Snorkeling in Costa Rica: Mainland and Islands To Know About


With its impressive sandy beaches, rain forests and happy wildlife, Costa Rica is a “hot” holiday destination. However, when it comes to snorkeling, you need to do a little research in order to find (and access) the best locations. Well, we’re here to help you out.

Did you know: Costa Rica made it to the number 10 spot in our list of Best Snorkel Locations in the Caribbean.

Geography And Climate

Costa Rica is located in Central America between Nicaragua and Panama, with one side on the Pacific Ocean and one side on the Caribbean Sea. The Pacific side has no coral, and most of the landscape below water is mineral. The surf can be large, which attracts surfers and makes it difficult to snorkel there.

On the Caribbean coast you’ll find coral ecosystems along a 12-mile strip of land. Costa Rica has recorded 120 species of fish as well as 40 species of shellfish. You may see eagle rays and nurse sharks too. 

Costa Rica has a tropical climate, but it has humid forest areas and mountains where it rains all the time. This rain falls to the ground and flows towards both of its coastlines. The water picks up dirt which makes it very cloudy.


How to get there

Costa Rica hosts several airports of which Juan Santamaria International Airport is the country’s main one. From there you could either hire a car, grab a taxi or use public transportation.

We always use Skyscanner, especially because there’s an option to combine your flight with some great deals on airport car hire. If you don’t have specific travel dates in mind, try their “Flexible dates” function (you’ll get this option once you select your departure date). That’s where we often find some great deals!


Our Top Snorkel Spots

Cahuita National Park

One of the best spots on the mainland is the Cahuita National Park. You will find 120 species of fish, 35 different kinds of coral, 40 crustacean species, and 120 types of mollusk. You will be able to walk straight into the beautiful turquoise water from the beach. The park is protected, so you need to hire a guide that takes you snorkeling. The video below should give you a great impression of the park.

Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge

Another spot on the mainland is the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge off the Caribbean coast. This spot has protected bays with shallow coral reefs. You will find colorful fish and sea turtles, dolphins and even manatees. 

Papagayo Peninsula

The Papagayo Peninsula is located in the northwest province of Guanacaste. There are a number of protected inlets and bays that are calm and good for snorkeling. You can go to Playa Huevo, Playa Penca, Playa Jicaro, Playa Blanca, Playa Buena, Playa Junquillal and Playa Nacascolo.

Best Snorkeling Is Found On The Islands

Cano Island

You will find the best snorkeling to be a boat ride away near some of the islands. The Cano Island Biological Reverse is on Cano Island, about 13 miles offshore from the Osa Peninsula at Drake Bay. It has incredibly beautiful blue waters, and there is very good visibility underwater.

You will see a variety of marine life, including sea turtles, white-tipped sharks, stingrays, manta rays, moray eels, barracuda, tuna, snapper, dolphins and possibly a humpback or pilot whale.

There’s a video a little further down below. It should give you a better impression of this location.

Isla Tortuga

Another great spot is Isla Tortuga. This is one of the 2 islands of the Negritos Biological Reserve off the Nicoya Peninsula. You are very likely to spot some sea turtles. The water is clear and beautiful. You will also see angelfish, parrotfish, moray eels and eagle rays. You can watch the humpback and pilot whales as well.

Isla del Coco

Isla del Coco has been called the most beautiful island in the world, located about 300 miles southwest of Cabo Blanco. You have to get there by boat, but you will see hammerheads, exotic fish, rays, whales and dolphins. 

Bat Islands

The Bat Islands are near the tip of Santa Rosa National Park by Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste. They have a variety of marine life. You might see a bull shark there, manta rays, sea turtles and a lot of colorful fish. 

Catalina Islands

The Catalina Islands are north of the province of Guanacaste and consist of 20 small islands. You can see giant manta rays, sting rays, bat rays, devil manta rays, spotted eagle rays, bullseye electric rays and even cow-nosed rays. Now that is an impressive collection of rays, right?

Snorkel Tours

Tamarindo Catamaran

It’s always a good idea to join a snorkel tour or to hire a personal guide. You can go out on a catamaran in Tamarindo which includes lunch, snorkel equipment, paddle boards and more. The views are spectacular! The boat will eventually dock after which you’re able snorkel and see the incredible marine life up close. You’ll figure out that boats trips aren’t hard to find.

Tip: In case the tour only provides full face snorkel masks, make sure to understand their pro’s and con’s from our article.

San Juanillo Beach Tour

The San Juanillo Beach snorkel marine wildlife tour is a lot of fun in Guanacaste. This white sandy beach is protected by a coral reef. You can count on an exciting day exploring the waters.

Cahuita National Park Guide

You can also hire a guide in Cahuita National Park. They offer both a snorkel and a hiking tour. Once you’ve had enough of the marine life you can see sloths, monkeys and butterflies. These guys pick you up from your hotel.

Tortuga Island Cruise

Tortuga Island Cruise is another great tour. You’ll spend the day on a white sandy beach near protected bird sanctuaries. Of course, snorkeling is part of the excursion.

Catalina Islands Tour

This is another tour to consider. The guides will show you dolphins, puffer fish, sea turtles and other awesome marine life. Guides can also take you around the rocky areas to observe sharks, rays and loads of colorful fish. 

Manuel Antonio Adventure

The Manuel Antonio Sea Kayak and Snorkeling Adventure is a lot of fun. You will see the Manuel Antonio National Park and paddle to the hidden cove of Biesanz Bay. You’ll be able to snorkel along a bright reef.

Guanacaste Cruise

The Guanacaste Snorkel and Sunset Cruise gives you a chance to go out on a sailboat that makes frequent snorkel stops. The day will end with an incredible sunset to watch from the boat. Here’s what it looks like:

Sunset at Guanacaste

Final Thoughts

Even though snorkeling from the mainland is possible, the better snorkel spots are found near the islands. This obviously requires you to join a boat tour, but hey, the guides are nice and provide a lot of helpful information.

The “dry season” lasts from around January until April. That’s when precipitation reaches some of it’s lows and temperatures are between 70 and 86°F. Still, temperatures stay very comfortable all year round.

Last but not least, sunny days will allow for some awesome photography! Feel free to read our guide about snorkeling with a GoPro.

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