Squeezed between Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west, Costa Rica boasts some of the most diverse underwater landscapes in the world. The waters are teeming with sea stars, turtles, pufferfish and eye-popping coral reefs. The Pacific coast offers up some of the best snorkeling in the country, though there are some superb spots on the east coast too. When it comes to underwater adventures, you’re spoilt for choice in Costa Rica. So, from sprawling marine parks to secluded coves, we’ve rounded up seven of the best places for snorkeling in Costa Rica to make life a little easier.
Water temperatures never drop below 73°F/23°C, but visibility can vary dramatically, so keen snorkelers are best advised to head here in dry season.
Where are the best places for snorkeling in Costa Rica?
Established in 1970, Cahuita National Park is beloved for its coral reefs close to the shore. In dry season, you’ll see light light yellow brain, elkhorn, blue staghorn, sea fans and gorgonians. It’s home to more than 500 recorded species of fish, including French angelfish, rock beauty and parrotfish too. You’ll need to book onto a snorkeling tour with a certified guide since the corals are protected.
If colourful corals and neon-fish aren’t enough, there are two shallow shipwrecks to explore too.
Located 12 miles from Drake Bay in Corcovado National Park, the Isla del Cano frequently ranks as one of the best places for snorkeling in Costa Rica. The waters here are teeming with parrotfish, surgeon fish, barber fish, snappers, eels and barracuda. Further offshore, you might get lucky and spot whales and dolphins too.
Unlike much of Costa Rica’s colourful coastline, the clarity underwater is brilliant, with visibility up to 30-ft. The area also boasts coral reefs dating back thousands of years.
This popular seaside resort is ideal for those looking for easy-to-access snorkeling. Just 100 metres from the shoreline there’s an isolated reef teeming with porcupinefish, moray eels, starfish angelfish and, on rarer occasions, rays. Hawsbill sea turtles are known to sleep in the crevices too.
For an elevated experience, hop on a boat out to the tiny Islas Pelonas. Tis rocky coastline features shelter shallow reefs with a staggering variety of colourful fish and Pacific seahorses.
Not far from Playa del Coco, Calzon de Pobre is a small beach offering a more secluded snorkel experience. The seabed is brimming with vegetation and is home to large schools of juvenile wrasse, porcupinefish and pufferfish. In deeper waters, you’ll find groups of sereant major, damselfish, king angelfish and blacknosed butterfish. With its white sands and clear turquoise waters, it’s one of the best places for underwater photography too.
This awe-inspiring marine biological reserve is located 53 km from the shoreline, but it’s worth the extra effort to get there. The underwater visibility is fantastic and the region is famous for having the highest concentration of coral-building organisms in the Pacific Ocean. As well as colourful corals and spectacular marine flora and fauna, it’s home to tuna, barracudas, parrotfish, puffers, sea turtles, stingrays, manta rays and moray eels. It’s a popular spot with whales and sharks too.
6. Playa Ocotal
This calm, grey sand beach is only around a third of a mile long but it’s one of the best places in Costa Rica for snorkeling, swimming and lounging. The waters are teeming with sea life, including porcupine-fish, butterflyfish, angelfish and other exotic Eastern Pacific species. You’ll also find long-spined sea urchins, gorgonians and small blue sponges. Head out further still and you could be swimming alongside eagle rays and stingrays.
For the best chance of bumping into some exciting underwater wildlife, head to the west and east side of the beach close to the rocks. The waters here can be rough, so plan your trip for good weather.
Manuel Antonio National Park is choc-ful of bio-diversity, from sloths and howeler monkets to blacknosed butterfly fish and king angelfish. For the easiest water access, head to the end of the beach. It’s best to head here during dry season, from December to March, since there can be poor underwater visibility, particularly after heavy rains. Even if you do have to abandon your snorkel, it’s worth the trip – it frequently ranks as one of the best beaches in the world and there are plenty of dry land activities to keep you occupied too.
The park is close to the city of Quepos, around 170 km from the capital. You can pay a single entrance fee or through a guided tour.