Boats from Isla Colón that approach Bastimentos from the south pass a series of idyllic mangrove islands, protected as part of the marine park, before coming to Cayo Crawl, a shallow channel between Isla Bastimentos and Isla Popa.
In keeping with the Bocas name game, Cayo Crawl is sometimes called Cayo Coral, and in English it’s called Crawl Cay or Coral Cay. Got that? It’s about a half hour by boat from Bocas town.
The water here is a luminous light green, smooth as glass, and in some places only a meter deep before hitting sandy bottom. The area attracts lots of tropical fish. It’s an easy, relaxing place to snorkel or splash around.
Note: Some tour operators, wanting to save on gas, take snorkelers only as far as Cayo Crawl and call it a day. Given that coral gardens don’t start until one rounds the point and heads up the southeast coast of Bastimentos—at which point there are kilometers of them—don’t agree to this. Find out ahead of time exactly where the boat is heading.
The channel harbors a few rustic thatched-hut restaurants, built on stilts over the water, that are tourist destinations in their own right. Tours to Cayos Zapatillas and around Bastimentos usually include a stop at one of these photogenic spots. These are bare-bones establishments, but at least you know the seafood is fresh. Expect to pay around US$8 for fish, or more than twice that for lobster.
The water is so shallow and clear that diners can watch slender needlefish and brilliant parrotfish, angelfish, snapper, and other aquatic life cavort just off the boardwalk. The fish in the area are so spoiled by free feedings that Restaurante Cayo Crawl attracts a couple of “tame” barracuda.
A good strategy for those who want to eat at any of these places, since service tends to proceed at a languorous Caribbean pace, is to place orders ahead of time and then go snorkeling until the food’s ready.
Cayo Crawl to Punta Vieja
The sheltered waters from Cayo Crawl to Punta Vieja, a point about eight kilometers up the southeast coast of Isla Bastimentos, offer some colorful snorkeling. The sea here is so shallow and calm it’s like swimming in a tropical aquarium. There’s a variety of coral and sponges and lots of small but dazzling fish.
However, as elsewhere in the archipelago, the visibility can be disappointing. A few small hotels have been built along the coast, but this is still a remarkably isolated and tranquil spot. Waves are so gentle here that fish swim right up to the narrow strips of sandy beach.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition