Snorkeling in Costa Rica
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Costa Rica has two gorgeous coastlines filled with incredible biodiversity. This beautiful country is a fabulous place to spot tropical fish, rays, sharks, sea turtles, whales, and other marvelous creatures while snorkeling off the white-sand beaches and in the country’s national parks and wildlife preserves!
If you’re hoping to spend some time snorkeling in Costa Rica during your upcoming vacation, read through this helpful guide for information about snorkeling in Costa Rica, as well as the best places for snorkeling on both the Caribbean Coast and Pacific Coast!
Which Side of Costa Rica Is Best for Snorkeling?
Costa Rica has two coasts — one along the Pacific Ocean and another on the Caribbean Sea. Both the Pacific Coast and the Caribbean Coast offer excellent snorkeling options.
However, each coast offers different types of marine life, so the “best coast” for you will depend on what you’re hoping to see “under the sea.” For a quick reference, snorkeling on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast is similar to snorkeling in Cabo San Lucas (or the western side of Mexico), whereas snorkeling on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast is similar to snorkeling in the Caribbean or Cancun (or the eastern side of Mexico).
If you go snorkeling and diving on the Pacific Coast, you’ll likely see larger marine life, like dolphins, whitetip reef sharks, and giant manta rays. If you’re lucky, you might even see humpback whales and whale sharks during your snorkeling adventure!
You’ll also see several game fish species, like snappers, sailfish, swordfish, and tuna, which explains why Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast is also such a popular place for fishing tours and competitions.
Snorkeling on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast is an entirely different experience than the Pacific Coast.
Although there are fewer places to go snorkeling along this coastline, you’ll be able to see an abundance of tropical fish and colorful coral reefs in the places that are ideal for snorkeling. You’ll also see dolphins, sea turtles, stingrays, and seahorses.
When Is the Best Time of Year to Go Snorkeling in Costa Rica?
The best time of year to go snorkeling in Costa Rica depends on the coastline.
The best snorkeling along the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica occurs from December to April — during the dry season. Rainfall can impact visibility while snorkeling, so the drier and sunnier the weather, the better.
However, if you’re on the Caribbean Coast, the best snorkeling in Costa Rica takes place during September and October. This is when the water is the clearest and most calm, and the tropical fish and marine life are the most active.
What Should I Bring While Snorkeling in Costa Rica?
There are dozens of snorkeling tours in Costa Rica that will provide all the snorkeling equipment you need — including the snorkeling mask and fins. However, if you’re snorkeling without joining one of the snorkeling tours, you’ll need to bring all your own equipment.
Some other things to bring while snorkeling in Costa Rica include a waterproof bag for valuable items, reef-safe sunscreen, a comfortable swimsuit, and a beach towel.
Can You Go Snorkeling Anywhere in Costa Rica?
While Costa Rica offers fantastic and unique snorkeling experiences, it isn’t a destination where you can find tropical fish and coral reefs lurking under the sea on every beach. That is what makes Costa Rica one of the best adventure destinations in the world — you can come here and try your hand at snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, white-water rafting, surfing, and sailing, all on the same waterways!
That said, the best snorkeling in Costa Rica is usually found a short boat ride away from the coast. Joining a snorkeling tour is generally the best way to guarantee a great Costa Rica snorkeling experience, though there are a few places where you can snorkel directly off the beach.
Top Costa Rica Snorkeling Spots
Now, the part you’ve been waiting for — the best places for snorkeling in Costa Rica! Whether you’re staying on the Pacific Coast or the Caribbean Coast, you’re sure to find one of these best snorkeling spots in Costa Rica nearby.
Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge
Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places for snorkeling on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast. This beautiful wildlife refuge is filled with white-sand beaches and shallow coral reefs that protect a variety of marine life, so you’ll be able to see colorful reef fish, sea turtles, reef sharks, dolphins, and if you’re lucky — even manatees!
The most popular snorkeling sites at Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge include Playa Manzanillo, Playa Punta Uva, and Playa Chiquita. And the best part? Unlike many of the national parks in Costa Rica, admission to the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is completely free.
Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park is located on Costa Rica’s Southern Caribbean Coast, just a few miles north of the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. This national park in Costa Rica is home to the country’s largest coral reef — making it a great spot to swim with the 500+ colorful fish and other sea life that call these coral reefs home!
At Cahuita National Park, you’ll see tons of stingrays, sea turtles, lobsters, moray eels, dolphins, starfish, and, of course, hundreds of tropical fish. Just remember that snorkeling is only allowed with a licensed guide at this snorkeling destination, and the entry fee to enter the national park is $5 per person.
Caño Island Biological Reserve
Caño Island Biological Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that surrounds Isla del Caño — a remote island teeming with wildlife off the coast of the Osa Peninsula.
Although you cannot step foot on Isla del Caño, you can take a short boat ride from Drake Bay to snorkel or dive off the island’s coast in the Caño Island Biological Reserve. You’ll see tons of diverse marine life, including humpback whales, whitetip reef sharks, manta rays, and sometimes — even whale sharks! You’ll also see tons of fish, like angelfish, pufferfish, and moray eels, and sea turtle sightings are common for snorkelers and scuba divers at this popular spot.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica’s most popular national parks, and it also happens to be one of the best and most accessible snorkeling spots in Costa Rica.
Playa Manuel Antonio is the perfect family-friendly snorkeling destination. Here, you’ll find clear, calm waters just off the white-sand beach filled with colorful fish, coral reefs, sea turtles, and other sea life. The best time to go snorkeling in Manuel Antonio National Park is after days of clear skies and sunshine — the visibility can really be impacted here by any rain.
While you’re at Manuel Antonio National Park, explore the park’s beautiful hiking trails to see sloths, monkeys, and other animals, so you can take full advantage of the $18 admission fee.
Marino Ballena National Park
Marino Ballena National Park is known as one of the best whale-watching destinations in the country. You can spot humpback whales here in August, September, January, or February. However, during the dry season from December to April, Marino Ballena National Park is also a great snorkeling spot in Costa Rica, where you can see fish, rays, and sea turtles.
The best time to visit Marino Ballena National Park is during January or February when conditions are ideal, and you’ll be able to keep an eye out for humpback whales. If you’re hoping to go scuba diving or snorkeling at this national park, you will need to take a boat ride from Uvita.
Though the Bat Islands are better known as a scuba diving destination to encounter bull sharks, it’s still a great snorkeling spot for experienced swimmers. During a snorkeling excursion at the Bat Islands, you’ll have the chance to see unique sea life, like eagle rays and giant manta rays, as well as sea turtles, dolphins, and plenty of fish species.
Tortuga Island (Isla Tortuga), nicknamed “Turtle Island,” is a small island located off the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. It can only be reached on a boat ride from nearby towns, like Jaco or Puntarenas, but the boat ride is part of the experience — it is common to see whales, dolphins, and manta rays on the ride over!
Once you arrive at Turtle Island, you will be greeted with clear, blue waters that offer fabulous visibility. Under the surface, you’ll have the chance to see eagle rays, reef sharks, brightly-colored fish, and, of course — tons of sea turtles!
Enjoy the Best Snorkeling Spots in Costa Rica with Special Places of Costa Rica
As you can see, there are several spectacular places to go snorkeling in Costa Rica from coast to coast to see a variety of marine life — from large mammals, like whales and sharks, to smaller creatures, like tropical fish and sea turtles.
If you’re looking for a great home base in Costa Rica with close access to many of the best snorkeling spots on the Pacific Coast, we recommend booking a vacation rental with us at Special Places of Costa Rica. We have beautiful beachfront homes, comfortable condos, and luxury villas in Playa Hermosa, Playas del Coco, Playa Flamingo, and other beach towns in Guanacaste.
Explore all our properties to find the perfect one for your vacation to Costa Rica before slipping on your snorkeling mask and flippers and coming face-to-face with the incredible marine life in Costa Rica!