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Exploring Catalinas Islands, Costa Rica: What You Need to Know

Catalinas Islands Costa Rica is located right in the Pacific Ocean right near Guanacaste Province and is among the most visited places among tourists interested in scuba diving and observing marine life.

Catalina Islands also known among tourists as “the Cats” or Santa Catalina Islands are formed from 20 individual islands and islets surrounded by crystal clear waters with high visibility, perfect for observing marine creatures.

The islands are located within 30 minutes boat ride from the Flamingo marina and offer unique experiences and spectacular encounters with wildlife.

No matter if you book a scuba diving tour or a snorkeling tour, you will be fascinated by the abundance of wildlife and interesting scenery around the islands.

Where are the Catalina Islands located

Catalina Islands Costa Rica is located 20 to 30 minutes boat ride from the Costa Rican shore in the Pacific Ocean, right near the Guanacaste Province.

Islas Santa Catalina is an archipelago formed by more than 20 rocky islets that are not inhabited by people, perfect for a day trip from the beach towns located on the northern Pacific shore:
Playa Flamingo, Tamarindo , Playa Conchal, Papagayo and Playa del Coco.

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How to get to Catalinas Islands Costa Rica

The islands of Santa Catalina are located 3 to 25 kilometers away from the northern shore of Costa Rica.

So, in order to get to these islands, you first need to get to Costa Rica, most probably to San Jose, the city capital of the country.

From there you can take public transport or a car to get to Flamingo beach town from where depart most of the boat tours that take you to these islands.

From the Flamingo marina to the islands are about 30 minute’s boat ride and the scenery is amazing, while the ocean has one of the most beautiful colors I have ever seen.

There are also boats that leave from Papagayo, Playa del Coco, Tamarindo, Conchal, and Playa Conchal to get to these islands, you don’t necessarily need to drive to Flamingo

Best time to visit Catalina Islands Costa Rica

A good thing about visiting these islands is that these tropical islands have a great climate all over the year.

Most of the days come with clear waters, great visibility ( 25 to 70 feet or 7 to 20 meters), while the water temperature is always perfect for swimming and diving ( around 25 degrees Celsius, 75 degrees Fahrenheit).

The only thing that is influenced by the seasons is the marine currents that might be quite powerful during some days.

Catalinas Islands Costa Rica

Catalinas Island Costa Rica

These strong currents made from this place a diving place preferred mostly by experienced divers and less perfect for snorkeling.

But I am pretty sure that you plan to explore the waters around Catalinas Islands Costa Rica with a reason: that of seeing the absolutely magnificent marine life from this part of the world.

Well, in this case, let me give you some hints for the best time to visit Islas Catalinas:

  • for giant manta rays: November to May
  • for whale watching between September and March
  • for the best water visibility: the dry season, from January to March

These are the new essentials you have to pack for your trip

Diving Catalina Islands Costa Rica

Most of the divers that come to dive into these waters want to see the giant manta rays in their natural environment.

In order to maximize your chances of seeing these gentle creatures, we strongly suggest you go between January to March when the water has the best visibility.

Besides the giant manta rays, these waters are full of other wonderful creatures like devil manta rays, stingrays, bat rays, bullseye electric rays, spotted eagle rays, and of course the beautiful cow-nosed rays.

Diving Catalinas Islands Costa Rica

Diving Catalinas Costa Rica Islands

To this impressive collection of rays, add many species of sharks ( tiger sharks, whale sharks, white tip reef sharks), as well as whales ( humpback whales, killer whales, and pilot whales) and cute dolphins plus many species of colorful fishes and you will get an idea about the beauty and richness of this place.

To maximize your chances of spotting marine creatures, you might take a combined boat trip, so that you can do scuba dive near Catalinas Islands and the nearby Bat Islands or Islas Murcielagos.

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Dive sites near Catalinas Islands Costa Rica

Diving in Costa Rica is fantastic as in the waters around the islands and the mainland you can find one of the richest schools of fish from the Pacific Ocean.

I will drop you below the list of the most beautiful dive sites of Catalina Island Conservancy areas:

Little Cupcake with a maximum depth of 100 feet, the perfect place where you can swim surrounded by impressive schools of fish, parrotfish, and angelfish

Big Cupcake with depth between 45 to 121 feet where you can meet schools of colorful fish that live around the beautiful reef

Catalina Grande with a depth between 45 to 125 feet, a favorite spot among seasoned scuba divers where you can spot the beautiful giant manta rays, colorful fish, and the impressive white-tipped reef shark.

Dos Sombreros with a maximum depth of 123 feet is the place between two small islands that resemble two hats; the Channel Islands host a wide range of marine life.

La Pared with depth between 35 to 70 feet, a narrow channel where you can spot the famous giant manta rays, as well as cow-nosed rays, white-tipped reef sharks, dozens of species of colorful fish, and the eagle rays.

Roca Sucia with a depth between 40 to 100 feet also known as The Window or Dirty Rock is probably the best diving spot around Catalinas Islands Costa Rica.

Elefante with depth between 35 to 100 feet is the best place to spot sharks and rays in their natural environment

Peligrosa that translates into Dangerous is not as dangerous as the name suggested and has a depth between 40 to 100 feet and is the best place to spot coral reefs and their specific marine life.

La Punta which means “The point” is a place with a pretty strong current where you can observe many marine creatures including the giant manta rays.

What to pack for Catalina Islands Costa Rica

Prepare yourself for the big day when you will enter the waters around Islas Santa Catalina to observe the impressive number of marine life that lives here.

Besides the diving equipment, you also need to have with you a wet bag to protect your things and gear, a good underwater camera to catch all the beautiful moments, a waterproof sun cream as the sun might cause you serious burns underwater.

Don’t forget your insect repellent, your water bottle, and your hat not to mention the sunglasses.

By the time you finish your diving session, make sure you have with you a towel and a change of clothes not to stay wet until you get to the hotel.

If you plan your dive during the rainy season, from May to November take with you a raincoat just to be sure you don’t get wet staying in the boat.


Where to sleep close to Catalinas Island Costa Rica

On the island there are no hotels, hostels, or guesthouses, so the closest place to spend your night is on the mainland, in Flamingo.

Margaritaville Beach Resort Playa Flamingo Costa Rica from the mainland is the perfect hotel to stay at while in the Guanacaste area. It is located right on the beach and offers high-quality services, clean and spacious room, and an amazing spa massage right on the beach.


The good thing about visiting Islas Santa Catalina Costa Rica is that you have the unique opportunity to swim with giant manta rays and many other incredible marine creatures.

You don’t need to be a certificated diver to dive in these waters as there are the so-called “discovery tours” which are specially designed for those that do not have a diving certificate.

Pack your bag and book a diving tour around these islands and you will be amazed by the beauty of the area and the abundance of creatures you will see in these waters.


Logistical tips and tricks for your trip

Book your accommodation
We always use as they have the best price-quality ratio and they offer a wide range of hotels, guesthouses, apartments, and villas to choose from.

You will find here all types of accommodations, from the cheapest ones to the most luxurious.

Don't forget travel insurance
We never leave home without HeyMondo Insurance or Safety Wings Insurance as they offer the best services and a good value for money.

When we go for longer trips around the world we get Globelink Insurance as it offers a good cover for an affordable price.

Travel insurance will always protect you against unexpected costs caused by medical events like illness, injury, theft, or travel cancellation.

We never go on any trip without travel insurance and there were many cases when we had to use it.

Renting a car
We like to explore a country on our own and a car gives us the mobility and freedom to do that.

We always rent our car from Discovercars as they have free cancellation 48 hours prior to starting date and a wide range of car rental companies and options to choose from all over the world.

Tours and attractions
When we are looking for some adventure or we simply want to break up the monotony and discover new places, we always use GetYourGuide.

We love it because we always find the most amazing experiences, with free cancellation and a large variety of activities and tours to choose from.

Airplane tickets and holiday packages
Expedia is our ally when searching for the best price for airplane tickets as it works as an aggregator for a huge number of airlines and we always find the best price for our flights.

Travel tip: use Expedia when you are searching for holiday packages as they have many last-minute offers and great discounts for hotels, flights, and even the whole holiday packages.