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Scuba diving in Costa Rica

From diving with hundreds of Hammerhead Sharks at Cocos Island to the Bull Sharks of the Bat Islands, Costa Rica is heaven for pelagic fish lovers.
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Highlights

Cave Diving at Catalina Islands

The area’s shark cave is a favorite dive among visitors, but you’ll also find interesting arches and vibrant coral growth on volcanic formations.

Bull Sharks at Bat Islands

Bat Island regularly attracts large groups of Bull Sharks, creating an adrenalin-filled dive. At 100 ft (30m), this area is best for advanced divers.

Hammerheads at Cocos Island

Remote Cocos Island is renowned for its Hammerhead Shark diving. Adventurous divers sail to this Pacific Ocean rock for the dive trip of a lifetime.

Marine Mammals at Caño Island

The pinnacles surrounding this island attract a number of larger marine species, including Manta Rays, Dolphins, Orcas, Humpbacks and Pilot Whales.

The Wrecks of Tortuga Islands

The Franklin Chang, Colonel Alfonso Monge, and the Caroline Star are all waiting to be explored within recreational limits along the Pacific coast.

Diving in Costa Rica

Quick facts

Costa Rica literally translates to “Rich Coast,” an apt name for a country surrounded by oceans. On the Pacific side, offshore islands defined by their underwater pinnacles such as Cocos Island and the Bat Islands offer up enticing shark encounters. These destinations are reached only by liveaboard vessel and often boast heavy currents, making them more suitable for advanced divers. Keep in mind that dive insurance is required by most liveaboard operators in Costa Rica, but these are the most famous dive sites in Costa Rica and worth the effort to reach.

The Pacific coastline is also known for pelagic life. From Humpback Whales to Manta Rays, this coast is suitable to all diving levels with some calm areas and some known to have a bit of current. The underwater landscape is made up of boulders and pinnacles. You’ll want to find a dive operator to take you on day trips from their dive boats here.

Finally, the Caribbean coast, where you’ll find vibrant reefs teeming with marine life, has not yet been fully mapped by divers. Both shore dives and boat dives from small boats are possible on this coast. The protected nature of the reefs make this region great for beginners. Explore both coasts to get a full appreciation for Costa Rica’s beauty.

When to go

Diving seasons in Costa Rica can be split into rainy season (May to November) and dry season (December to April). Each holds its own unique advantage.

May to November

May to November is considered rainy season. Visitors can expect one to two hours of rainfall in the mid-afternoon during these months.

The rainy season is the best time to go if you’re an advanced diver who likes pelagic action. During these months, nutrient swells attract Bull Sharks to the Bat Islands and Hammerhead Sharks to Cocos Island.

As an added benefit, fewer tourists arrive during rainy season, making this holiday locale cheaper.

Keep in mind Caribbean diving is best from August to December when you’ll find little wind and calm seas.

December to April

December to April is dry season in Costa Rica. During these months, very little rain falls throughout the Pacific coast.

The dry season is the best time to visit Costa Rica if you want to split your time between sunbathing on the beach and diving into the underwater world. Most of the pelagic species found during the rainy season leave Costa Rica’s coast and are replaced by a variety of fish and macro species.

It is also the best time to dive in Costa Rica for beginner divers who prefer easy, colorful diving. During these months, divers will benefit from calmer seas and visibility reaching 100 feet (30 meters). December to April is the best time to dive on the Pacific coast in locations like Guanacaste and Quepos.

Rain and temperature

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Water temperature

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Where to dive

The three main diving areas in Costa Rica are Cocos Island, which is for experts only, the Pacific and the Caribbean, which is great for beginners.

  • Cocos Island

    Home to huge schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks and plenty of other pelagics, remote Cocos Island is one of the best places to dive in the world.

  • Herradura

    One of Costa Rica’s newest dive spots, Herradura offers all levels of diver the chance to meet both Giant Oceanic Manta Rays and Whitetip Reef Sharks.

  • Limón

    Less developed than the Pacific coast, the province of Limón offers the chance to dive into the Caribbean. Expect pristine reefs and a few shipwrecks.

  • Manuel Antonio National Park (Quepos)

    Home to advanced dives at offshore islands and trips to Isla del Cano, the waters of Manuel Antonio National Park host divers and Giant Manta Rays alike.

  • Playas del Coco (Guanacaste)

    Centrally located between the Bat Islands and the Catalina Islands, Playas del Coco boasts Giant Manta Rays and Bull Sharks in volcanic landscapes.

  • Puntarenas

    Puntarenas is a gateway to Costa Rica’s best diving destinations like the magnificent Cocos Island, Nicoya Peninsula, Manuel Antonio and Caño Island.

USD 1,977Per trip
USD 1,845Per trip
USD 4,145Per trip
Pricing on request
Pricing on request
USD 65Per dive

Snorkeling in Costa Rica

Generally, Costa Rica is not ideal for snorkelling. The long rainy season brings poor visibility due to runoff from coastal plantations. September and October are the best months for snorkeling. Head to the southern Caribbean coast and offshore Canos Island for the best snorkeling in Costa Rica.
From east to west, you’ll find amazing dive sites in Costa Rica. Bajo Alcyone at Cocos Island is by some accounts the best Hammerhead Shark dive in the world, and Big Scare near the Bat Islands offers up an adrenalin-filled Bull Shark encounters. El Bajo del Diablo off Caño Island hosts pinnacles that attract Giant Manta Rays and jumping Mobulas as well as the occasional Whale Shark, while Cueva del Tiburón (a.k.a. Shark Cave) near the Catalina Islands is home to several, sleeping reef sharks. Finally, Cahuita National Park in the Caribbean boasts one of the largest, living coral reefs.

What to see

From mangrove forests to deep sea reefs, marine life, and in particular pelagic life, abounds in Costa Rica’s waters.

During the rainy season, plankton blooms occur in the Pacific, attracting massive schools of manta rays, mobulas, Whale Sharks and migrating Humpbacks and Pilot Whales. Fantastic arrays of sharks, including Hammerheads, Bull Sharks, and Nurse Sharks, also arrive from May to November to feast on offshore bait balls.

Throughout the year, colorful fish and endangered sea turtles cruise along Costa Rica’s healthy coral reefs, which are brimming with vibrant hard and soft corals.

Calendar

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