The 6 Most Beautiful Spots for Diving Costa Rica
Even though Costa Rica is a relatively small country it has one coast to the Pacific Ocean and one to the Caribbean Ocean and it contain 5 percent of the worlds biodiversity. It might not sound like a lot but trust me, it is. This, together with lovely tropical beaches, grand adventures, and phenomenal wonders of nature plus a fascinating and welcoming culture, attracts travelers from all around the globe. When it comes to wildlife and animals you don´t even need to go look for it. Just sitting on your porch, you´ll spot howler monkeys, toucans, hummingbirds, and iguanas. Animals such as jaguars, tapirs, spider monkeys and sloths can be found just a few steps away from your porch. So, it might not come as a surprise that the underwater world is equally fascinating. Sea turtles, manatees, orcas, whales, dolphins, and a whole bunch of rays can all be found in the marvelous waters of Costa Rica.
Let’s dive in to my guide and go do some Costa Rica diving. (Bad pun very much intended.)
Scuba Diving Costa Rica
When to visit | Why scuba in Costa Rica | The 6 most beautiful dive spots | Isla de Cococs | Caño Island | Papagayo Peninsula | Manuel Antonio National Park | Corcovado National Park | Cahuita National Park | Good to know before you go
When to visit
Costa Rica literally means “rich coast” so there is something for everyone when it comes to scuba diving Costa Rica. When to go depends on your personal preference as well as where you want to go. As with a lot of places around the world there are a number of factors, such as water visibility, sea life, currents and rainfall that changes from season to season and finding when the optimal circumstances align with what you want is how you choose.
The time between the month of December and May is considered dry season in Costa Rica. During this time the oceans are usually calmer, creating a better visibility, up to 98 feet/30 meter. Calmer seas also mean that the boats actually do go out every day. …meaning guaranteed dive time! Great visibility and calm waters make dry season perfect for beginners or those who want to develop their diving skills further, maybe taking a Padi dive course to reach a more advanced level. Which is advised for some of the spots I’ve reviewed below.
Dry season dives are less exhilarating than the dives during wet season when it comes to spotting marine animals from deeper waters. They tend to stay away from the coasts during this time of the year. You will still see a lot of fish, especially colorful ones, it might just not be the big five.
During the dry season the Pacific Coast is an excellent choice. If you choose the Caribbean side, August to December is the preferred time to go.
Rainy season/Green Season:
The green season, or rainy season, in Costa Rica lasts from May to November. Like in all other tropical countries you should expect at least some rain every day. Especially September to Mid-November the rainfall can be very heavy, meaning there might not be dive boats going out every day. The seas can be rough and sea sickness pills might be a good idea if you´re very sensitive. The visibility is usually lower and there might be strong currents, which makes it a better choice for more experienced divers that are comfortable with rough open waters and large animals. With the strong currents stirring up plankton and debris from the ocean floor comes the large animals, you´ll see whales, reef sharks, eagle rays, manta rays and if you´re lucky even bull sharks!
Why you should go Scuba Diving in Costa Rica
When people think about Costa Rica the thoughts usually goes to surfing, yoga and jungle hikes. This is probably the reason why Scuba diving in Costa Rica doesn´t get as much attention as other dive spots around the world. But it definitely should and here is why.
- Underwater typography
As much as life above surface in Costa Rica offers a great variety of typography with volcanos, waterfalls, mountains, and a lot of long and deep rivers the typography under the surface features islands, underwater ridges, canyons, and vibrant pinnacles.
- The rich marine life
The warm and nutrient-rich waters of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast are home to one of the greatest varieties of marine life in the world. When scuba diving in Costa Rica, you can find nudibranch, white tip sharks, turtles, dolphins, reef Sharks, humpback whales and countless species of tropical fish, it just doesn´t disappoint.
- Knowledgeable guides
Scuba diving in Costa Rica offers a dive experience with complex currents and great variety of underwater topography. Not being your regular playground, it attracts divemasters and instructors who enjoy a challenge and truly live and breathe scuba diving. They always go the extra mile and take pride in making your underwater experience memorable by showing you all the hidden gems!
- The longest humpback whale season in the world
For a whole eight months out of the year Humpbacks can been seen off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. This makes it the longest humpback whale season in the world. Do I need to say more? LONGEST HUMPBACK WHALE SEASON IN THE WORLD! December through April and August through October, the majestic creatures can be seen in the waters of Costa Rica and believe me it is one of the most incredible experiences of your life. While you might not be lucky enough to spot them during a dive you for sure will see them on the surface and be able to hear the songs of a male Humpback underwater during your dives. That is an amazing experience in itself just that. I for sure will never forget the first time I heard the song and felt the vibrations through the waters. It´s an incredible feeling that will stay with me for the rest of my life!
- Big things
Diving on the Pacific side, spotting the big things is pretty much guaranteed. Whales, dolphins, rays, manatees, sharks, turtles, you name it, its there.
The 6 most beautiful dive spots in Costa Rica
1. Isla de Cocos
For someone who loves sharks, Cocos Island National Park is a definite must. The island is famous for its schools of scalloped hammerheads and this uninhabited island offers some of the best hammerhead shark diving in the world! For someone that had hammerheads on my bucket list for a long time before I went here it was a real dream come true! To spot the hammerheads, going in rainy season, between June to November is your only option. If you choose to go during dry season you won´t be left with nothing. The dive is still amazing and offers silky sharks, reef sharks, dolphins and mobulas.
You can only go diving Cocos Island with a liveaboard boat leaving from Puntarenas on the mainland. It takes around 36 hours to get to the island. As it is pretty far off, normally the trips last anywhere from a week to 10 days. There are around 20 different dive sites around the island. The most popular being Bajo Alcyone, Dirty Rock, Dos Amigos Grande, and Dos Amigos Pequena.
Cocos Island, because of its heavy currents and surges, is recommended for advanced divers only. The dive sites consist of boulders, pinnacles and seamounts that rise up from the deep blue.
Liveaboards don´t come cheap, and the ones to Isla de Coco is not an exception. I chose the most affordable option, 368 USD per night, Okeanos Aggressor. I was not disappointed. The boat accommodates 22 divers as well as the lovely staff. It is comfortable, it has AC and freshwater showers in each cabin and the food is divine. I highly recommend this, especially if you´re trying to keep to a budget.
2. Caño Island
Off the coast of the Osa Peninsula is one of Costa Rica’s most exciting and unexplored corners, Caño Island. It is a protected ecological reserve because of the large population of reef sharks that inhabit the reefs there. Whitetip reef sharks as well as black tip ang grey reef sharks are almost guaranteed (I know, I know, it´s nature and nothing is guaranteed, but still). Caño Island is for divers of all levels and even for snorkeling. Making it the perfect destination if you are traveling with friends who are not yet scuba divers.
The colors of the corals are super vibrant and the waters around the island host the incredible amount of, 70 indigenous species. Besides the large number of reef sharks that circle the island you´ll spot multiple types of shellfish, sponges, fish, marine reptiles, and sea mammals. You will also encounter different types of dolphins, the spotted and the bottle nosed are often seen here, as well as Eagle rays, Manta Rays, whale sharks and even whales.
To get to the island you need to take a boat from Drake Bay, on the southern Pacific coast.
3. Papagayo Peninsula
Located in the Northwest province of Guanacaste, the Papagayo Peninsula is another great site for Costa Rica scuba diving. This part of Costa Rica is full of rocky pinnacles, islands, islets, small coves and bays and as if that wasn’t enough it´s surrounded by stunning beaches. From Papagayo you can easily explore the best scuba diving sites in Guanacaste, including the Bat Islands (Murcielago Islands), Monkey Head and the Catalinas Islands. Catalinas Islands are a worldfamous dive location that divers flock to, especially during the season for giant manta rays and if you´re really lucky you might spot some humpback whales as well. …but don´t get your hopes up, this doesn´t happen very often. Most likely you´ll “just” hear them sing in the distance. Even if you don´t hit manta season or hear the humpbacks sing you´ll see white tip reef sharks, some giant manta rays, stingrays, eagle rays, jewel and green morays, nudibranchs, angel and butterfly fish and schools of damsels, jacks, grunts and spadefish.
A 5 hour dive trip around the Papayago Peninsula is around 135 USD and I went with Native´s Way, who provides 2 tanks and pick up from your accommodation. They are really professional and offer a great experience!
Please note that the visibility conditions are quite unpredictable around the Peninsula, so make sure to check the conditions frequently. However, with less visibility comes big fish, usually, so don´t despair.
Another famous dive site on the Papayago Peninsula is Bat Island or Isla Murciealagos off the coast of Santa Rosa National Park. Because the island is located inside a marine reserve that is protected by the government it offers some of the best diving in Costa Rica. The main highlight of this dive site is the bull sharks, and it is the only place in Costa Rica where you´ll be able to dive with bull sharks. Marine biologists constantly study the bull sharks in the area meaning they are very frequently seen here. Another big attraction here is large schools of graceful manta rays. If luck is really on your side, you might even spot hammerheads. Currents here are strong and hence this is not a dive site for beginners.
4. Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park has a coastline with 12 islands and numerous dive sites. The majority of the dive sites can be reached within a 20 minute boat ride from the port of Quespos. During the dives you´ll see volcanic rock formations, with various hard and soft corals. The waters around Manuel Antonia National Park have an abundant marine life with schools of Snapper and Jacks, plus White Tip Reef Sharks, Angel Fish, Moorish Idols, Parrot Fish, Puffer Fish, Octopus, Eels, Crustaceans, Sea Turtles and in season (Dec – May) the giant Manta Ray.
Manuel Antonio offers plenty of dives for beginners at a depth of 35 to 60 feet (10 to18 meters), and there are plenty of deeper sites for more experienced divers as well. Therefor Manuel Antonio is a great place for mixed groups as there are plenty of snorkeling tours available here as well. …or great exploring on land as well for those who prefer to stay dry.
5. Corcovado National Park
Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula is one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Same goes for life under water, making it one of the most spectacular places I´ve ever been diving at. Corcovado is considered one of the top ten places to dive in the world and it is easy to understand why. The Osa Peninsula is one of Costa Rica’s best kept secrets and paradise for anyone who enjoys scuba diving or snorkeling.
There are hundreds of dive sites here that are all home to striking coral reefs and a variety of radiant marine life. Most dive sites are suitable for all level of divers and snorkelers.
The most famous dive site might be Drake Bay, which is also where you will take the boat to get to Cano Islands so why not hit two birds with one stone and stay for at least a few days in the area.
6. Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park on the Caribbean side is home to over 123 species of fish, 140 species of mollusks, and 35 species of coral. It is located about 203 km from San Jose and the area is surrounded on three sides by lush vegetation and rain forest. Since it is a National Park all of the land and sea are protected areas.
From Cahuita all the way to Manzanillo, there are plenty of scuba diving and snorkeling sites to pick and choose from. The underwater visibility on the Caribbean Coast is best when the sea is calm. There´s a great variety of coral and fauna to discover, and even if the diving here is different from the Pacific side, the diving here is first class. Part from the amazing underwater life there are also two shipwrecks at Uvita that are well worth a visit. The best time to go scuba diving here is between February and April, when the weather is good, and the ocean conditions are amazing.
Good to know before you go
- During the rainy season, visibility can drop considerably, this of course can make your dive less enjoyable, but also means there is usually a better chance of seeing the bigger animals.
- During rainy season, the average water temperature is higher than during dry season. If you’re diving during the dry season, you might want to consider a thicker wetsuit for better insulation, especially if you, like me easily gets the chills.
- Be aware of the currents in Costa Rica as they can become strong, especially on the Pacific side. Most Pacific coast dives are recommended for more experienced scuba divers because of this. Even if there are dive sites suitable for all levels. To prepare for the conditions or freshen up your skills you might want to consider a drift-dive course.
- Travelling inside Costa Rica is more time consuming than you think, even if it is a relatively small country. Take this into consideration when planning your dive trip and make sure to remember not to do any dives within the no-fly-times.
- Most dive centers offer wetsuit rentals; however, they are usually shorties and the waters, especially during dry season can get chilly. Consider bringing or investing in a long 3, maybe even 5 mm wetsuit. If you have a rash guard I suggest that you bring it, as it might come in handy.
- As the dive conditions change depending on season and place it is a good idea to do your research before booking your trip, to make sure that you´ll hit the right time and place for your preferred diving.
Which beautiful spot for diving Costa Rica is at the top of your diving bucket list? Let us know in the comments below.
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Costa Rica is a small country located in Central America with coastlines to both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean. Despite being so small Cost Rica is one of the countries with the most diverse ecosystems in the world. More than 5% of the world’s flora and fauna...