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Your complete guide for snorkeling Costa Rica

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.

There are many places spread along the Costa Rican coast known as the best places to snorkel in Costa Rica, and this article puts together all these places and gives you the essential information about each of them.

This impressive country has over 800 miles of coastline packed with stunning beaches covered with white, pink, and volcanic sand, shallow waters full of coral reefs, and beautiful forests directly into the water.

With such rich fauna and flora and so many microclimates, it is no wonder why experts consider this tiny country as one of the best spots for snorkeling and scuba diving.

Snorkeling in Costa Rica Diving
Snorkeling in Costa Rica Diving

From the cold waters of the west coast of the Pacific to the balmy Caribbean coast, you will find many places ranked as the best beaches for snorkeling in Costa Rica.

Depending on the place where you choose to go snorkeling and the time of year, you will see different species of marine creatures when you go snorkeling.

Speaking about places and the best time for snorkeling, let me tell you a few words about these things to help you better plan your trip.

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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, for sure, you won’t have the best snorkeling in Costa Rica.

The water visibility is mainly depending on the quantity of rain that drops so don’t go snorkeling Costa Rica during the rainy season.

From December till April, you should plan your trip to Costa Rica on the Pacific Coast for snorkeling as the waters are calm and have a beautiful color and great visibility.

The Caribbean side has quite a distinctive climate, and it is clear to everybody that this part of the country has much more rain than the Pacific side.

Starfish snorkeling Costa Rica
Starfish Diving in Costa Rica

Still, the driest months of the year on the Caribbean side are September and October, so if you want to go snorkeling on the Caribbean side, consider these two months.

Costa Rica has an impressive number of microclimates, and with such lush vegetation and forests going directly into the sea, nobody can guarantee that a short shower does not occur even during the dry season.

As for the sea water temperature, I can tell you for sure that it is warm all year round, so you don’t have to worry about this thing when planning your snorkeling experience 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 the Pacific coast is more popular and easier to reach, the Caribbean side is more remote and has fewer places for snorkeling.

But this does not mean that snorkeling on the Caribbean side is less spectacular than on the Pacific.

There might be just a few places to snorkel on the Caribbean side, but they offer an abundance of marine creatures and beautiful coral reefs.

On the Pacific side, the sea is not as calm as on the Caribbean side, and many people go here for surfing.

Scuba Diving in Costa Rica Coral reef
Scuba Diving in Costa Rica Coral reef

Surf waves move sediments, and this cause slightly lower visibility, so sometimes can be hard to see marine creatures.

The good news is that just a short boat ride from the Pacific coast, we found many beautiful islands surrounded by crystal clear waters, perfect for snorkeling and diving.

So that is why many consider Costa Rica best snorkeling places are the islands that stand just a short distance from the shore.

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What can you see snorkeling Costa Rica?

The list of the marine creatures you can see when snorkeling in Costa Rica is quite long and diverse but bear in mind that it is also a matter of luck to see all these creatures in one session.

Dolphins, whales, starfish, sea turtles, a huge number of tropical fish, reef sharks, and rays are just some of the most common creatures you can spot in the area.

All you have to do is go snorkeling when visibility is higher and pick the best spots to increase your chances of seeing these magnificent creatures.

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 have to feel comfortable with the idea of floating with your face down, to wear a snorkeling mask on your face and a life vest if you are not a good swimmer.

I can tell you for sure that about 90% of the people trying to snorkel get used very quickly to the face mask and don’t have any problems breathing with the mask.

Costa rica Snorkeling couple
Costa rica Snorkeling couple

As soon as you see the first fish and marine creatures below, you will forget about any potential inconvenience caused by the snorkeling mask.

The secret stands in choosing the best snorkeling beach in Costa Rica and the right time of the year to see as many marine creatures as possible.

I have been saying a lot about the best beaches in Costa Rica for snorkeling without naming any, so it is time to move forward and present you Costa Rica best snorkeling places.

Best places to snorkel in Costa Rica

To present a complete picture of the best places to snorkel in Costa Rica, I will split this chapter into three main areas:

Snorkeling on the Pacific Coast

The Pacific coast has one of the most accessible snorkeling places in the country, in the areas close to Playas del Coco and Playa Hermosa.

You can go snorkeling directly from these two beaches, but for a unique experience, head directly to Playa Ocotal, Playa Bonita, or the small creeks in Punta Cacique.

Actually, we can split the Pacific coast into four main categories when talking about snorkeling in this country.

We have:

Calzon del Pobre Beach

Located in the southwestern part of Bahia Hermosa, Calzon del Pobre Beach is a secluded place with turquoise waters, home to many colorful fish like damselfish, porcupine fish, angelfish, and butterflyfish.

The visibility is perfect during the dry season because the area is remote and not very populated, making this a paradise for marine creatures and birds.

Pack with you some food and water as there are no stores, restaurants, or bars from where you can buy something if you need it.

Costa Rica Snorkeling
Costa Rica Snorkeling

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.

Couple Snorkeling in Costa Rica
Couple Snorkeling in Costa Rica

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 packed with an impressive number of wild creatures including birds, frogs, and mammals, and it cascades into the sea.

Don’t be surprised if you see monkeys or sloths hanging on the trees over the beach, and many tourists rush here to see this spectacular picture.

The beach with the same name, Manuel Antonio beach, located inside the park, is considered by many as one of the best beaches in Costa Rica for snorkeling with waters full of diverse marine creatures.

Manuel Antonio National Park Puntarenas Province Quepos Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio National Park Puntarenas Province Quepos Costa Rica

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

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 Manzanillo Beach Central America Beaches
Playa Manzanillo Beach Central America Beaches

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.

Beach in Cahuita National Park Costa Rica
Beach in Cahuita National Park Costa Rica

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.

Cocos Islands Costa Rica
Cocos Islands Costa Rica

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.

Tortuga Island Costa Rica Snorkeling
Tortuga Island Costa Rica Snorkeling

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.

Cano Island Costa Rica
Cano Island Costa Rica

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.

Islas Murcielagos

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.

Islas Murcielagos Costa Rica
Islas Murcielagos Costa Rica

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.

Fish in Blue Water Scuba Diving in Costa Rica
Fish in Blue Water Scuba Diving in Costa Rica

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.

The Westin Reserva Conchal an All-Inclusive Golf Resort and Spa
The Westin Reserva Conchal an All-Inclusive Golf Resort and Spa

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

  1. Playa Tamarindo: Sunset Sailing and Snorkeling Tour

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.

Playa Tamarindo Sunset Sailing and Snorkeling Tour Guide
Playa Tamarindo Sunset Sailing and Snorkeling Tour Guide

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.

  1. Playas del Coco: Sunset Sailing and Snorkeling Tour

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.

Playas del Coco Sunset Sailing and Snorkeling Tour Guide
Playas del Coco Sunset Sailing and Snorkeling Tour Guide

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.

  1. Playa Flamingo: Catamaran Tour and Snorkel With Meal

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.

Playa Flamingo Catamaran Tour and Snorkel With Meal Guide
Playa Flamingo Catamaran Tour and Snorkel With Meal Guide

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.

Conclusion 

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

We never leave home without HeyMondo Insurance or Safety Wings Insurance as they offer the best services and a good value for money, plus COVID coverage.

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.