Most visitors to Bocas come to explore the pristine beauty of PARQUE NACIONAL MARINO ISLA BASTIMENTOS, a 130-square-kilometre reserve encompassing several virtually undisturbed ecosystems that include rainforest, mangrove and coral reef supporting an immense diversity of marine life, including dolphins, sea turtles and a kaleidoscopic variety of fish.
Some of the best beaches in the archipelago are also in the park, on the eastern side of the island facing the open sea. Owing to their powerful surf and currents, swimming here is dangerous, but they are huge, uncrowded and undeveloped. The most popular is Red Frog Beach, an idyllic stretch of sand that takes its name from the tiny bright-red strawberry poison-dart frogs (don’t touch!) that inhabit the forest behind the beach.
Much further east, the 6km stretch of Playa Larga is an important nesting site for sea turtles (May–Sept). There’s a ranger station here; you’ll need to stay overnight if you want to see the turtles lay their eggs.
Southeast of Isla Bastimentos, but still within the park, are the Cayos Zapatillas. Two dreamy, coral-fringed islands, the Zapatillas are excellent for snorkelling, but you must pay the park admission fee (US$10) at the ANAM station on the southern island. Camping is possible on the northern island.