Guide to Costa Rica Snorkeling: Beaches, Coastlines & More

With 800 miles of coastline and beaches, Costa Rica definitely offers some great snorkeling options. However, anyone who has ever snorkeled in other parts of the Caribbean will tell you that in Costa Rica, you have to know where to go in order to find the best snorkeling spots. This article will tell you about the best snorkeling in Costa Rica.

lionfish on coral reef in Costa Rica, Caribbean coast
Snorkeling in Costa Rica will reveal the natural wonders of the sea, like this beautiful Lionfish swimming on the coral reef on the Caribbean Coast

Is there Good Snorkeling in Costa Rica?

When people think of snorkeling, they may imagine calm, crystalline, turquoise seas and colorful coral reefs. Snorkeling in Costa Rica tends to be a little different. As someone who spent several summers snorkeling around the Keys of southern Florida, I can say that snorkeling in Costa Rica is definitely different. While there are some exceptions, snorkeling in Costa Rica tends to have slightly less visibility due to the constant flow of rainfall and river water into the seas. Another big difference is that the reefs around Costa Rica have deteriorated due to pollution and natural disasters.

That being said, snorkelers still have a lot to explore in the volcanic floor beds of Costa Rica’s coasts. And if you are hoping to add snorkeling to your trip itinerary to Costa Rica, there are definitely some options to check out.

Where is the Best Snorkeling in Costa Rica?


Beach at Cahuita Nationalpark of Costa Rica

The Caribbean is synonymous with snorkeling so it is no surprise that some of the best snorkeling in Costa Rica is found in the southern Caribbean region, specifically in Cahuita National Park. The park encompasses 55,200 acres of marine area and hosts the largest reef in the country. Unfortunately, the reef has experienced significant deterioration from a massive earthquake in 1991 and run-off pollution from nearby banana plantations, but thankfully there are meaningful, new initiatives to restore the coral. (Read more about Caribbean coral restoration projects here).

There are a few things to consider when planning a snorkeling trip to Cahuita. First, the best time for underwater visibility is during the drier months of AugustOctober. While the Pacific Coast is usually rainy during those months, Caribbean skies tend to be sunny and calm. (Read more about the differences in weather between the Pacific Coast and the Caribbean Coast here.) Second, Cahuita National Park requires all snorkelers to be accompanied by a nature guide. A good guide will know the best places to go on any given day as well as eco-friendly best practices for snorkeling.

Tortuga Island

Tortuga Island Costa Rica

Located in the Gulf of Nicoya, Tortuga Island is a pristine island of white sand beaches and relatively crystalline waters – ideal for snorkeling! Full-day boat tours for the island depart from Jaco, Paquera, and Montezuma. One thing to keep in mind is that since the island is only accessible via motorboat, the best snorkeling spots tend to have plenty of these motors. However, it is possible to reserve smaller tours and avoid the big groups. Kayak tours are available as well.

Uvita & Caño Island Biological Reserve

Whale's tale beach in Costa Rica

Nestled between Manuel Antonio to the north and Osa Peninsula to the south, Uvita’s Marino Ballena National Park is an excellent place to snorkel. The park is named for its whale-tail shape as well as for the humpback whales that visit every July through October to breed. Uvita is also one of the main launch pads for tours to Isla del Caño (Caño Island Biological Reserve) in the southern Pacific–an area renowned for its snorkeling.

Manuel Antonio

Snorkeling in Manuel Antonio

With its gorgeous cliffs, gentle waves, and breathtaking national park, Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica’s most popular beaches. As a result, the main beach in Manuel Antonio tends to be full of activities such as parasailing tours, surfing, and kayaking and is less suited to snorkeling. However, if you are staying in Manuel Antonio, you can find some excellent snorkeling spots inside the National Park itself, in nearby Quepos (by the public park, Nahomi), and in the semi-private Biesanz Beach just north of Manuel Antonio.


Montezuma beach (Nicoya bay) in Costa Rica

Its relatively calm location in the Gulf of Nicoya provides Montezuma itself with some good snorkeling options. However, it is also a good jumping-off point for snorkeling day trips to Tortuga Island or to Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, and Curú Wildlife Refuge.

Gulf of Papagayo

Playa Blanca beach in Peninsula Papagayo in Guanacaste, Costa Rica

The Gulf of Papagayo is a deep inlet in the northwestern part of Costa Rica, pertaining to the province of Guanacaste. The northern part of the gulf abuts Santa Rosa National Park, near the border with Nicaragua, and the southern part of the gulf is home to some of Guancaste’s most famous beaches: Playas Coco, Hermosa, and Grande, among others. The best snorkeling spots are at Monkey’s Head, Isla Huevos, and Catalina Islands, and they require boat tours to reach. However, Playa Buena offers some good snorkeling options within walking distance.

Playa Conchal

Beach in Play Conchal, Costa Rica

Playa Conchal is beautiful inside and out! The coastline is one of the most gorgeous in the country, but there’s a whole world underneath the waves as well if you are inclined to go exploring. The northern part of this beach has a volcanic reef where tropical fish swim to and fro. Since it is a popular snorkeling spot, you can rent gear directly on the beach.

Southern Pacific Coast (Osa Peninsula)

Golfo Dulce at Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

The Osa Peninsula is a largely-protected area in the southwestern corner of Costa Rica. The Pacific Ocean surrounds it on the west and the Golfo Dulce on the east, all of which provide opportunities for snorkeling. In the calm waters of the Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica’s first underwater snorkeling trail has been developed with 11 educational stations and major efforts are underway in the area to restore even more coral reefs.

What kind of aquatic species will you see while snorkeling in Costa Rica?

Marine life is abundant – especially in Costa Rica’s protected parks. Given that the waters surrounding Costa Rica average about 80 degrees year-round, you should have no problem spotting a wide array of tropical fish including lionfish, angelfish, butterflyfish, parrotfish, and clownfish.

Look out for invertebrate marine life such as starfish and crabs as well as the hundreds of species of mollusks known to Costa Rica’s shores. The very lucky snorkeler may even spot one of Costa Rica’s four species of sea turtles!

Sea turtle, Cocos island,  Costa Rica
Sea turtle, Cocos island, Costa Rica

Is it best to book a snorkel tour or snorkel independently?

In general, we recommend hiring trained guides for most expeditions. This practice contributes to the local economy by providing employment, opening up opportunities for language and cultural exchange, and helping promote eco-friendly practices. This last point is especially important because one of the most critical factors in marine conservation is controlling human impact on fragile reef systems. Plus, guides are usually in the water several times a day, every day of the year, so they know exactly where and how to find the most active underwater ecosystems!

Come Snorkel in Costa Rica

Whether you are a beginning snorkeler or you travel with your own equipment, there are plenty of places along both coasts of Costa Rica to experience the underwater magic of the reefs. Contact us below to help plan your trip.

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