Top 10 Best Places to Snorkel in Costa Rica
Bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Caribbean Sea on the East, Costa Rica has diverse underwater landscapes and sea life to explore.
Costa Rica’s land and water are one of the most biologically diverse places in the world. When snorkeling you’ll even find different species of fish in the Pacific vs. the Caribbean bodies of water. This is because the Pacific side of Costa Rica is rockier and the Caribbean side has more coral reefs, which bring in different fish and marine life to each area.
Snorkeling is an excellent activity for spending time outside, relaxing, and leisurely exploring the vast underwater world.
It’s a must-do activity in any warm, tropical place like Costa Rica where there is an opportunity to spot colorful, diverse fish and other sea animals. So how will you know where some of the best places to snorkel in Costa Rica are?
With over 800 miles of coastline, there is so much to explore! But we have narrowed it down to our top picks for the country.
- Best Time of Year to Snorkel in Costa Rica
- Pacific Ocean Vs. the Caribbean Sea
- What You’ll Need
- What Are Your Options for Snorkeling in Costa Rica?
- Best places to snorkel in Costa Rica
- 1. The Caribbean Sea
- 2. Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge
- 3. Cahuita National Park
- 4. Playa Bonita
- 5. Isla Uvita
- 6. Manuel Antonio National Park
- 7. Gulf of Papagayo
- 8. Cano Island Biological Reserves
- 9. Cocos Island
- 10. Isla Santa Catalina
- Conclusions on the best snorkeling in Costa Rica
Best Time of Year to Snorkel in Costa Rica
Costa Rica has a tropical climate with two main seasons: dry season and wet season. The dry season occurs from December to April and the rainy season occurs from May to November. The Caribbean Coast gets more rain than the Pacific Coast and it may rain year-round.
The dry season is better for visiting Costa Rica if you’re hoping to snorkel. The visibility will be much better this time of year and it will make your adventure more fun.
As for water temperatures, the Pacific Ocean is around 80 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit and the Caribbean Sea is slightly warmer at 82 to 83 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pacific Ocean Vs. the Caribbean Sea
The Pacific Ocean has a rockier landscape, whereas the Caribbean Sea is filled with more coral reefs, so marine life also differs on both sides of the country.
No matter where you end up snorkeling in Costa Rica, you’ll surely spot diverse sea life. If you ever have the chance, snorkel both sides of the country and see for yourself the differences.
Snorkeling is worth it no matter where you’re staying in the country because you’ll spot marine life no matter what.
Ultimately, the Caribbean Sea side has more coral reefs, so it has more diverse sea life, but it’s also hard to find snorkeling tours and locations because it’s less developed and they’re more scattered.
The Pacific Coast side of Costa Rica has tons of snorkeling companies that will take you to some great places. Both sides are great, snorkel whatever works best for you and depending on where you’re staying.
There is no right or wrong, they’re both great.
What You’ll Need
All you need for snorkeling is a snorkel, goggles, and hopefully some fins. It’s super simple. If you go on a tour, you’ll have the opportunity to rent or buy gear.
If you’re going snorkeling on your own, you’ll either have to bring your own equipment or find a place to rent or buy gear. You may also a life jacket, water shoes, and maybe even an underwater camera.
What Are Your Options for Snorkeling in Costa Rica?
To snorkel, you have a few options. First, you can join a guided tour which will take you to all the best spots in the area either from shore or by boat.
Your other option is to find an excellent offshore snorkeling spot and go snorkeling independently. Offshore snorkeling is great because you can swim out to sites right from the beach. It’s an effortless way to snorkel.
Best places to snorkel in Costa Rica
Below you’ll find a list of the best places to snorkel in Costa Rica broken out by the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean coasts of Costa Rica. No matter where you stay, you’re not far from a snorkeling adventure.
1. The Caribbean Sea
The Caribbean coast is on the east side of Costa Rica. In general, it’s less developed than the Pacific side, but it has better snorkeling conditions because it has more coral reefs, and the water is calmer.
If you’re hoping to go on a guided snorkeling tour, they’re more scattered across the east side of the country so you may need to do a bit of research to find something.
Nonetheless, you’ll find some of the best places to snorkel in the Caribbean Sea below.
2. Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge
Located in southern Costa Rica near the Panama border on the Caribbean Coast, the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is an excellent place for snorkeling.
It’s also a great place to visit for nature and animal lovers in general. The refuge protects endangered animals, including sea animals like the manatee and other land animals.
The park is full of rainforests, mangroves, beautiful beaches, and coral reefs. Basically, it’s the recipe for spotting both sea and land animals. Sea turtles often nest here and in the coral reefs, you’ll find tons of colorful fish.
Not only is it a great snorkeling destination, but it’s also a highly praised ecotourism place to visit. It’s arguably one of the best spots for snorkeling on the Caribbean coast with the diverse fish, manatees, turtles, dolphins, rays, crocodiles, and more that call it home.
The best places to snorkel in the refuge include Playa Manzanillo, Playa Punta Uva, and Playa Chiquita. The best part is it’s free to visit.
3. Cahuita National Park
Just north of Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, is Cahuita National Park. It is also a great place to snorkel in the Limon province. Here lies one of the largest living coral reefs in Costa Rica, with over 30 different species of coral.
When snorkeling here, you can spot over 500 fish species, reef sharks, seahorses, stingrays, and other fascinating marine life. Once you’re done snorkeling, walk the park on foot and check out the monkeys, sloths, parrots, iguanas, and more. The park costs $5 to enter and you must snorkel with a guide in the national park.
4. Playa Bonita
Playa Bonita is located in the province of Limon and is not one of the most well-known and popular snorkeling spots, but it’s surely underrated.
It has a shallow reef making it easy to swim out to and enjoy the views. It’s a quiet area, perfect if you’re looking for a relaxing afternoon of snorkeling. The town surrounding Playa Bonita is quaint and the perfect place to visit.
5. Isla Uvita
Located across from the town of Limon, Isla Uvita is a popular snorkeling and scuba diving destination. More famously, it was the first place Christopher Columbus landed.
The island is surrounded by reefs and even a shipwreck which is a popular dive spot. The shipwreck has become an artificial reef and attracts tons of marine life who call it home.
It’s about a 20-minute boat ride from Limon and various tour companies will take you to the island for a guided snorkel or diving tours. Isla Uvita would make for the perfect day trip if you’re staying somewhere nearby on the Caribbean Coast.
6. Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is the most visited national park in Costa Rica. It’s a great place to snorkel because you’ll see coral, sea turtles, tons of fish, and other sea life.
Playa Biesanz and Playa Manuela are the two best beaches in the park for snorkeling. It’s easiest to book a guided tour so you can go to all the best snorkeling spots and make the most of your time and adventure.
7. Gulf of Papagayo
The Gulf of Papagayo is a great place to snorkel on the northern Pacific coast. There are a ton of protected bays and inlets in this area which makes it great for snorkeling, kayaking, and other water sports.
Two beginner-friendly snorkeling spots include Calzon de Pobre and Playa Penca. Other great snorkeling spots include Playa del Coco, Playa Ocotal, Playa Hermosa, and Playa Buena for the chance to see some amazing sea life.
8. Cano Island Biological Reserves
Located on Cano Island, the fantastic snorkeling conditions make it worth the trip. The island and the water surrounding it are protected, including the nearby coral reefs.
There are a total of 19 coral species near the island, which bring in a ton of unique fish and other species, including sharks, rays, eels, and more.
It’s easiest to take a boat tour from Drake Bay over to Cano Island for snorkeling and/or scuba diving. You must join a guided tour to snorkel here since it’s a protected area. The visibility is excellent, and you’ll spot a ton of diverse marine life and maybe even whales or dolphins during your boat ride to or from the island.
9. Cocos Island
Home to Cocos Island National Park, the island is a great place to visit and an awesome location to snorkel. The island is a UNESCO World Heritage site and can only be reached by boat.
You are bound to spot sharks, whales, dolphins, rays, and of course, tons of tropical fish. There are a total of 1,500 or so marine species in this area.
Several snorkel tour companies will take you out to the island for a guided snorkel tour. The scenic boat rides out to the island are almost as great as the snorkeling itself.
10. Isla Santa Catalina
Off the coast of Costa Rica across from Flamingo Bay in Guanacaste, Santa Catalina Island is a great place for snorkeling and scuba diving.
The island is a volcanic rock formation that tons of marine life call home, including turtles, rays, eels, seahorses, octopuses, sharks, and more. From various places around Guanacaste, you can join a boat tour out to the island to snorkel or dive with instructors.
Conclusions on the best snorkeling in Costa Rica
Snorkeling is a great activity and an excellent way to exercise and explore the underwater world. Costa Rica is one of the best places in the world to snorkel because it has terrific visibility, ideal conditions, and tons of diverse marine life to explore.
With coral reefs, shipwrecks, and other unique landscapes it attracts both marine life and people to visit the underwater conditions.
So if you’re staying in Costa Rica, be sure to take the time and snorkel for the day or afternoon.
You’ll be amazed at the colors, uniqueness, and beauty you’ll find in the vast and mysterious underwater world. Snorkeling is a must-do activity in any tropical climate.
Do you have a favorite spot to snorkel in Costa Rica that wasn’t mentioned on this list? Say so in the comments below.
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