Costa Rica is a small country widely known for its tropical forests and beautiful beaches. It is visited every year by thousands of tourists in search of the best diving experiences. Scuba diving in Costa Rica is actually very popular.
Although the country has only 54,100 square kilometers, it is home to many protected areas and national parks, both terrestrial and underwater. Costa Rica dedicates more than 25% of its territory to the protection of ecosystems.
For this reason and for its exuberant beauty, the country is the tourist destination of more than 3 million people each year. Many of them are divers looking to enjoy the best diving places in Costa Rica.
Does Costa Rica have good scuba diving?
The short answer is Yes. Costa Rica has very good scuba diving. However, it is important to know which are the best places for diving in Costa Rica and how to get to them.
This will prevent you from wasting time and money on sites that will not give you a good diving experience.
We always recommend foreign divers to connect locally with a good diving center. In Costa Rica there are more than 50 PADI dive centers along its coasts that operate at different sites.
Depending on the area in which you are vacationing, it is good that you contact one of these dive centers and join a local diving tour.
Joining a Tour will allow you have a better experience and to find the best possible places with greater security.
Scuba diving in Costa Rica, Best places
The best diving spots in Costa Rica are located typically in the Pacific side. However, you may find some good spots for scuba diving in the South Caribbean.
In general, the islands offer a greater diving experience compared to the shores.
This is mainly due to two reasons:
- Costa Rica is a country with a long rainy season and big rivers. During the months of September and October the rain is usually very intense. Large rivers carry a lot of sediment towards the coasts causing a decrease in visibility. Obviously, the best diving in Costa Rica is not found near the mouths of the great rivers.
- The swell in Costa Rica is very consistent. For this reason, the country is a great surf destination. The waves produce a lot of sedimentation, especially near the shore, reducing visibility.
For the above reasons, best diving spots in Costa Rica are far from the coastal areas, that is, on the islands.
Best places for diving on the Pacific Coast.
Costa Rica is a privileged country as it has access to two oceans. In the West the Pacific Ocean and in the East the Atlantic Ocean, with 15.69% of its marine territory under conservation.
Both oceans are separated by a 322 km strip of land. This means that Costa Rica, despite being a small country, has a great marine biological diversity.
The Pacific Coast stretches from Guanacaste, on the Nicoya Peninsula, to Punta Burica in the South. It has a total extension of 1016 kilometers made up of beautiful beaches and bays.
The Pacific coast is beautiful. The best places for diving in Costa Rica are in the northern and southern part of the Pacific side.
Starting from Guanacaste, here we share the best places for scuba diving in Costa Rica. We also mention some that may not represent the best option available.
Scuba diving in Guanacaste, North Pacífic
The province of Guanacaste is located in the northwest of the country. It is well known for its beautiful beaches, plains and mountains with some active volcanoes.
The central city of Guanacaste is Liberia, which is located 34 kilometers (40 minutes) from Playa del Coco and 210 kilometers from the capital San José.
Guanacaste’s climate is tropical dry, with a warm temperature most of the year that varies between 25 ° C and 35 ° C.
Scuba diving in Guanacaste is a great experience, mainly on the islands that are a bit far from the coastal areas.
In Guanacaste, you can find several PADI dive centers that offer tours to the main points. Some of the beaches also offer good diving spots whose visibility may vary throughout the year.
Below we will tell you about the best diving spots in Guanacaste and some, which may not be the best, but which can offer you an acceptable experience.
Bat Islands Scuba Diving
The Bat Islands are located 30 miles from Coco Beach, in Guanacaste. They are protected and belong to the Santa Rosa National Park.
To travel to the Bat islands (Islas Murciélago in Spanish) it is necessary to join a Tour.
The boat ride takes about 1 hour, depending on ocean conditions. During the trip to the Bat Islands it is sometimes possible to observe dolphins and turtles.
The Bat islands offer a wide diversity of marine life. Ocean currents carry a large amount of nutrients. These nutrients attract many marine species and make possible the existence of beautiful corals and rock formations full of life.
In the bat islands, between the months of August and Ocotober, it is very common to find the bull shark. These animals can grow up to 12 feet in length.
During a Bat Islands scuba diving tour, it is also possible to observe stingrays, schools of eagle rays, barracudas, thick schools of grunts, snappers and many other species.
Turtles are usually seen quite frequently.
To dive in the Bat Islands, it is important that you have a certain level of experience. This mainly because of the strong currents and the occasional swell, which you could experience during a dive.
Here you have a summary of the main conditions in the Bat islands.
|DISTANCE FROM THE SHORE||30 miles from Playas del Coco|
|VISIBILITY||From 20 to 90 feet|
|MAX DEPTH||From 60 to 130 feet|
|TEMPERATURE||Between 75 and 80ºF|
|CURRENTS||Common presence of strong currents and waves.|
|BOTTOM TYPE||Rock Bottom|
|COMMON SPECIES||Bull shark, giant manta ray, eagle rays, barracudas, grunts, snappers, puffer fishes, angel fish, butterfly fish, goliath grouper, moray eels, octopuses, sea turtles, sail fish, wahoo and mahí mahí.|
|BEST SEASSON||From March to November|
Catalina Islands Scuba Diving
The Catalinas Islands is one of the best diving destinations in Costa Rica. They are a chain of rock formations of volcanic origin, which are located about 8 miles from the coast. The rock formations of the Catalinas Islands rise between 18m and 36m from the sandy seabed.
The amount of marine life that you can see in the Catalinas Islands is impressive, which is why it is considered one of the most recommended diving spots, along with Isla del Caño.
During a diving tour in the Catalina Islands it is common to meet the Giant Pacific Manta Ray. This beautiful animal usually visits the islands between the months of December and May, during the dry season.
The giant Manta Ray can measure up to 7.3 meters in wingspan and weigh approximately 1,300 kilos. These huge animals feed mainly on microscopic plants and plankton which is very abundant on the islands.
The Catalina Islands are also home to the eagle ray, the devil stingray, and the cow-nosed ray. It is also possible to observe turtles, dolphins, moray eels, puffer fish and grumpy fish.
The dive sites at Las Catalinas are suitable for all levels of diving and snorkeling. Some spots require more experience, due to the currents and the depth. In these cases we recommend a PADI open water advanced certification.
In total there are about 30 dive sites on the Catalinas Islands, although 6 are explored more regularly. The most popular sites are Roca Elefante and Los Sombreros.
To get to Catalinas Islands you must join a Diving Tour. Tours are offered by various dive operators in the area and the starting points are usually Tamarindo Beach and Playas del Coco.
Dive trips to the Catalina Islands last approximately 1 to 2 hours, depending on the starting point. The operators usually offer 2-tank dives, so the experience in the islands will take you a whole day.
Some operators also offer private trips to the islands, for those who want to enjoy more privacy. However, we always recommend that you contact an experienced local dive operator especially if you are from abroad.
If you are looking for a good Scuba Diving in Costa Rica, Catalina Islands may be one of the best options.
Here you have a summary of the main conditions in Catalina islands.
|DISTANCE FROM THE SHORE||20 miles from Playas del Coco|
|VISIBILITY||From 20 to 90 feet|
|MAX DEPTH||From 40 to 120 feet|
|TEMPERATURE||Between 75 and 85ºF|
|CURRENTS||Common presence of strong currents and waves.|
|BOTTOM TYPE||Rock Bottom|
|COMMON SPECIES||giant manta ray, devil manta rays, eagle rays, barracudas, grunts, snappers, puffer fishes, angel fish, butterfly fish, goliath grouper, moray eels, octopuses, white-tipped reef sharks, angel fish, sea turtles|
|BEST SEASSON||From July to November (September to November is the ebst visibility)|
Scuba Diving in Tamarindo
Tamarindo is one of the most popular beach destinations in Costa Rica, located in Santa Cruz, Guanacaste. Many years ago, Tamarindo was a fishing town. Today the tourism industry is its main source of income.
In Tamarindo you can do many things: Surfing, ATV tours, hiking, canopy, diving, snorkeling, zip-lining, horseback riding, kayak and much more. Its beautiful beaches are the main attraction of the thousands of tourists who visit Costa Rica every year.
In Tamarindo you can find several PADI dive centers that offer dive tours in the area.
It is important that you know that Tamarindo is not actually a good place for diving. Most of the Tours depart from Tamarindo to some points located at a certain distance where the conditions for diving are adequate.
One of the Tours that dive centers in Tamarindo usually offer is the Catalina Islands Diving Tour. We will tell you more about this destination later.
Scuba Diving Playas del Coco
Playas del Coco is a beautiful set of beaches located in the Gulf of Papagayo, in the North Pacific.
The tranquility of its waters makes this one of the areas near the coast with a fairly good visibility for scuba diving.
Around Cocos beaches you can find about 20 diving spots. Punta Argentina, Tortuga, La Cruz are some of the most visited.
Most of the points are located about 10-20 minutes by boat and are easily reachable by small boats due to the calm waters.
Due to the nutrient-rich waters it is common to find a wide variety of marine life. Some animals like whiptail stingrays, whitetip reef sharks, large schools of grunts, and snappers make this beaches their home.
The different spots offer various marine environments such as volcanic rocks, rocky pinnacles, long rows of rocks and rocky walls, all full of life.
The diving conditions are generally good throughout the year offering good visibility and the maximum depth at some points is 100 feet.
Scuba Diving in Playa Hermosa
His name says it all. Playa Hermosa (Beautiful beach in Spanish) is a quiet, white-sand beach, nestled between two mountains, ideal to get away from the crowds and relax. It is located in the Gulf of Papagayo, next to the Coco beaches.
The beach is perceived by travelers as a quiet and comfortable place where you can see wonderful sunsets.
If you love nature, near Playa Hermosa you can find three national parks: Rincon de la Vieja National Park, Palo Verde National Park and Santa Rosa National Park. All these parks are intended to protect wildlife.
Diving in Playa Hermosa is a good experience, as it shares some of the points with Playas del Coco. Most of the dive sites are in the Gulf of Papagayo and Culebra Bay.
Some of the main scuba diving spots near Playa Hermosa are:
- Punta Cacique
- Play Pen
- La Cruz
- Monkey Heads
- Punta Ballena
- Meros (Culebra Bay)
Like Playa del Coco, Playa Hermosa is a good access point for other higher-level diving experiences. Many dive operators offer Tours to the Catalina Islands and the Murcielago Islands.
Scuba Diving in Central Pacific
The Central Pacific includes the northern part of the province of Puntarenas until Quepos. It is a transition zone between the climates of the dry tropical forest to the humid tropical forest. Their temperatures range between 20 and 34 degrees Celsius.
Scuba diving in the central Pacific area is not very popular. This is possibly since it is an area of narrow plains with short rivers of great flow, which tend to carry a lot of sediment.
Scuba Diving in Herradura
Playa Herradura is a very popular tourist destination. It is located 1 hour from the International Airport and is very accessible for tourists.
Its black sand beaches are very frequented by tourists. Many of them locals looking to enjoy the sea and surf.
In the area there are many things you can do. Canopy tours and hiking in nearby National Parks are some of the options.
Herradura Beach has a luxury hotel and the “Marina Los Sueños”. This is a port for the development of world class sport fishing, approved by the Costa Rican government.
Scuba Diving in Herradura is maybe good for beginners and for those taking certification courses. However, visibility in this area is often limited and marine life is not as abundant as elsewhere.
During a scuba diving tour in Herradura it is possible to see colorful fish, lobsters, moray eels and sometimes some small octopuses.
However, if you are looking to have a good diving experience, we do not recommend Herradura as your destination. Read on and discover other places near Herradura Beach that are more suitable and where you can see much more.
Scuba Diving in Jaco
Jacó is a very popular beach town located two hours from the capital San José. It is characterized by being an energetic city with a party atmosphere and many hotels to enjoy.
Playa Jacó is not the ideal destination to relax and enjoy tranquility. It is ideal for those who enjoy people, partying and night activities. If you are looking for activity, adrenaline, beach and party, Jacó is ideal for you.
In the area you can find many activities to do: Fishing, surfing, hiking, canopy, rafting and horseback riding are just some of the options. There are many tourist companies and hotels that offer multiple activities for everyone to enjoy.
Unfortunately, when it comes to scuba diving, Jacó doesn’t have much to offer. The waters do not have enough visibility and the marine life that you can see is limited.
It is possible to find scuba diving near Jacó, but it is necessary to travel a little further south. At about 60km you will find Quepos, where the Manuel Antonio National Park offers some attractive options. And even better, 120K to the south is the Marino Ballena National Park, in Uvita.
Scuba Diving in South Pacific, Costa Rica
The South Pacific stretches from Quepos to Punta Burica in southern Costa Rica. It is an area with a tropical rainy climate and one of the only places in Costa Rica where the mountains are so close to the sea.
In this area you can also find the Corcovado National Park. This protected area is considered the place with the greatest biological biodiversity on the entire planet. Definitely a place worth visiting!
Traveling to the South Pacific is a very good option if you are looking for good Scuba Diving experiences. The Ballena Marine Park, Caño Island and Drake Bay are perhaps the best places, although the island is the best.
Scuba diving in Uvita, Marino Ballena
The scuba diving tour to the Marino Ballena National Park is a great option. This Park protects the largest coral reef in Central America, with more than 80 marine species living in its waters.
The Marino Ballena National Park is located in Uvita, about 220 kilometers from the city of San José. The route 34 is used to get there and it takes about 3 hours to travel from The Capital.
During a Diving Tour in the Marino Ballena Park it is possible to find a large amount of marine life. Goldfish, moray eels and all kinds of mollusks and arthropods are hidden within the coral reefs.
Beautiful reef walls, rocky pinnacles, islets and seamounts make up this ecosystem so full of life.
Between August and October, if you are lucky and the visibility is good enough, it is possible to see some humpback whales and other cetaceans.
The best date for the Diving Tour in the Ballena Marine Park is December to May, in the dry season. During the rest of the year visibility is usually much lower due to rainfall and sedimentation.
The Park has an impressive marine ecosystem. However, if you are planning to travel to Costa Rica between the months of April to November, we recommend you visit Caño Island instead of the Marine Park. The park might not be the best diving experience for you during this time.
Scuba diving at Caño Island
Caño Island is probably the best diving destination in Costa Rica, second only to Cocos island.
In fact, due to its beauty and its invaluable ecosystem, Caño Island is considered by many divers as “The Cocos Island in miniature”.
The Isla del Caño Biological Reserve was founded in 1978. It protects 324 hectares of forest and more than 5,660 hectares underwater. The island is home to more than 70 native marine species.
Something unique and interesting about Caño Island is that due to the system of marine currents of the Pacific Ocean, it is the place of passage for many migratory creatures. Turtles, stingrays, and humpback whales can sometimes be seen during their season.
Some of the best diving spots on Caño island are:
- The Shark Cave, where you can observe a cave with white tip reef sharks.
- The Devil’s Pinnacle, rock formations up to 45m deep where the giant manta ray and many other species are often seen.
- The Shipwreck, where you can see the scorpion fish and many other fascinating animals. The name of this place has nothing to do with any shipwreck.
- The Garden, well known for its beautiful coral reefs, full of life. Here you will find large schools of fish and you can often see turtles and whitetip sharks.
Here you have a summary of the main conditions for Scuba Divint in Caño Island:
|DISTANCE FROM THE SHORE||70 minutes from the coast of Uvita|
|VISIBILITY||From 10 to 90 feet|
|MAX DEPTH||From 30 to 80 feet|
|TEMPERATURE||From 70ºF to 80ºF|
|CURRENTS||Presence of moderate currents and small waves. Strong currents at Bajo del Diablo|
|BOTTOM TYPE||Rock formations and sand bottoms.|
|COMMON SPECIES||White tip reef sharks, jacks, Eagle rays, snappers, puffer fishes, angel fish, butterfly fish, moray eels, octopuses, sea turtles, lobsters. Sometimes it is possible to see humpack whales (August to October)|
|BEST SEASSON||December to May .|
Traveling to Caño Island
To get to Caño Island, logically, you need to hire a boat or a Tour. It is important that the captain has the necessary experience to make the trip in the open sea.
There are several ways to get to Caño Island.
The first and easiest way is to hire a Tour from Uvita. The island is located 3 km from the Marino Ballena National Park in Uvita.
This is the most recommended option, since it is the most direct. If you come from San José, it will take you 3 hours to get to Uvita and about 45 minutes to the island.
The second way is to hire a boat or Tour from Sierpe or Drake Bay in the south of the country. The problem with this option is that it will take you more time to drive to the south of the country, although the trip to the island is a little shorter in distance.
Scuba diving at Drake Bay
This bay takes its name from Sir Francis Drake, a 16th century explorer considered a pirate by the Spanish. It is thought that he established a port in the bay for his constant travels. Drake, as he is commonly known, is also believed to be the place where one of his treasures is still hidden.
Although Drake Bay is normally promoted as a diving destination, it is important that you know that there are actually no good spots in the bay.
Most of the diving centers operating in the area take their groups to Caño Island.
The island is located about 40Km outside the bay and tours usually depart from the beach.
It is important to consider that if you are on vacation in the southern area, visiting Caño Island from Drake Bay is a very good option. However, if you come from the north or are vacationing in a central area, it is much better to hire the Tour from Uvita.
Scuba Diving at Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Cocos Island is considered one of the most incredible diving destinations on earth and one of the most beautiful National Parks in Costa Rica.
In 1997 the UN declared the Cocos island Natural Heritage of Humanity and just a year later it was declared a wetland of international importance.
To get to “Isla del Coco” it is necessary to take a boat, which normally leaves from Puntarenas. There are also some private tours that you can hire and that leave two or three times a month to the island.
Getting to the island can be a tedious journey, due to the swell, strong currents and winds. It takes approximately 36 hours to arrive and 32 hours to return. It is advisable to take pills for sea sick and be very patient.
But the reward of reaching the island is unmatched. If you ever saw the movie Jurassic Park, you will understand why Sorna Island took its inspiration from Cocos Island.
Cocos Island is one of the best places to dive with large animals and predators. The hammerhead shark is one of its inhabitants.
There are some species that are unique to the island and the amount of fish is impressive. Some of the creatures that you can see on Cocos Island are:
- Red-lipped batfish
- White tip sharks
- Tiger sharks
- Giant hammerhead sharks.
- Berkley Turtles
When is the best time to dive on Cocos Island?
Scuba diving in Cocos Island is good all year round, although there are two different seasons: the dry season and the rainy season.
The dry season, from December to April, where the sea is more relaxed but the amount of life you can see is a little less. The rainy season, from May to November, where the sea is a little more rough and the currents stronger, but you will be able to see larger and more numerous animals.
What certification do I need to dive in Cocos Island?
We recommend the PADI Advanced Open Water certification as a minimum, to be able to dive in Coco Island. This is because depths range from 18 to 30 meters and conditions can be unpredictable, including strong currents.
Best places for diving on the Caribbean Coast.
The Caribbean coast is located in the East of Costa Rica, about 220 km from San José. Whether you travel by bus or car, it will take you approximately 3 hours to reach the best dive sites.
The geography of the Caribbean side is very different from the Pacific coast. Its 220 km stretch in a straight line, with very few bays and formations.
The best diving on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica can be found to the south. It is necessary to travel several kilometers from Puerto Limon to reach these places.
Isla Uvita, Punta Uva, Puerto Viejo, Cahuita and Punta Mona are the main for scuba diving in the Caribbean side. Marine life is also different in these waters and larger corals tend to be found than in the Pacific.
Scuba diving in Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo is located 60km south of Puerto Limon. It is one of the few areas in the Caribbean side of Costa Rica where you can experience a good scuba diving.
Puerto Viejo has a natural coral wall that stretches 50 miles from the coast to Panama. A large part of this coral is unexplored.
Scuba diving in Isla Uvita
Isla Uvita is another of the places where on the Caribbean side where you can have a good diving experience. It is located 1.4 kilometers from Puerto Limón
The interesting thing about Uvita Island is that it has 2 shipwrecks. One of them is the Phoenix, a ship that sank many years ago and has become a coral reef and home to many marine species.
Tropical fish, eels, urchins, and hard and soft corals are very common in the waters of the Pacific coast.
FAQs about Scuba Diving in Costa Rica
It depends on the goal of your vacation. If you are on a diving trip, we recommend you look for accommodation in three places: Near Playas del Coco, Near Manuel Antonio and Near Uvita.
If you stay near Playas del Coco you can join a diving tour to the Bat Islands and Catalina Islands. Then you can travel south to Manuel Antonio to enjoy the natural beauties of these beautiful beaches.
Finally, you can come to Uvita, so you can join a Tour to Caño Island. In this way you will know the best diving destinations in Costa Rica.
If you don’t have enough time, we recommend you come to the south. It’s a shorter trip from the capital and the scuba diving tour to the Caño Island is something you should not miss.
In general, scuba diving is a safe practice when you have the necessary training and follow established rules and procedures.
However, like all sports, scuba diving involves risks and accidents could happen.
In Costa Rica we don’t have recent reports of scuba diving accidents, with the exception of an incident on Coco Island where a tourist was strangely attacked by a shark. (This is a very rare behavior that has never happened before).
The main spots are considered safe and are visited every year by thousands of divers.
We always recommend joining a local scuba diving tour. It is always better to go diving with someone who knows the places and have the necessary experience.
Scuba diving prices may be different depending of the experience and the spot. However, we could establish a general range of prices as follow:
• Price of scuba diving tours near to the beach: Under 100USD
• Price Scuba diving tours in the islands: 100USD to 200USD
• Cocos Island Scuba diving Tour Prices: 2500USD to 3500USD
As Costa Rica dive and Surf, we try to keep the prices as low as we can without sacrificing the quality of our tours.
The answer is Yes. It is possible to see many types of sharks in the best diving spots in Costa Rica. From the well-known white fin to the great hammerhead on the Cocos Island or bull sharks on the Bat islands.
Meeting them is a great experience. But we always recommend keeping a safe distance and not invading their area.
Yes. There are whale sharks in Costa Rica.
They are mainly found in open areas, on the Catalina Islands, the Bat Islands and Caño Island.
Yes you can.
Tours to Cocos Island usually depart from Puntarenas. These are 4 to 8 days tours and are usually expensive.
If you do not have time or money to join a Tour to “Isla del Coco”, we recommend you travel to Isla del Caño, known as the “Isla del Coco in miniature”
The dry season is usually a good time to visit Costa Rica and enjoy diving. The months of November to May usually offer good visibility.
However, if you are planning to visit the islands, visibility is usually quite good throughout the year.
If you plan to come to Caño Island, send us a message and we will tell you how the conditions are for that specific moment.
We think one of the best options is Trip Advisor. You can read some good reviews here.
Scuba diving in Costa Rica for beginners
If you are a beginner in diving, Costa Rica is an excellent place to add dives and gain experience.
Most of the places we have mentioned in this article are suitable for beginners. Some specific points, mainly on the islands, are considered for advanced divers due to the changing currents and conditions.
Such is the case of Isla del Coco, or the Devil’s Pinacle on Isla del Caño. The Murcielago and Catalina islands also have some not recommended spots.
Always ask your guide or instructor and always remember to respect the rules and the maximum depths allowed in your diving license.
Best Scuba Diving experience in Costa Rica
So far we have talked in detail about the best diving spots in Costa Rica.
We have mentioned those in which you can experience the best diving and we have also mentioned some points that you should avoid, because you will not find anything interesting to see.
But if you don’t have enough time and money to visit all these points, the question may arise: What is the best dive site in Costa Rica? Which one should I choose?
The truth is, there is no single best place to dive in Costa Rica.
For us, diving on Caño Island is one of the best options for three reasons:
- It is not far from the Capital (Only 3 hours)
- It is a very affordable price
- The experience is impressive, as well as the marine life that you will see.
If you are vacationing in the area you will also have many other things to do and beautiful places to visit. This makes it perhaps the best option
Scuba Diving in Costa Rica – Summary
Costa Rica is not only one of the best tourist destinations, it is also one of the best diving destinations.
The best dive sites in Costa Rica are located on the islands, away from the coastline, not near the beaches.
You can find good dive sites near the beach, mainly in the north, but the amount of life you will find, and the visibility is less than on the islands.
The best dive sites in Costa Rica are the Murciélago Islands, Catalinas Islands, and Caño Island.
The most recommended scuba diving site is Caño Island, because it is located closer to the capital, the price is good and the amount of marine life that can be seen is really impressive.
For this reason Caño Island is called the “Miniature Cocos Island”
If you want to know this diving paradise, send us a message. We will be happy to help you.