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Nestled between the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, Costa Rica boasts some of the most nutrient-rich, diverse underwater landscapes in the world.
A vast array of marine life from sea turtles, whale sharks, manta rays, and humpback whales to pufferfish, dolphins, and jaw-dropping coral reefs teeming with tropical fish, the world beneath the seas of Costa Rica offers some of the most spectacular snorkeling anywhere. From sprawling marine parks to secluded coves, we’ve rounded up seven of the best places for snorkeling in Costa Rica.
Located in Central America between Panama and Nicaragua, Costa Rica has over 800 miles of beautiful coastline bordering the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Costa Rica’s rainforests, volcanoes, beaches, and outdoor adventures offer a diverse ecosystem popular for water sport enthusiasts of all ages.
Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, we have found that these are the best snorkeling destinations in Costa Rica.
Located over 12 miles offshore from the Osa Peninsula at Drake Bay, this awe-inspiring marine biological reserve is well worth the extra effort to get there. Famous for having the highest concentration of coral-building organisms in the Pacific Ocean, the underwater visibility is amazing. In addition to colorful corals and spectacular marine flora and fauna, Caño Island Biological Reserve Is home to tuna, barracuda, parrotfish, puffers, sea turtles, stingrays, manta rays, and moray eels.
Part of Puntarenas province and just northeast of the Corcovado National Park, Caño Island is an island of considerable geographical and archeological importance. About 9 miles from the Port of San Pedrillo, this mile-long piece of land was formerly a cemetery or burial ground dating back to the pre-Columbian era.
Believed to have been formed over 50 million years ago when the earth’s tectonic plates moved, the real beauty of Caño Island is found underwater. This island’s virgin waters are some of the bluest in the country and are home to a spectacular variety of stunning marine flora, spectacular fauna, and gorgeous coral reefs. Don’t forget to bring your waterproof camera to capture the once-in-a-lifetime sights you’ll be sure to see.
Rated as one of the best underwater adventure diving spots in the world, the Caño Island Biological Reserve is also home to a huge variety of fish, whales, and sharks.
Established in 1970, Cahuita National Park is beloved for its coral reefs close to the shore. Home to more than 500 recorded species of fish, including French angelfish, rock beauty and parrotfish, Cahuita is one of the most magical underwater worlds beneath the Costa Rican seas. In the dry season, elkhorn, blue staghorn, sea fans, and gorgonians are also in abundance. And as if brightly colored corals and neon-fish aren’t enough, there are two shallow shipwrecks to explore too.
The coral reefs are protected in Cahuita, so booking a snorkeling tour with a certified guide is highly recommended when planning your snorkeling excursion.
Located 12 miles from Drake Bay in Corcovado National Park, the Isla del Cano frequently ranks as one of the most popular snorkeling destinations in Costa Rica. With waters closer to shore teeming with parrotfish, surgeonfish, barber fish, snappers, eels, and barracuda, whales and dolphins can be frequently spotted further off the coast.
Boasting coral reefs dating back thousands of years, the underwater clarity in Isla del Caño is brilliant, with visibility up to 30 feet.
A water sports and recreation gateway surrounded by palm-lined beaches and rocky bays, Playas del Coco is under an hour from Liberia, Costa Rica’s Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport (LIR). From relaxing on white-sand beaches and strolling the black sand beach beneath the cliffs at Playa Ocotal to diving, snorkeling, swimming, surfing, fishing, bird-watching, kayaking, sailing, jet-skiing, and horseback riding, there’s something for practically everyone in this Costa Rica watersport wonderland.
To get around and stay on the water, take a Coco Water Taxi, operating out of Playas del Coco, which shuttles visitors between the major resorts and the destinations throughout the Papagayo Gulf, Culebra Bay, and local beach destinations.
Not far from Playa del Coco, Calzon de Pobre is a small beach offering a more secluded snorkel experience. The seabed, brimming with vegetation, is home to large schools of juvenile wrasse, porcupinefish, and pufferfish.
When you’re ready to explore deeper waters, you’ll find groups of damselfish, king angelfish, and black-nosed butterfish. With its white sands and clear turquoise waters, Calzon de Pobre is one of the best places for underwater photography in Costa Rica so don’t forget to bring a waterproof camera!
The Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is considered by many to be the best spot for snorkeling on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica. The coral reef, little bays, inlets, and islands are the perfect recipe for attracting marine life. Sea turtles (nesting from March to July), manatees, crocodiles, and dolphins are just some of the animals that call Gandoca Manzanillo home.
With around 140,000 visitors each year, idyllic sandy beaches, tropical blue waters, and exotic wildlife make Manuel Antonio one of Costa Rica’s most popular national parks. Playa Biesanz and Playa Manuel Antonio are two of the park’s best snorkeling spots with various corals, butterflyfish, sea turtles, wrasse, and other sea life in abundant supply. Visibility can be poor between May and November, it’s best to plan your trip between December and April for the best snorkeling experience.
In addition to your snorkeling gear, you should bring a quality waterproof dry bag to secure your belongings as monkeys and raccoons are known for stealing items left unattended on the beach.
The Spanish word for “Paradise,” this diving location is aptly named. Snorkeling in the area’s volcanic lava formation is like swimming through a living tunnel, as Paradiso is home to thousands of blue and gold snappers that congregate in schools.
There are also large groups of barracuda that circle the schools of horse-eye jacks, waiting for the right time to strike. The drama is real, and you’ll have a front-row seat to watch it all unfold.
Isla Tortuga, or Turtle Island, is an uninhabited island located off the Nicoya Peninsula and is part of the Islas Negritos Biological Reserve. Calm, clear waters make this family-friendly snorkeling spot ideal for beginners.
As the name suggests, sea turtle sightings are common but the turquoise waters are also home to moray eels, eagle rays, porcupinefish, parrotfish, angelfish, and more.
Several tour operators offer trips from the mainland, but the trip to the island is an experience unto itself as large marine life like humpback whales, pilot whales, dolphins, and manta rays can frequently be spotted from the boat.
While the calm, gray sand beach of Playa Ocotal is just a third of a mile long, it’s one of the best snorkeling destinations in Costa Rica. With waters teeming with sea life like porcupine-fish, butterflyfish, angelfish, and other exotic Eastern Pacific species, sightings of long-spined sea urchins, gorgonians, and small blue sponges are also common along the coast. Head out a bit further and you could be swimming with friendly eagle rays and large stingrays.
For the best chance of bumping into some exciting underwater wildlife, head to the west and east side of the beach closest to the rocks , but be aware that the waters are rough, so it’s best to visit when the weather is calm and not right after a rainy day.
The best time to snorkel along Costa Rica’s Pacific coastline is during the dry season, which runs from late December to mid-April. The rainy season lasts from around May to November, but subsequent runoff results in poor visibility at many Pacific snorkeling sites.
On the Caribbean side, the waters are clearest and calmest in September and October. The months of April, May, and August also have good snorkeling conditions.
There are great places to snorkel on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. The side that’s best for you will largely depend on what time of year you want to travel and what marine life you’re most interested in seeing.
The longer Pacific coastline, which has many more snorkeling destinations, has more resorts. The Pacific side also offers more chances to see large wildlife like whales and whale sharks.
The Caribbean coast is more remote with less development and tourist infrastructure. There are fewer options for snorkeling since the coastline is much shorter than the Pacific side but it’s ideal if you’re looking for a more serene experience.
Here are some essential gear items to pack for a snorkeling trip in Costa Rica:
Basic snorkeling equipment, including a mask, snorkel, and fins
A Waterproof Dry Bag for your valuables
A snorkeling vest to help keep you afloat and protect you from waves and currents
Sun protection, including reef-safe sunscreen
Tip: December to March is considered the surf season, and this time of year is not suitable for snorkeling.