Snorkeling Costa Rica is quite remarkable as most of the marine fauna and flora found in the waters around this amazing country can be seen in emblematic places like the Galapagos Islands and the Sea of Cortez.
It is one of the best places in the East Pacific to spot colorful fish like angelfish or butterflyfish, sea stars, pufferfish or porcupinefish, and moray eels.
Many places along the Costa Rican coast are known for being good places to snorkel.
This article tells you about all of these places and gives you essential information about each one.
This country is very pretty. It has over 800 miles of coastline with different kinds of beaches.
Some have white sand, some have pink sand, and some have volcanic sand.
The water is shallow and there are coral reefs in it. There are also forests that go right into the water.
There are a lot of different kinds of animals and plants, and many different climates in this small country.
That is why experts say it is one of the best places to go snorkeling and scuba diving.
Many beaches in Costa Rica are perfect for snorkeling.
These beaches have clear water and plenty of interesting things to see underwater.
The kind of fish you will see when you go snorkeling depends on where you go and what time of year it is.
Let me give you some information that will help you plan your trip to the best places for snorkeling.
Best time to visit Costa Rica for snorkeling
Water visibility is one of the main things you should consider when planning a snorkeling experience.
There might be dozens of marine creatures in the waters around you, but if the visibility is low, you won’t have the best snorkeling in Costa Rica.
The water visibility is mainly determined by the amount of rain that falls.
Therefore, it is not advisable to go snorkeling in Costa Rica during the rainy season.
The best time to go snorkeling on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is from December to April.
The waters are calm and have a beautiful color and great visibility.
The climate on the Caribbean side of the country is different than on the Pacific side.
It rains more often on the Caribbean side.
The best months for snorkeling on the Caribbean side are September and October.
These are the driest months of the year.
In Costa Rica, there are a lot of different types of climates. Even during the dry season, it is possible that it might rain for a short time.
The water temperature is always warm, so you don’t have to worry about it when you go snorkeling in Costa Rica.
For best snorkeling Costa Rica can go anywhere?
Well, not quite anywhere. The Costa Rican coast is long, but not all the beaches and places are suitable for snorkeling.
While more people visit the Pacific coast, the Caribbean side is more remote.
There are fewer places for snorkeling on the Caribbean side.
But this does not mean that snorkeling on the Caribbean side is less spectacular than on the Pacific.
There are a few places to snorkel on the Caribbean side. You will see a lot of marine creatures and beautiful coral reefs.
On the Pacific side, the waves are bigger than on the Caribbean side.
Many people go here to surf because it is more challenging.
Surf waves move sediments, and this cause slightly lower visibility, so sometimes can be hard to see marine creatures.
The good news is that there are many beautiful islands near the Pacific coast.
These islands have crystal clear waters which are perfect for snorkeling and diving.
Many people believe that Costa Rica has some of the best places to go snorkeling.
This is because many islands are located just a short distance from the shore.
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What can you see snorkeling Costa Rica?
The list of marine creatures you might see when snorkeling in Costa Rica is very long.
This is because many different types of creatures live in the ocean.
However, remember that it depends on luck to see all of these creatures in one session.
Some common animals you might see in the area are dolphins, whales, starfish, sea turtles, and a lot of different kinds of tropical fish. You might also see reef sharks and rays.
To see magnificent creatures while snorkeling, go when the visibility is high.
Also, pick the best spots to increase your chances of seeing something.
Who can go snorkeling in Costa Rica?
Everyone can snorkel in Costa Rica, even those not swimming experts, as long as they don’t fear water.
You should feel comfortable with the idea of floating on your stomach before you put on a snorkeling mask. If you are not a good swimmer, you should also wear a life vest.
Almost all people who try snorkeling get used to the face mask quickly. They have no problems breathing with the mask on.
You will forget about the snorkeling mask being uncomfortable once you see the fish and other creatures in the water.
The secret to seeing a lot of marine creatures when snorkeling in Costa Rica is to choose the best beach and the right time of year.
I have been talking about the best beaches in Costa Rica for snorkeling, but I haven’t named any yet.
So now it’s time to move forward and tell you about the best Costa Rican snorkeling spots.
Best places to snorkel in Costa Rica
This chapter will tell you about the best places to snorkel in Costa Rica. It will be divided into three parts.
- Pacific Coast
- Caribbean side
- Costa Rica island
Snorkeling on the Pacific Coast
The Pacific coast has some of the best places to go snorkeling in the country near Playas del Coco and Playa Hermosa.
If you want to go snorkeling, you can go to Playa Ocotal, Playa Bonita, or the small creeks in Punta Cacique. These are all good places to snorkel.
Actually, we can split the Pacific coast into four main categories when talking about snorkeling in this country.
- Manuel Antonio National Park
- Marino Ballena National Park
- Bahia Junquillal National Wildlife refuge
- Calzon del Pobre Beach
Calzon del Pobre Beach
Calzon del Pobre Beach is a place with turquoise waters in southwestern Bahia Hermosa.
Many colorful fish live there, like damselfish, porcupine fish, angelfish, and butterflyfish.
During the dry season, there are not a lot of people around and it is very quiet.
This is a good time to see marine creatures and birds.
Make sure to bring some food and water with you, as there are no places to buy anything nearby.
Some snorkeling tours include a stop at this beach, but you can also reach it from the mainland.
Be on the beach early in the morning, as the waters are perfect for snorkeling directly from the beach.
Bahia Junquillal National Wildlife refuge
One of the country’s famous places for birdwatching tours, Bahia Junquillal is one of the best places to snorkel in Costa Rica, located off the beaten path.
The place is not very popular among tourists and is quite wild, with mangrove forests and abundant wildlife.
Bahia is perfect for a day on the beach, far from pollution and noise, and it also hosts many marine creatures in the waters around.
The good news is that the place is located about one hour’s drive from Liberia Airport, so it is quite convenient if you rent a car and want to explore the wild side of Costa Rica.
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The 1.5 miles long white sandy beach awaits tourists from around the world looking to perfect their tan and explore marine life.
Marino Balena National Park
If you are looking for the largest coral reef on the Pacific Coast, you are in the right place.
Snorkeling Costa Rica at Marino Balena National Park is simply fantastic; only here can you see a plethora of unique and beautiful creatures.
You cannot snorkel directly from the beach, but plenty of boats offer tours to the best snorkeling places from Costa Rica Marino Balena Park.
You can also get to the snorkeling places with a kayak, so if you don’t have a problem with making some effort, this is the right option for you.
Trust me! This is a fascinating snorkeling location on the entire south Pacific Coast and one of the best places to see the whale’s migration between December to June.
Manuel Antonio National Park
It might sound crazy, but the most visited national park in Costa Rica is also home to one of the best snorkeling places in the country.
The park is full of wild creatures, including birds, frogs, and mammals. The park goes down into the sea.
Don’t be surprised if you see monkeys or sloths in the trees by the beach. Many tourists come here to see this amazing sight.
Manuel Antonio beach, which is located inside the park, is considered one of the best beaches in Costa Rica for snorkeling.
The water is full of different kinds of marine creatures.
The rain and the waves might decrease the visibility in these waters. Still, if you are lucky and go here on a sunny day, you’ll see many interesting creatures, including corals, sea turtles, butterflyfish, and wrasse.
Visibility is generally poor during the wet seasons, between May to November, so that is why we recommend you snorkeling Costa Rica Manuel Antonio between December to April.
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Snorkeling on the Caribbean side
The Caribbean side is more remote and hardly inaccessible for tourists compared to the Pacific coast, but it still has some beautiful spots for snorkeling in Costa Rica.
The most famous ones are:
- Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge
- Cahuita National Park
Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge
Located in the province of Limon, Gandoca Manzanillo is considered by experts one of the best places for snorkeling Costa Rica Caribbean coast.
This wildlife refuge is everything that nature lovers could wish for, packed with wildlife, white sandy beaches, shallow waters full of coral reefs, mangrove forests, dense rainforest, and turquoise waters.
Access inside the refuge is free of charge, and there are so many interesting things to do and so many places to explore that one day is not enough.
Playa Chiquita, Playa Manzanillo, and Playa Punta Uva are the best beaches in Costa Rica for snorkeling on the Caribbean side. The waters around them are packed with marine creatures.
You can see here lobsters, urchins, corals, and an impressive number of colorful fish hiding between the coral reef.
Bigger marine creatures like sea turtles, dolphins, and manatees can also be seen in the area, so be prepared for such amazing encounters.
Parts of the wildlife refuge are wild and untamed, but the town of Manzanillo has plenty of shops, bars, and restaurants from where you can buy souvenirs or something to eat before your trip to the wild.
Cahuita National Park
Just a few miles northwest of Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge lies the beautiful Cahuita National Park, home to many birds, animals, and marine creatures.
Inside the park, you can find the largest coral reef area in Costa Rica, home to more than 500 species of fish and 100 different types of mollusks.
Only here can you see corals, anemones, colorful fish hiding between the coral reef, crustaceans, stingrays, and reef sharks.
The best visibility is in September and October, so head to this side of the country in these two months for a memorable experience.
If you have extra time, explore the park on foot and prepare your camera for some unique shots with sloths, monkeys, frogs, toucans, and parrots.
There is an entrance fee to the park, around 5 USD per person, and if you want to snorkel in the waters inside the protected area, you need to the accompanied by a licensed guide.
Best snorkeling Costa Rica island
Snorkeling and scuba diving lovers head directly to Costa Rican islands for the ultimate experience and incredible wildlife encounters.
The real magic happens in the waters around these islands, and you will have the unique opportunity to get close to rare marine creatures.
All you need to do is book a tour or rent a boat to these remote places and enjoy this wild landscape all day long.
Among the most popular islands for snorkeling in Costa Rica I would like to name the following:
- Cocos Island National Park
- Islas Murcielagos
- Isla Santa Catalina
- Cano Island Biological Reserve
- Isla Tortuga
Tortuga island snorkeling
If you are looking for a family-friendly place where the entire family can go snorkeling, head directly to Isla Tortuga.
You can take a boat from Montezuma on the Nicoya Peninsula and explore the crystal-clear waters around this island.
The area is packed with tropical fish, whales, and dolphins, and the best way to explore it is with a boat tour that lasts the whole day.
You can watch the marine creatures swimming along the boat, or jump into the waters to swim with them.
When you reach your final destination, Isla Tortuga, put your snorkeling equipment on and watch the beautiful marine world that calls these waters home.
Cano Island Biological reserve
Located just a few miles from the mainland, in the wild and untamed Osa Peninsula, Cano Island is a fantastic place for snorkeling.
It is the perfect place for beginners and more experienced people who want to get close to marine life.
From colored coral fish to dolphins and sea turtles, an impressive number of species can be found here.
The waters are calm and have a stunning color, being perfect for beginners and those who hate strong waves and marine currents.
Isla Santa Catalina
Looking to spot marine creatures on the Pacific Coast and don’t know where to go?
Isla Santa Catalina is the right place, as here you can see whales, turtles, dolphins, octopus, reef sharks, and an impressive number of species of rays and fish.
These fantastic islands are a major attraction point for experienced snorkelers and divers and are a great alternative to the more crowded Cocos Islands.
The good news is that this island is incredibly easy to reach from Tamarindo, so don’t forget to book a tour or reserve a boat in advance to secure your seat.
The Bat Islands or Islas Murcielagos are located very close to Santa Catalina islands and offer an amazing snorkeling experience while in Costa Rica.
The currents here are quite strong, so we recommend this place to experienced and advanced swimmers and divers.
The waters are packed with marine creatures but beware of the strong currents, which are not for everybody.
Cocos Island National Park
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most popular and the best places for snorkeling in Costa Rica.
This fantastic island is located about 300 miles from the mainland and is considered by experts as the best snorkeling place in Central America.
The main downside is that you can visit this island only on a week-long trip as the island is underdeveloped, and there are no lodges or accommodations.
You will sleep and live on the boat for about one week, and the boat will stop to be the best snorkeling spot so that you can enjoy the fascinating marine world.
More than 1000 species of marine creatures and corals live in the waters around the island, so the planet needs to keep this area untouched.
The area’s main attraction is the hammerhead sharks; only experienced divers and snorkelers are advised to enter these waters.
Hotels near Costa Rica snorkeling spots
Finding the best place to stay close to the main snorkeling Costa Rica spots might require much effort and energy.
We carefully handpicked the best hotels close to the most popular snorkeling places so that you can enjoy a wonderful holiday in Costa Rica.
The Westin Reserva Conchal
One of the most interesting Costa Rica Liberia resorts in Tamarindo in the northern part of the Pacific Coast, within a short drive from Liberia Airport, is The Westin Reserva Conchal Golf Resort and Spa.
Among the greenest Costa Rica resorts near Liberia, the hotel is neighboring the tropical forest’s lush vegetation, with a pristine white sand beach on one side and an 18-hole golf course on the other.
Westin, one of the best resorts near Liberia Costa Rica has 10 restaurants spread all across the property, out of which 7 fine dining restaurants and the other 3 casual restaurants.
You can relax on the golf course or play tennis on the property’s tennis court, followed by a relaxing massage and a treatment at the spa.
Congo Bongo EcoVillage near Playa Manzanillo
The beautiful lodge Congo Bongo Ecovillage Manzanillo Costa Rica offers clean and large rooms overlooking the garden with a fully equipped kitchenette terrace.
On-site, you can find barbeque facilities where you can prepare a delicious meal after a relaxing day at the resort’s private beach.
Casa Chameleon in Guanacaste area
Casa Chameleon Hotel Las Catalinas Playaflamingo Costa Rica is an adults-only hotel with an on-site restaurant, a beautiful garden and outdoor swimming pool, and large and clean rooms featuring a private pool.
Best snorkeling tours
You will sail with a 66-foot custom-made catamaran along the Costa Rican shore, passing near white sand beaches, Guanacaste exotic bays, and tropical jungles.
Watch the sunset from the sea and then stop on a tranquil bay to swim, snorkel or simply enjoy the view while the crew will prepare you a light meal and some snacks.
This 4.5 hours-long boat tour on a custom-made catamaran is the perfect trip for a romantic sunset and some snorkeling just before night.
You will see dolphins, whales, and turtles, as well as many colorful fish during your snorkeling experience.
You will drink cocktails as in the price you have included an open bar, and you will eat some delicious food as a light meal, and the crew prepares some snacks.
The tour starts in Playa Flamingo, where the captain welcomes you on the boat that will sail along the Costa Rican coast for about 4 hours.
Drinks, snacks, music, and a lot of fun are included in the tour price so all you have to do is to relax, have fun, and admire the magnificent view.
Halfway through the tour, you will stop near some amazing coral reef so it’s time to put your snorkeling equipment on and explore the marine world.
At the beginning of this article, some of you were wondering if snorkeling is good in Costa Rica, but now you all have the answer.
Whether you go on the Pacific Coast, the Costa Rican islands, or the Caribbean side, you will surely find a suitable place to observe the incredible marine life.
Not all the places presented in this article are suitable for beginners, but the ones close to the shore with shallow waters and weak currents are the ones you should consider.
Leave the remote islands to the experts, as the places near the shore still offer a plethora of marine creatures to observe and see.
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.