The Best Snorkeling and Diving Spots in Costa Rica

Deep reef wonders © NOAA/Flickr
Deep reef wonders © NOAA/Flickr
The spectacular display of biodiversity and natural wonder doesn’t stop on land in Costa Rica. Costa Rica’s ocean territory is actually larger than its terrestrial territory and equally as awe-inspiring. There are vibrant coral reefs, flourishing atolls, volcanic rock formations bursting with aquatic life, shark caves, and ship wrecks. World-class scuba diving and snorkeling spots for all different levels can be found on both the Pacific and Caribbean coast.

Isla del Coco

Isla del Coco was described by Jacques Cousteau as “the most beautiful island in the world.” This UNESCO World Heritage Site is located 483 kilometers/300 miles southwest of Cabo Blanco. It is Costa Rica’s most exquisite marine park and one of the top diving destinations in the world. A diving adventure to Isla del Coco is only for experienced scuba divers with a truly adventurous spirit. The only way to access the island and its phenomenal dive sites is via a live aboard boat excursion. Isla del Coco is famous for his scalloped hammerhead populations, as well as multiple other types of sharks, whales, dolphins, rays, and tropical fish.

Ancient and beautiful ©NOAA/Flickr

Islas Murciélagos (Bat Islands)

Islas Murciélagos is located at the very tip of the Santa Rosa National Park off the coast of Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste. These remote islands host a fantastic array of marine life, including its most famous resident, the bull shark. Experienced divers come from all over the world in search of the exhilarating experience of diving alongside these massive sharks. The sharks don’t steal the whole show here though. Giant manta rays and other types of beautiful rays, turtles, and an impressive variety of tropical fish make their home around these islands too. There have been whale shark, pilot whales, humpback whales, and dolphin sightingss around this area too. Due to the strong seasonal Papagayo winds, the best months to dive these islands are between March and November.

Islas Catalinas

The Catalina Islands are another Pacific coast diving gem. They are made up of a series of twenty small islands. This is a world renowned scuba diving spot and particularly famous for its populations of giant manta rays, devil manta rays, bat rays, string rays, spotted eagle rays, bullseye electric rays, and cow-nosed rays. Pilot whales, sharks, turtles, and dolphins are also commonly spotted around this island chain. The best months to visit the captivating Catalina Islands are between September and March, which is when the visibility is best.

A rare but special encounter © Christian Jensen/Flickr

Caño Island Biological Reserve

The Caño Island Biological Reserve has a number of exquisitely magical dive spots that are teeming with marine life and coral. The pristine waters surrounding the tiny island off the coast of Drake Bay has been rated one of the best spots to go diving in Costa Rica. While this is a great place to go snorkeling, it is even better if you can go scuba diving as there are deeper spots that contain some of the most impressive marine life variety. El Bajo del Diablo, Paraiso, and Cueva del Tiburon are all dive spots best suited for scuba divers. Devil rays, white-tipped reef sharks, and sea turtles can be spotted on almost every dive!

Young green turtle © Silke Baron/Flickr

Isla Uvita

Just offshore from the Caribbean city of Limon, is Isla Uvita. This island has recently gained the recognition that it deserves as a premier diving destination in Costa Rica. The island was actually the first spot that Christopher Columbus landed in 1502. Aside from the immaculate reefs surrounding the island, there is also a ship wreck dive spot. The island doesn’t have any man-made infrastructure, so you will have to take a boat out there from Limon, which is only about a 20 minute ride.

Just below the surface ©Kyle Taylor/Flickr

Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge

The Gondoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best snorkeling spots on the Caribbean coast. The shallow coral reefs, little islands, and protected bays are ideal for snorkeling and host a colorful assortment of tropical fish and coral. Manatees, dolphins, and sea turtles also sometimes visit this beautiful refuge. The white sand and palm tree lined beaches that meet the turquoise crystal clear waters of the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge creates a scene right off a postcard. Once you put your face into the water an even more magical scene will unfold before your eyes.

Mom and baby ©psyberartist/Flickr

Cahuita National Park

While the Cahuita National Park isn’t far from the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge, the diving scene here is other worldly. There are 35 different types of coral, over a 120 types of tropical fish, a staggering 120 types of mollusks, and 40 species of crustaceans. The diving here is dreamy! You can literally walk off Punta Cahuita and start snorkeling. Vibrantly colored sea anemone bring great color to the reef and adorable sea horse sightings are common if you look carefully. There is 5.8 kilometers/ 3.6 miles of coastline to snorkel off in the Cahuita National Park.

Can you spot it? ©Judith Garcia/Flickr

Isla Tortuga

Snorkeling or scuba diving around Isla Tortuga is a marine adventure that they whole family will enjoy. The crystal clear and calm waters are home to a stunning variation of tropical fish and marine species, such as parrotfish, porcupine fish, angelfish, moray eels, turtles, and eagle rays. Just off the coast of the island, dolphin, humpback whale, pilot whale, and manta ray sightings are common. After a breathtakingly beautiful snorkeling adventure, spending the day on Isla Tortuga is a real treat and the perfect way to spend the rest of your day outdoors.