meters. You might encounter a current here which will allow you to see some larger marine animals in addition to the reef’s underwater flora of various sizes and colors. There is also another smaller, shallower reef on the other side of the buoy which provides some great photo opportunities.
Coral Cay is a shallow reef named after an adjoining restaurant in south Bastimentos. It is filled with small but colorful corals and a big assortment of sponges. An extensive selection of small reef fish, jellyfish and even an occasional barracuda swim in the shallows near the restaurant. There is not much boat traffic at Coral Cay so it is good for both diving and snorkeling. Coral Cay is just 20 minutes from Bocas.
Manuel’s Wall is named after a local Divemaster who found the site. It lies inside Isla Solarte’s deep channel. The site is made up of two walls, the first fourteen and the second twenty two meters deep, both teeming with sponges, snapper, grouper and reef fish. Large colorful colonies of sea whips (also called Gorgonians, which resemble coral) are abundant. In the second wall, you can see a crusty but still identifiable fifteenth century anchor at about twenty meters. It is the only diving spot in the bay that descends down to 35 meters, making it also excellent for advanced training. If you’re lucky, the real Manuel will lead, and it might be your best dive in Panama!
The Log was once part of an ancient tree that now lies somewhere at the bottom of the bay. In this sunny spot you will see some very old, wild coral formations growing across two kilometers. Most of the reef is angled, and it is filled with sea cucumbers, angel fish, occasional barracuda, and plenty of other marine life. It is one of the most popular diving spots for beginners, just 12 minutes away from BDC, and a good place to learn or improve your diving skills.
Marker 19 (also called San Cristobal) was actually the 19th marker on the shipping channel between Isla Colon and Isla San Cristobal. It is only a twenty minute boat ride from BDC, and the marker itself is surrounded by fallen girders and a frame that houses anemones, shrimp, and a school of sergeant majors. The reef is circular and filled with snapper, several varieties of crab and an overabundance of invertebrates. Diverse lettuce, fire and other corals bloom in large clusters. During the rainy season in Bocas, this is a good place to dive because the waters are clear. This is the BDC Divemaster’s favorite spot to bring new divers!
The Warehouse is rumored to have been named after a now-defunct brothel. This very calm dive site is adjacent to an airport runway and is protected by the wind by the lee of Isla Colon. The sloping reef stretches around the island and houses northern stargazers, southern, yellow and eagle rays and a large number of sea urchins. Under a ten minute boat ride from BDC, you will be able to witness an eclectic selection of vivid marine life here.
The Playground is a five minute boat ride from Bocas, and boasts a profusion of soft coral formations which are home to strikingly colored sea slugs and mollusks. There is much to see in the first fifteen meters, including a shipwreck and plenty of marine life. On the deep edges of the reef, you might view a stinging cauliflower, the largest jellyfish in the Caribbean, but BDC instructors will remind you to stay clear. You will also learn extra safety measures because of ongoing boat traffic.
Punta Caracol is a 20 minute boat ride from Bocas. It is one of the most protected shallow reefs, marked by many buoys. It is not easily accessible unless you have the luck to be on a BDC boat, so it is in much better condition and less disturbed than many other reefs. At about 10 meters you will see snapper, lobster, squid, and a host of other marine life that has not been viewed often or disturbed.
Punta Manglar is named for a defunct old hotel, and is home to thousands of damselfish, mostly in the 5-7 meter range. Large and varied coral formations slope from 7-18 meters, then flatten and gradually turn to sand. Pufferfish, yellow southern stingrays, and morays roam these waters, as well as eagle rays and nurse sharks at night. This is another area where the BDC team emphasizes safety skills due to ongoing traffic from water taxis.