Caribbean Sea Adventure: Bocas Mangrove Kayak & Snorkel You Will Love

Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite tours – and it is the strangest at the same time. We visit the colorful and complex submarine world located within the Caribbean waters. With the help of a kayak, a diving mask, and a snorkel, we discover innumerable corals, fish, jellyfish, crustaceans, and many other living beings, very different from those we see on land.

We begin from Tranquilo Bay’s dock, where we board the kayaks to go to the mangrove lagoon. To reach it, we paddle for a few minutes through the bay’s calm waters until we hit the mangroves. Once there, we cross through passageways and narrow tunnels of this peculiar marine forest dominated by red mangroves.

Slowly crossing this habitat in the kayaks, we appreciate several crabs of different sizes and colors, moving on to the aerial roots of the mangroves. A little higher up in the upper branches, with some luck, we spot kingfishers, herons, warblers, and other birds specialized in this micro-ecosystem.

These forests can look very similar, appearing drab and unproductive. But in reality, they are complex ecological communities, which are the habitat of hundreds of species from different kingdoms. Mangroves gradually colonize the shores of the sea, trapping sediment with their roots, creating soil, and at the same time decomposing biomass, perfect as a habitat for crabs, shrimp, insects, and other invertebrates. Of course, life is not restricted to the sediments and the aerial zone of the mangroves; inside the water, there are endless other organisms.

Dwarf Round Herring (Jenkinsia lamprotaenia) swimming between the mangrove roots
Dwarf Round Herring (Jenkinsia lamprotaenia) swimming between the mangrove roots

We submerge and start snorkeling once we arrive at the open lagoon. The roots of the red mangrove are an excellent site for fish reproduction; they are like the ocean’s nursery. It is possible to observe many kinds in this area: Dwarf Round Herring, Schoolmaster, Striped Parrotfish, French Grunt, Three-spot Damselfish, and Neon Gobies. Clams and colorful sea sponges may also be seen attached to the roots. And that’s not all; the lagoon shelters many Upside-down Jellies, who take refuge on the ground in the middle of the small lake, with their tentacles pointing upwards as if they were anemones. Diving in a little, it is possible to appreciate these strange organisms from very close, without any risk.

 Upsidedown Jelly (Cassiopea frondosa)
Upsidedown Jelly (Cassiopea frondosa)

After having met the main species of the lagoon, we go up again in the kayaks, this time heading to the coral reefs, located on the opposite side of the mangroves.

Corals and mangroves have a unique symbiotic relationship. In contrast, mangroves hold the excess sedimentation keeping it from returning to marine waters. Coral reefs protect mangroves from strong waves; thus, each benefits the other.

It’s time for another stop in the ocean; in this area, the reef landscape is dominated by Fire Corals, Branched Finger Corals, Boulder Star Corals, Boulder Brain Corals, and sea sponges in various shapes, sizes, and colors. This underwater “garden” is home to hundreds of species of fish and other fascinating creatures.

Photo: Striped parrotfishes (Scarus iseri) & Boulder Brain Coral
Photo: Striped parrotfishes (Scarus iseri) & Boulder Brain Coral

Without much difficulty, very close to the surface, you can see Blue-headed Wrasse, Yellowtail Damselfish, Slippery Dick, Great Barracuda, Four-eye Butterflyfish, Blue Tang Surgeonfish, Stoplight Parrotfish, and several others. Delving a little deeper, it is possible to see crabs, lobsters, and with luck, rays, and even sharks and octopuses.

Yellow Stingray (Urolophus jamaicencis)
Yellow Stingray (Urolophus jamaicencis)

In terms of biodiversity, coral reefs worldwide are comparable to tropical forests due to the large number of species they contain. In just 0.1% of the ocean’s surface, they have about 25% of all marine species.

The Bocas del Toro area has more than 280 species of corals and jellyfish, 220 species of fish, and hundreds of other marine animals, such as worms, clams, snails, crustaceans, and echinoderms.

In a few snorkels around Tranquilo Bay, it is possible to observe around 40 to 50 species of fish and many other organisms of this marine microcosm. So, make sure you take this tour and dare to peek into the Caribbean waters. With the help of a simple mask and a snorkel, you will be able to discover a hidden world full of surprises.

Foureye Butterflyfish x2 (Chaetodon capistratus) & Striped parrotfish x2 (Scarus iseri)
Foureye Butterflyfish x2 (Chaetodon capistratus) & Striped parrotfish x2 (Scarus iseri)

Day Tour @ Tranquilo Bay

Bocas Day TourWe are really excited to be offering a day tour @ Tranquilo Bay starting this week.  People in the community and a number of visitors to the archipelago have contacted us over time and asked us about providing use of the grounds and facilities to travelers within the archipelago.  We have worked through all the challenges so that we may offer an awesome experience to our day tour participants without effecting our wonderful guests.  So, we begin offering day tours this Wednesday.

Kayaking PanamaWe have coordinated with a botero to provide transportation to and from Tranquilo Bay from Isla Colon at a reasonable price which makes it easy for people to sign up and head out to Isla Bastimentos for a jungle and ocean experience.

Bocas del Toro SnorkelingWe have added a new Day Tour page on our website for you to learn all about it.  As of today, the tour will be available on Wednesdays and Thursdays for up to ten people each day.  Please contact us if you have any questions or have a larger group that would like to visit.

 

Ayuama River

During the last week of October, Natalia and I had the opportunity to explore, with the kayaks, the Auyama River mouth.  Where the Auyama River pours it´s water into the Chiriqui Lagoon. Jay was going fishing  with a guest in the area, there was space for the kayaks, so we got some water, our cameras in a backpack, and we were ready to go.

Ayuama RiverThe boat ride was beautiful, the sun was helping to bring all the colors up, the breeze and the excitement to discover a new place, all were drawing a smile to our faces.

Birding by KayakWhen we got there, the tide was rising but it was still very low so we had to find our way over a sand bar, between dozens of logs covered in Neotropic Cormorants and some shorebirds like Ruddy Turnstones, Semi-palmeated Plover and sandpipers. Flying around we could see some Brown Pelicans and Royal Terns while we were getting into the river itself.

Ayuama River Kayaking

Once we got into the river, both sides were covered in Black Mangrove at the entrance and on the first hundred meters. Vegetation grew thicker as we were going up the river, and after enjoying a pair of Pied Puffbird, we heard an unknown sound so we stopped our kayaks and waited.  Just a few seconds after we began alert mode, a Boat-billed Heron flew from one side of the river to the other perching in a thick clump of branches and leaves.

Panama BirdingIt was time to start heading back to the boat, so we left it resting on it´s perch, and we headed out.   It felt like we needed more time to discover the wonders that the Auyama River holds, but for an introductory trip … we could not complain.  It was a wonderful morning surrounded by interesting birds in beautiful scenery.

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Kayaking near Tranquilo Bay

panoramicocean

Due to Tranquilo Bay’s location in a nearly untouched forest area within the Bocas del Toro archipelago, and the fact that it is surrounded by protected waters that hold an incredible collection of coral and sponges, we have almost an unlimited range of things to do and discover right off of the dock.

One of things we can do is take a kayak into the Caribbean Sea.   We often do this directly from Tranquilo Bay’s dock. It is an excellent summary of Bocas del Toro’s many possibilities.

Panama Birding

We start early to avoid paddling under the harshest sun. We glide over calm waters into a mangrove channel. It is here that we can see some interesting wildlife: from cushion starfishes under our kayaks to the beautiful Snowy Cotinga flirting with the top of the trees; or a Keel- billed or Yellow-throated Toucans flying over our heads in the wider areas of the canal; or the Yellow Mangrove Warbler calling at the dense mangrove edge.

bluejeansfrog

If we feel like it, we stop at Isla Popa and check for different color morphs of the famous Strawberry poison dart frog, with their green and orange tones, to the light blue legged ones.

After experiencing the richness of our “over the water” world, on the way back we discover what the underwater world has to offer.

kayaksnorkel

Endless platforms of coral reef covered in life and color, playful shining fishes, countless brittle stars, mysterious feather-dusters, sponges, crustaceans, ascidians are all visible under the ocean. Each of these animals lets you witness their daily life. Textures and shapes curving underwater are a colorful live work of art.

snorkel

On the end of our kayak trip, it is a good time to compile and archive our memories of all the amazing things we saw within a kayak distance from Tranquilo Bay.

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Kayak Snorkeling trips

Jungle Kayak

If you want to have a mixed experience and you are not focused solely on snorkeling, kayaks are a great tool to “get” everywhere and always give a different perspective of whatever you are going to see.

With the kayaks we can go from finding toucans or the beautiful Snowy Cotinga, to visiting a calm water secluded beach. We can take it as we choose, snorkeling in different spot in our way over or on our way back. We can jump off the kayak for a refreshing swim in the clear Caribbean waters any time we please.

Kayaking Panama

Their versatility makes kayaks a great way to have fun:

  • Kayaks allow you to reach so many interesting and otherwise inaccessible places
  • The quiet, relaxing sound of the kayak gliding in the pristine protected waters of the Bocatoranian Caribbean.
  • You are so close that you become part of the event you are observing.

Kayak Bocas

But a kayak also allows for a once peaceful use in the “observers mode” to become a fast wet race. Many times on the in the way back we “race,” to see who might be the first one to enjoy an ice-cold drink from the dock´s cooler.

Bocas Kayaking

There are as many ways to have fun in the water as there are people, and we all have our particular ways but, in a kayak, you can have them all at once.

Snorkeling at “kayak’s distance”

Kayaking Panama

At the end of September I was talking about the beautiful snorkeling you can enjoy right at the dock and its surroundings but, that is just one of the “very many” options, so if you feel a little more adventurous we can get in the kayak and go!

Blue-striped Grunt

Tranquilo Bay’s site is fortunate because it is in a relatively secluded area.  Historically this means the place has a very low population density that allows us, today, to enjoy well-preserved coral reefs in a “kayak’s distance” from the dock.

Moon Jelly and Snorkeler Bocas

The kayak can get us to the reef where we can jump in, enjoy as much as you want and then, change the scenario by going to other coral reef, or a mangrove lagoon.  Or we can check the mangrove roots while surrounded by glass minnows and schoolmasters, colorful sponges, and coral heads, that the juvenile fish use for their protection.

Tranquilo Bay Dock

Different coral formations, fish, sponges, echinoderms, and many other creatures inhabit the shallow flats covered in soft coral whereas, the animals inhabiting a coral covered underwater cliff, mangrove lagoons and roots, and deeper coral heads are another set of animals all together.  Both sets of animals are all in a “kayak’s distance”.

Fall: The Best Season

In Bocas del Toro, Panama, fall on the Western Caribbean Slope is generally our best weather of the year.  We don’t get the same number of guests as in the high season, but the ones that are here did their homework.  Enthusiasts of all different types use this time of year (Sept/Oct) to maximize their opportunities at Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge.

Birding Panama

Birdwatchers come for the fall bird migration and beautiful weather conditions.  The volume of raptors in huge kettles over the Caribbean coastline and islands is a marvelous spectacle.  Seven hundred and thirty thousand raptors were counted just a couple of days ago.  They were followed by the Warblers, Tanagers, Orioles, and so many other exquisitely painted flying visitors.  The birds you can photograph from the canopy observation tower alone make this time of year worth the trip.

Panama Bird Watching

Wildlife Panama

Wildlife photographers come for the light and clarity.  Photographing wildlife in the Neotropics can be difficult at any time of year, but September/October bring plenty of sun and lower humidity creating stunning sun-drops beneath the canopy and clear landscapes.

Snorkeling Bocas del Toro

Snorkeling and diving conditions in the Caribbean Sea are at their peak; the favorable weather translates to calm water.  The wave action at other times of the year can affect visibility.  Not that those conditions are bad, they’re just not Bocas’ best.  Just wait until you feast your eyes on the diversity of corals and tropical fishes that light up the water with a rainbow of color here in Bocas del Toro.

Fishing Panama

Another great reason to come at this time of year is for the fishing.  Wade fishing conditions are perfect for Snook and Jack Crevalle.  Because the sea is so calm, there are rarely waves at river mouths.  The fish congregate into smaller target areas because the natural current patterns are not disrupted by rough conditions.  The rip lines are easy to find and with fewer waves, much easier to access while wading.

While offshore fishing in September and October, the typically flat seas are a dream.  School size Yellow-fin and Black-fin tuna bring plenty of action on light tackle.  Big Wahoo are the best offshore prize while fishing in Bocas del Toro, Panama, with 75 pound Wahoo taken regularly during the fall season.  This is also the best time of year to see a Whale Shark in western Panama.

Kayaking Panama

Oh, I almost forgot, all the reasons mentioned above to vacation in Bocas del Toro during the fall, also make it a great time of year for sea kayaking.

See you next fall.