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Best Snorkeling Spots in Costa Rica: Best Of Both Pacific & Caribbean Coasts!

Bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea in the heart of Central America, Costa Rica is a prime adventure-tourism and ecotourism destination that offers divers and snorkelers of every level a daredevil expedition underwater.

Having explored a significant portion of Costa Rica’s underwater wonderland, eight snorkeling destinations have captured my attention as exceptional. All spots have calm waters, decent clarity, and a jaw-dropping array of marine species to feast your eyes on.

Learn more about Snorkeling and Scuba Diving in Costa Rica that will make you want to go do it. Check out Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in Costa Rica here.

woman snorkeling in costa rica
Costa Rica is not only a place to explore volcanoes, it’s also one of the best places to do snorkeling in Central America.

Top 5 snorkeling Spots in Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast

With a total of approximately 1290 kilometers (800 miles) of Pacific (1016 kilometers) and Caribbean coasts (212 Kilometers), here’s a breakdown of the top 5 snorkeling spots on Costa Rica’s vibrant Pacific Coast which

Caño Island

Normally, a national park is a place to enjoy nature from above, but this isn’t the case with Caño Island. Located approximately 20 kilometers (12 miles) off the Osa Peninsula in the Pacific Ocean, Drake Bay, and  52 kilometers (32 miles) from Marino Ballena National Park, Caño Island is a gorgeous Snorkeling spot.

Apart from doing snorkeling here, you could spot a bunch of marine species, like sharks, eagle rays, fish, and turtles, and they are apparently in abundance. The island’s pristine reefs burst with color and offer a glimpse into a truly dazzling underwater world.

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Cocos Island

Cocos Island is a world-famous National Park established in 1978. Located on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, this 1997 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Natural Heritage Site is a real treasure for divers.

The journey takes approximately a day and a half but is well worth it. Lovers of natural environments and exotic marine life will not be disappointed. But, I would say, be aware that the currents can be pretty much strong.

Marino Ballena National Park

If you’re visiting between December and July, Marino Ballena National Park is a snorkeler’s dream. The visibility here is pellucid, with whale sightings being very common. However, to do snorkeling, you can’t go from the beach.

You’ll have to sign a tour with a registered boat operator (there are many in Uvita Beach and other nearby towns). These guys know the park like the back of their hand and will go out of their way to make your excursion unforgettable.

woman a kid on a boat in a snorkeling tour in ambergris caye in belize

Manuel Antonio National Park

The Central Pacific region, with its extraordinary rock formations and underwater caves, offers ideal diving conditions. Submerged caverns like those found in the Manuel Antonio National Park offer unique areas of exploration not found anywhere else. The beautiful waters at Cathedral Point, Puerto Escondido, and the Mogote and Olocuita Islands are also prime areas for exploration.

Mystical waters surround a fabulous coral reef ecosystem in the largely unexplored South Pacific region of Costa Rica. Protected by the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge and the Cahuita National Park, one-of-a-kind experiences are sure to be found beneath the crystal-clear waters.

Papagayo

For both newbies and pro divers, I would say the Papagayo is a decent place to go. The water here is warm and very clear. The rocky shoreline of the Gulf of Papagayo in Guanacaste offers unbelievable snorkeling locations, and it is amazing that even without any diving infrastructure, the coast attracts so many divers. Guanacaste is a giant bay off the northwest coast, which has access to Catalina and Bat Islands, which are both major dive areas. The southern presents the opportunity to see turtles, rays, and white-tip reef sharks.

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Top 3 Snorkeling Spots On Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast

If crystal-clear water and vibrant reefs are your thing, Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast is calling your name. Forget crowded beaches – these spots are all about laid-back vibes and unforgettable underwater adventures.

Cahuita National Park

Cahuita National Park is home to some of the best snorkeling on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast. The water is bathtub warm with massive coral reefs teeming with life. This park boasts the largest coral reef on the eastern coast. For the best visibility, head here in September or October. Expect to see angelfish, parrotfish, and maybe even a curious sea turtle amidst this incredible 3.5-mile-long treasure trove.

Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge

If you love a maze of rainforest trails opening up to perfect snorkeling coves. That’s exactly Gandoca-Manzanillo! It is located on the Southern Caribbean Coast, and it holds a lot of popularity when it comes to huge marine life. One of Costa Rica’s largest coral reef systems lies beneath the crystal-clear waters just off the coast of Punta Uva and Manzanillo.

Playa Punta Uva

Have you ever snorkeled in a bathtub with warm water? Punta Uva’s your spot. Located 8.5 km (5 miles) south of bustling Puerto Viejo, this beach is refreshingly undeveloped. But the views it gives are truly fabulous, and the privilege of snorkeling while thousands of multicolored fish swim beneath you truly makes it special. You could spot crabs, starfish, tons of tropical fish, and even small octopus. But watch your step! Jellyfish and sea urchins can sometimes make an appearance.

A Bit About Scuba Diving In Costa Rica

Scuba diving here tempts daredevils from beginner to expert to step up. Winner of Rodale’s Scuba Diving Magazine’s 2004 Readers’ Choice Award, Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is listed as a top-five destination for advanced scuba diving.

Spectacular palettes of color greet divers as they explore immaculate coral reef formations. Throughout Costa Rica, professional diving tour companies offer services, equipment, accessories, and nearly everything else needed for a safe and fun diving experience.

With such spectacular beauty under the water, be sure to have a good scuba diving mask, or if you are not a certified diver, make sure you have one of the new full-face snorkeling masks. Having a quality mask that doesn’t fog or fill with water will give you the best views of the underwater world!

There are even open water diving courses available for everyone from beginners to instructors to the physically challenged. All are offered by PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors, located in California), NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors), and SSI (Scuba Schools International).

Do not forget these important tips to ensure a safe and fun diving experience. Seek out reputable companies with ties to established professional and licensing associations and make sure the operators have legitimate, valid permits. Verify that any vessel you board has the emergency equipment required by law and good sense. The Adventure Tourism Regulation oversees the regulation of diving in Costa Rica. The website for the Adventure Tourism Regulation can also be visited when searching for available diving tours in Costa Rica.

a kid snorkeling in ambergris caye

Best Time of Year for Snorkeling in Costa Rica

For those itching to explore Costa Rica’s underwater marvels, timing is everything. If you’re eyeing the Pacific coast, aim for December through April. These months are your golden ticket to calm, clear seas—ideal for snorkeling. On the flip side, the Caribbean coast, while stunning, tends to be a rain magnet. However, it has its moments of glory in September and October, when the rain takes a backseat, revealing crystal clear waters.

Conclusion – The Bottom Line!

Snorkeling might feel odd at first like you’re stepping into an unknown world. But give it some time. Most folks find their sea legs after a few tries, becoming one with the aquatic surroundings. Costa Rica’s diverse spots cater to all, from beginners to those practically born with fins.

No matter what level of experience you have with scuba diving and snorkeling, Costa Rica is sure to be one of your favorite locations. I have picked all of these destinations because they offer something unique and magical for everyone. And obviously, they are my favorite spots to explore the underwater world.

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Last Updated on March 29, 2024

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