With such an abundance of marine creatures and coral reefs, scuba diving Costa Rica is the best way to enter this fascinating world.
This small but beautiful country contains about 5% of the world’s biodiversity; most of the creatures living in the rainforests are located in different places in the country.
The warm waters of the Caribbean Sea and the nutrient-rich waters of the Pacific Ocean are home to an incredible number of marine species.
This abundance of marine creatures makes Costa Rica a top destination for snorkeling and scuba diving; experienced divers from all over the world rush here to explore this fantastic underwater world.
Where can you go scuba dive in Costa Rica
As a matter of fact, Costa Rica has two large bodies of water surrounding the mainland: the Pacific Ocean on the western side and the Caribbean Sea on the eastern side.
You can dive in both parts of the country, but many divers consider the Pacific Coast much more exciting and better for diving than the Caribbean side.
Specialists rank islands such as Caño Island and Cocos Island as the best Costa Rica scuba diving sites.
Both these two islands are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are part of a national park that ensures the protection of species that live in the area.
Another thing you should know is that for the best diving Costa Rica experience, you need to take a boat trip, as most of the scuba places are not accessible from the shore.
Best experience for scuba Costa Rica
Besides the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Cano Island and Cocos Island, there are also Catalinas Islands and Bat Islands in the Pacific for the best scuba diving Costa Rica experience.
Although Isla del Cano is the most affordable one, it offers a breathtaking experience and scuba divers don’t need an advanced diving license to dive these waters.
More than that, the island is located closer to the capital city of San Jose and the number of marine creatures that can be found in the waters around the island is impressive.
Is Costa Rica a good choice for diving?
For a remarkable experience, you should dive in places famous for their marine creatures, like the islands mentioned above.
The best way to save money and time and get a remarkable experience is to book a diving trip as those guys know what they are doing, and for sure, you will go to places packed with marine creatures.
Among the most beautiful marine animals you will encounter, I would like to name whale sharks, humpback whales, manta rays, turtles, and a few hundred species of colorful fish hiding between the coral reef.
Costa Rica scuba diving certification
Getting your Professional Association of Diving Instructors or PADI, as everyone knows it, is not quite an easy task.
There are more than 50 specialized centers where you can get the courses, but you need to dedicate about 4 days to this process.
Everything starts in a controlled environment, such as training pools; there are also some classroom lessons where you will learn things about diving, first aid, and so on.
The courses end with at least four open water diving sessions, and if you pass all these stages, you will get your certification.
It is not quite an easy course, but worth every minute as it opens access to a completely new world, not just in the waters around Costa Rica but all over the world.
Scuba diving gives you the unique opportunity to get closer to the underwater world with its treasuries and abundance of marine creatures.
Once you have your PADI certification you are free to dive at your leisure, you don’t have to be accompanied by an instructor.
Where not to go scuba diving in Costa Rica
Believe it or not, there are also places in Costa Rica where diving does not offer an amazing experience.
These places are generally located near the shore, close to beaches such as Manuel Antonio, Herradura, and Jaco.
Generally, these places offer lower visibility, and you won’t see many things when diving here.
Best time for scuba Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s climate is characterized by two main seasons: the rainy and dry seasons.
The rainy season generally lasts from May to November, while the dry season is from December to April.
During the rainy season, the visibility is lower, so the number of marine creatures you can see decreases, and the diving conditions are more challenging.
That is why only experienced divers are advised to dive during these months of the year.
Because of the abundance of nutrients that can be found in the water during the rainy season, it is an excellent time to spot larger marine creatures like hammerhead sharks around Cocos Island, bull sharks in the Bath Islands, and whale sharks on Cano Island.
It is also the season for humpback whales which come in large numbers in the South Pacific.
In other words, go during the dry season to see the coral reef fish and smaller marine creatures.
For large marine creatures like manta rays, sharks, and whales, the rainy season is best as the nutrients from the water attract these creatures around Costa Rica’s islands.
What marine creatures can you see when scuba diving in Costa Rica?
There is an impressive number of coral fish and more giant marine animals that you can encounter on a diving tour.
I drop below a list of the most interesting ones and the best time of the year when you can spot them where “Y” means that you have real high chances to spot them and “N” mean not a good season for sporting that marine creature.
|Whitetip reef shark||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Blacktip reef shark||N||N||N||N||N||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
Best place for scuba diving Costa Rica
Generally, the islands of Costa Rica offer the best conditions for scuba diving compared to the shores.
Here is why best scuba diving in Costa Rica is around the islands:
- Costa Rica is a tropical country with a lot of rain and big rivers. When it rains a lot which generally happens in September and October, the rivers carry a lot of sediments toward the coastal waters, so the visibility decrease.
- Costa Rica has amazing surf waves; as you probably guessed, strong currents and big waves produce a lot of sedimentation near the shore, which also means lower visibility.
Suba diving in Costa Rica, Pacific Coast
Costa Rica is a piece of gem, a small but fascinating country with access at two oceans and with more than 15% of its marine territory labeled as a protected area.
The Pacific Coast lies between Guanacaste, located on the Nicoya Peninsula down to Punta Burica, totalizing more than 1,000 kilometers of bays and beaches.
This is one of the most beautiful coasts I have seen, packed with excellent scuba diving sites in the northern and southern parts.
Diving in Guanacaste, North Pacific coast
Located in the northern part of the country, the province of Guanacaste is famous for its stunning beaches and mountains with some active volcanoes and plains.
The capital city of the Province is Liberia, located about 40 minutes’ drive from Playa del Coco and about 200 km from San Jose capital city.
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Its tropical climate with warm waters throughout the year (temperatures between 25 to 35 degrees Celsius) attract water lovers worldwide.
Diving in these waters is a unique experience as the good news is that the islands are not far from the shore, so you can enter the fascinating world of marine creatures after a short boat ride.
Plenty of PADI dive centers offer tours to the most important diving point in the Guanacaste area, so let the adventure begin.
Bat Islands or Islas Murcielagos
Diving conditions at Bat Islands, Costa Rica
Distance from the shore: 30 miles from Playas del Coco
Best time to go: March to November
Visibility: 20 to 90 feet
Ocean depth: 60 to 130 feet
Currents: strong currents and waves
Marine creatures: giant manta rays, bull shark, barracudas, eagle rays, puffer fishes, butterfly fish, moray eels, grunts, angel fishes, goliath grouper, octopuses, wahoo, sea turtles, mahi mahi and sailfish
These beautiful islands are accessible from Playas del Coco, and this is not a place for the faint of heart as this is one of the very few places in the world where you can dive with the mighty bull shark outside a cage.
A day on Bat Islands for diving
The area around these islands is part of Santa Rosa National Park, and to get there, you need to join a boat tour.
The boat ride to the islands lasts about one hour and mainly depends on ocean conditions.
Seeing dolphins and turtles on your way to the island is not rare, so prepare your camera for some incredible shots.
The waters around Islas Murcielagos are packed with marine creatures as the ocean currents are rich in nutrients that attract many creatures.
Stingrays, barracudas, eagle rays, snappers, turtles and many other species can be seen here, including the bull shark, so this is a paradise for open water divers.
The area where these sharks used to gather is known as the Big Scare, and this is a place suitable for expert divers.
The descent to the bottom of the ocean should happen quickly, and once you reach the bottom, the shark hunting will begin.
The visibility varies a lot, from one day to another, so it is a matter of luck; sometimes you can have 30 meters visibility, while other days bring just 5 meters visibility away.
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10. First aid kit
Catalinas Islands diving area
Distance from the shore: 20 miles from Playas del Coco
Best time to go: July to November with September to November offering the best visibility
Visibility: 20 to 90 feet
Ocean depth: 40 to 120 feet
Currents: strong currents and waves
Variety of marine life: giant manta rays, eagle rays, devil manta rays, grunts, barracudas, puffer fishes, butterfly fish, moray eels, snappers, angel fishes, goliath grouper, octopus, angel fish, sea turtles, white-tipped reef sharks.
A day on Catalina Islands for diving
Without any doubt, Catalina Islands is one of the best scuba diving Costa Rica destinations.
The bottom of the ocean consists of a chain of volcanic rocks located about 8 miles from the mainland.
The rocks from the bottom of the water rise between 17m to 35 m, and the number of marine creatures that can be found here is really impressive.
Together with Cano Islands, Catalinas islands are the most recommended places for diving when in Costa Rica.
Giant manta rays from the Pacific are quite common here, especially between December and May, when is the dry season.
These gentle creatures can reach up to 7.5 meters in wingspan and weigh more than 1,000 kilos.
You don’t have to worry about the manta rays as they feed on plankton and microscopic plants and don’t attack people.
Catalinas Islands is suitable for all levels of divers and snorkelers, and the tour guide will lead you to diving places suitable for your level and expertise.
Around the island, there are more than 30 diving sites, out of which 6 are more popular among tourists.
The most popular diving spots around Catalinas Islands are called Los Sombreros and Roca Elefante.
Besides these manta rays, you will spot dolphins, moray eels, grumpy fish, cow-nosed rays, and turtles here.
To get to the island, you must join a diving tour that usually starts from Playas del Coco or Tamarindo.
The boat ride from the mainland to the island last between 1 or 2 hours and depend on the ocean conditions and the starting point.
The tours generally offer a 2 tank experience, so book the whole day to explore the underwater world around Catalinas Islands.
Scuba diving Costa Rica Tamarindo
Tamarindo beach town is located in Santa Cruz, and its main income source is fishing.
Tamarindo is a very popular beach destination for tourists visiting Costa Rica looking for beach and water adventures.
You can surf, hike, dive, snorkel, kayak in the waters around the beach or take ATV tours or horseback riding to explore the area.
Plenty of PADI centers in the area offer diving tours in the Pacific Ocean after a short boat ride, as the waters near the shore are not a good place for diving.
The waves and the currents significantly reduce the visibility, so for a good experience, you have to go further into the ocean.
Playas del Coco scuba diving experience
Located in the Gulf of Papagayo in the northern part of the Pacific, Playa del Coco is one of the few places that offer good visibility for scuba diving near the shore.
There are about 20 diving spots in the area oui of which the most popular ones are La Cruz, Tortuga, and Punta Argentina.
Most of these diving spots are located about 10-15 minutes by boat from the beach and can be easily reached with small boats as the waters are calm and the currents weak.
Here you will see whitetip reef sharks, stingrays, snappers and grunts hidden between the rocks on the ocean’s bottom.
Diving in Playa Hermosa
Playa Hermosa, or “The Beautiful Beach”, translated into English, is a white sandy beach with calm waters nestled between two mountains, the perfect getaway for relaxation and reconnection with nature.
This beach is famous among tourists for its breathtaking sunsets after long days of exploring the nearby parks: Palo Verde National Park, Rincon de la Vieja National Park, and Santa Rosa National Park.
Diving in the area of Playa Hermosa is an interesting experience and because most of the diving spots are located in the Gulf of Papagayo, Playa Hermosa and Playas del Coco share come diving spots.
The most popular scuba diving spots in Costa Rica are Meros, Monkey Heads, Punta Cacique, La Cruz, Punta Balena and Play Pen.
More than that, Playa Hermosa is the starting point for diving experiences that mostly address to more experienced divers like Catalinas Islands and Isla Murcielago.
Scuba diving Costa Rica in the Central Pacific
When speaking about scuba diving in the Central Pacific, we refer to the provinces of Quepos and Puntarenas, a transition zone between the dry and the humid tropical forest.
This is not a very popular area for scuba diving, especially if you are more advanced as the button of the water is not rocky and the visibility is poor because of the large number of rivers that flow into the ocean.
Diving in Herradura
Playa Herradura is extremely popular among tourists because of its beauty and convenient location, about one hour drive from the international airport.
There are plenty of land and water activities to try in the area, and scuba diving is one of them.
The place is most suitable for beginners and those seeking PADI certification, although the visibility is quite limited and the marine life is not very rich.
During your diving session, you might see lobsters, colorful fish, and moray eels; if you are lucky, you might even spot some baby octopuses.
Scuba diving in Jaco
Jaco is another famous beach town, popular among tourists, located just a 2 hour drive from the capital city of San Jose.
Its positive vibe and party atmosphere attract thousands of tourists every year looking to have fun, perfect their tan and do some outdoor activities.
Fishing, hiking, canopy, horseback riding, and rafting are just some of the things you can do while in Jaco.
Unfortunately, scuba diving is not among the best things you can do in the area because the water visibility is low and the marine creatures are very few.
If you really want to do some scuba and see incredible marine creatures, then we recommend heading to Marino Ballena National Park, in Uvita, about 120 km away.
Scuba diving Costa Rica South Pacific area
All the coastal area between Punta Burica to Quepos is known as the South Pacific zone, an area with a tropical rainy climate, a place where the mountains are so close to the sea.
This is the place where you will find Corcovado National Park an area known as the place with the greatest biological diversity in the world.
There are quite a few places in this area good for scuba diving, like Cano Island, The Ballena Marine Park and Drake Bay.
Scuba diving Costa Rica, Marino Ballena
One of the best options where visiting the southern Pacific Coast is a scuba diving trip to Marino Ballena National Park.
This protected area is home to the largest coral reef in Central America, and more than 85 species of marine creatures can be found here.
The protected area is located in Uvita, about 205 km from the city of San Jose, meaning about a 3-hour drive on Route 34.
The best visibility for scuba is between December to May, when it is the dry season and you will spot moray eels, mollusks, goldfish, and arthropods hidden between the coral reefs and the rocky cliffs from the button of the ocean.
Suppose it happens to be in the area between April and November. In that case, you’d better head to Cano Island, where the visibility is better during this time, and skip the Marino Ballena area.
Cano Island scuba diving
Distance from the shore: 75 minutes boat ride from Uvita beach
Best time to go: July to November with September to November offering the best visibility
Visibility: 10 to 90 feet
Ocean depth: 30 to 80 feet
Currents: moderate currents and small waves, except for Bajo del Diablo where the currents are strong
Marine creatures: eagle rays, puffer fishes, butterfly fishes, octopuses, lobsters, white tip reef sharks, snappers, angel fish, moray eels, sea turtles and humpback whales (from August till October).
A day on Cano Islands for diving
Cano Island is considered by experts and divers from all over the world as the best easily accessible place for scuba diving in Costa Rica.
Only one place offers a more impressive diving experience: Cocos Island, located very far from the shore but above all, suitable for expert divers.
Because of the unique ecosystem of Cano Island, many people like to call this place as “The Cocos Island in miniature”.
The biological reserve from this island was created in 1978, and today it protects almost 325 hectares of forest and around 5.650 hectares of the underwater world.
More than 70 species of marine creatures call this waters home, some of them being endemic.
The island is located on the migration route of an important number of marine creatures, so if you go here in the right period, you will surely see humpback whales, turtles and stingrays.
The waters around the island are packed with amazing scuba diving spots, but the ones from below are indeed spectacular:
- The Garden famous for coral reefs packed with colorful fish and other marine creatures like turtles and whitetip sharks
- Devil’s Pinnacle with 45 m deep rock formations, the perfect hideaway for giants manta rays
- The Shipwreck where you can see scorpion fish and other marine creatures
- Shark Cave, an underwater cave home to a large number of white tip sharks
Diving at Drake Bay
Drake Bay is generally promoted as a good diving destination, but the truth is that there are no good places to dive in the bay.
Most of the tour companies operating in the area have diving sessions on Cano Island, located about 40 km from the bay.
The tours depart from the beach and generally last for the whole day, so you have enough time to explore the underwater world around Cano Island.
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Scuba diving at Cocos Island Costa Rica
Cocos Island is a must-see place if you are an experienced diver, ranked among the best scuba diving destinations in the world.
The area was declared in 1997 a Natural Heritage of Humanity and a place of international importance.
To get to the island, you need to take a boat that leaves from Puntarenas, or you can hire a private tour, but bear in mind that there are only 2 or 3 private tours per month for this island.
I don’t think I can express in words how beautiful this place is and how privileged you should feel if you have the opportunity to dive in these waters.
Here you will meet a wide range of marine creatures, from tiny fish to fearful predators like hammer sharks.
Only here you will meet the following creatures, which cannot be seen anywhere else in the world:
- Berkley turtles
- Red-lipped batfish
- Tiger sharks
- White tip sharks
- Giant hammerhead sharks
Best time to dive on Cocos Island
Cocos Island is one of the very few places on Earth where diving is great all year round, whether it is the rainy or dry season.
During the dry season, the waters are calmer, but the creatures stay hidden, so it is harder to spot so many species.
On the other hand, the wet season comes with stronger currents and many more big marine creatures.
Do I need a PADI certificate to dive in Cocos Island?
Experts recommend this place to advanced divers and those who have a PADI certificate as the waters are quite deep (between 18 to 30 minutes), and the currents are not just strong but also very unpredictable.
Scuba diving Costa Rica on the Caribbean coast
Located on the eastern part of Costa Rica, the Caribbean coast is about 220 km away from San Jose.
No matter if you choose to travel by car or by bus, for sure you will need about 3 hours to get from the capital to the best scuba diving sites in Costa Rica Caribbean coast.
The main scuba diving sites in this part of Costa Rica are: Isla Uvita, Puerto VIejo, Punta Uva, Punta Mona and Cahuita.
Purto Viejo Scuba diving
Located about 60 km from Puerto Limon, Puerto Viejo is hence, one of the few places on the Caribbean side where you can have a good scuba diving experience.
The length of the coral reefs reaches almost 50 miles up to the coast of Panama, and a large part of this coral reef is unexplored, so you will have the opportunity to get closer to an untamed world.
Isla Uvita diving
Located just 1.5 km away from Puerto Limon, Isla Uvita is the second best place for scuba diving in this part of the country.
On the bottom of the water lies two shipwrecks that, over the years, have become a coral reef and home to an impressive number of marine creatures.
Marine creatures like eels, tropical fish, and urchins found their home here, and diving in these waters, you can get close to them.
How expensive is scuba diving in Costa Rica?
Diving experience costs may vary from a few dozen of dollars to a few thousand, depending on the length of the trip and what you have included.
Firstly, let’s take, for example, a diving tour close to the beach that lasts only a few hours.
This cost anywhere between 30 to 100 USD, while a tour to the islands can go up to a few hundred dollars.
The most expensive scuba diving experience in Costa Rica is when choosing the Coco Island Tour, which lasts for a few days, and the price might go up to 4,000 USD.
Best scuba diving Costa Rica for beginners
The best place for diving in Costa Rica if you are not an experienced diver is Cano Island and always go with a tour.
Best scuba diving in Costa Rica for experts
- Isla del Coco
- Isla del Cano (certain diving spots)
- Devil’s Pinacle
Where should I stay for Costa Rica diving?
If you plan to try scuba in Costa Rica, the best places to stay are near Playas del Coco, Uvita and also Manuel Antonio.
Our top picks for these areas are:
- Coco Breeze Pacific Costa Rica from Playas del Coco a beautiful apartment complex with an outdoor swimming pool, a fully equipped kitchen, and a sitting area.
- Kura Design Villas is a small retreat with 8 villas overlooking the beautiful whale’s tail beach, close to Uvita town. The minimalist design and architecture of the hotel provide amazing views of the ocean and guarantee the perfect romantic getaway.
- Los Altos Manuelanton Costa Rica is a fancy hotel located right in Manuel Antonio town featuring luxurious rooms with a kitchen and a balcony. Los Altos have a beautiful outdoor pool, a private pool and amazing views of the Pacific Ocean.
Most popular scuba diving tours in Costa Rica
Papagayo Gulf: 2 Dives Half-Day Scuba Dive Tour, that lasts for 5 hours, and in the tour price, you have included the diving equipment, two dives for certified divers, snacks, and drinks. The tour lasts about 5 hours, and you will dive to 2 different diving sites looking for schools of tropical fish, sharks, and rays.
Guanacaste: Discover Scuba Dive Day in Papagayo Gulf a 6 hours tour starts in Guanacaste and allows you to explore the magnificent underwater world from the Gulf of Papagayo.
Colorful fish, eagle rays, and turtles for example are waiting to be discovered by enthusiast divers like you.
The tour price includes the full scuba diving equipment, snacks, fruits, beverages, and also a diving instructor.
What side of Costa Rica is best for diving?
The Pacific Coast, especially the northwestern side, is best for diving. Places like the Catalinas Islands, Gulf of Papagayo and Bat Islands are the most popular sites for divers, regardless of their experience level.
Can you shore dive in Costa Rica?
There are some places in Costa Rica where you can experience shore dive, but because the currents are strong and the visibility poor, we strongly recommend choosing places a little bit far from the shore, like Cano Island or Catalinas Islands.
What can you see diving in Costa Rica?
The list of the marine creatures that you can see on a diving trip in Costa Rica is quite impressive; it goes from colorful coral reef fishes to hammerhead sharks, but all depends on the time of the year and place chosen for diving.
Can I swim with sharks in Costa Rica?
Yes, you can swim with sharks in Costa Rica. For this incredible experience, you should head to Cocos Islands ( for hammerhead sharks) and also Bat Island (for bull sharks).
Pay respect to these fantastic creatures; above all, don’t invade their area, so you can safely observe them in their natural environment.
What months is the best time to visit Costa Rica for scuba diving?
The dry season from December to April is great for scuba diving in Costa Rica as the water is clear and also the visibility is good.
The good news is that you can go scuba all year round, even during rainy season as long as you choose the islands around the mainland to be your diving sites.
Logistical tips and tricks for your trip
Book your accommodation
We always use Booking.com 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
Travel insurance will always protect you against unexpected events and cost like illness, COVID, 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.