Bastimentos Island National Park, Panama
The Bastimentos Island National Park was Panama’s first marine park. Established in 1988, this park protects 13,226-hecatres (32,682-acres) of land and sea. It’s best known for the Cayos Zapatillas, two lovely islands that have fantastic snorkeling and diving opportunities.
The Cayos Zapatillas are two small islands off the southeast coast of Isla Bastimentos. The islands are picturesque and have white-sand beaches and forested interiors. There are coral gardens and underwater caves that are popular spots to snorkel and scuba dive. The coral here is in pretty good shape and is home to a nice variety of fish – some estimates claim there are over 200 species. Other marine animals include nurse sharks and lobsters, as well as leatherback and hawksbill sea turtles. It’s important to note, however, that the sea can get rough here and the visibility can be cloudy. The farthest island has an interpretive trail where visitors can explore the interior of the island.
The Bastimentos Island National Park begins on the southwest side of Isla Bastimentos. This area hosts a number of small mangrove islands and is an interesting place to boat around and examine the elaborate root system of the mangroves. The park then cuts across the middle of the island, an area that protects an intact inland forest. This forest is home to some 28 species of amphibians and reptiles (many of which are threatened or endangered), as well as monkeys, sloths, and several species of birds. There is a lagoon halfway across the island where caiman, crocodiles, and turtles occasionally hang out.
Playa Larga (Long Beach) is a long, sandy beach on Isla Bastimentos that is important for sea turtles. Over four species of endangered sea turtles use the beach as a nesting site from April through September.