Diving and snorkeling in Bocas  can be good, but those with a lot of experience in the Caribbean may not find it as spectacular as other parts of the Caribbean. Several rivers empty into the sea here, so visibility tends to be 15 meters on a good day, 22 meters on an excellent day, and less than 3 meters when I visit.
It’s a good place for beginning divers and snorkelers because there’s so much calm, accessible water and lots to explore at shallow depths.
Bocas has extensive coral and sponge gardens that are easy for even novice snorkelers to explore. There is also more challenging cave, wall, and wreck diving for experienced scuba divers. Popular spots include Hospital Point , the Cayos Zapatillas , Cayo Crawl , and Cristóbal Light (a reef marked by a navigation light on the north side of Isla Cristóbal). A ferry boat wreck is off the tip of Bocas town, and nurse sharks can sometimes be spotted there.
More ambitious spots include Cayos Tigre (Tiger Rock), off the north tip of Peninsula Valiente, more than 40 kilometers southeast of Bocas town, and Isla Escudo de Veraguas, which is more than twice as far away. Dive operators sometimes offer trips to Cayos Tigre, but a trip to Escudo de Veraguas is a major undertaking and the sea is too rough to attempt it much of the year. For other spots, see the dive-site maps on the website of Bocas Water Sports (www.bocaswatersports.com ).
The best snorkeling tends to be in the placid, protected waters on the south side of the islands. The north sides are open to the sea and pounding surf. Because of this, the most satisfying spots for snorkelers tend to be Hospital Point  and the area near Cayo Crawl , which are quite calm and have lots to see near the surface. There’s also some snorkeling between Boca del Drago  and Big Bight on the west side of Isla Colón , but the coral isn’t that healthy and the visibility can be poor.
Two well-established groups, plus a new arrival, offer scuba-diving trips and courses. Their basic offerings and prices are similar.
Bocas Water Sports (Calle 3 and Avenida A, near the ferry dock, tel. 757-9541, www.bocaswatersports.com ) charges US$35 (one tank) or $60 (two tank, half day) for divers, including everything but lunch. Full-day and night dives are also available. Snorkeling trips leave at 9:30 A.M. and cost $20–30, depending on the destination, and can be either half day or a full day.
The company also offers PADI scuba classes ranging from a half-day Discover Scuba course (US$65) to divemaster certification. Instruction is in English or Spanish.
Dives at Starfleet Scuba (Calle 1 next to the Buena Vista Bar and Grill, tel./fax 757-9630, www.starfleetscuba.com ) start at US$60 per person for two-tank, two-site dives. Snorkelers pay US$20 per person, including equipment. As with Bocas Water Sports, PADI classes range from a half-day Discover Scuba course (US$75) to divemaster certification. They also offer a PADI Open Water Scuba instructor program.
The Dutch Pirate (Avenida Norte, cell 6567-1812, www.thedutchpirate.com ) is a newer place that offers similar dives and courses at similar prices. It has an office on the north end of town, near Restaurante y Bar La Casbah on Isla Colón , and in Old Bank on Isla Bastimentos .