Snorkeling in the San Blas Islands


This idyllic region on the far eastern end of the isthmus is controlled by the Kuna Indians. The coral reefs of the Kuna Yala, were once much more magnificent than they are today. Unfortunately, the harsh reality of survival for the poverty-stricken Kunas has taken its toll on the reefs. Mined to shore up some of the four hundred islands where many of its tribal members live, eighty percent of the coral is now gone. Nonetheless, the Kuna Yala is still home to the Caribbean's widest array of coral species including stag horn, brain, tan and leaf coral as well as some sixty species of marine sponges.

On the western end of the Kuna Yala, reefs stretch some 200 miles. Waters are clear to a greater depth than elsewhere in the region and the coral reef attracts many stunning species, making it a paradise for snorkelers on Panama tours. One of the best spots to snorkel is off the island of Wichub-Wala. Offshore from Nusatupo, lie the Cayos Los Grullos, a group of remote uninhabited islands including Cayos Holandeses and Cayos Limones, where you'll find coral reefs as well as a shipwrecks.

In the more easterly regions of the Kuna Yala, visitors on Panama tours will also find some picturesque snorkeling spots, though more difficult to reach. Mostly uninhabited, Isla de los Perros (also called Isla Achutupu), is popular with snorkelers for its reefs, the clarity of the water and the array of tropical fish attracted here. The Dolphin Island Lodge (the island is called Isla Uaguitupo by the Kunas) offers snorkeling trips to uninhabited islands.

In planning their Panama tours, visitors to the Kuna Yala should note that from December to February, seas are rougher and winds stronger than the rest of the year. In March, when weather is drier and the winds die down in the Kuna Yala, snorkeling visibility is increased. The rainy season, beginning in mid-April is even less windy, but rain and river runoff reduce visibility in offshore areas.