Snorkeling in Costa Rica – When to visit & Best spots to go

The small nation of Costa Rica is a tropical light between Nicaragua and Panama with splendid forests and glittering ocean that create a perfect tourist destination for those who wish to go somewhere that is under the radar. It tells a lot about the country’s pristine natural beauty that it is one of the top ecotourism spots in the world, so no doubt that snorkeling in Costa Rica is also world-class! This guide takes you to the best Costa Rica snorkel spots both along the Caribbean and Pacific Coasts!

Costa Rica snorkeling conditions

Costa Rica has a tropical climate with a dry season from December to April, and a rainy one from May to November. The air temperatures are high year-round with 90F/32C maximum on the Pacific and 86F/30C maximum on the Caribbean coast.

Water temperatures don’t vary greatly throughout the year, but the Pacific Coast is slightly cooler than the Caribbean. The Ocean is usually between 80-82F/27-28C, while the Sea is between 82-83F/28-29C.

calm sea conditions in Costa Rica
Summer weather in Costa Rica – clear sky and calm water

The fact you need to consider when planning your trip is that the rain causes runoff from swollen muddy rivers and banana plantations, moreover, the forests pour a lot of sediments to the oceans causing bad visibility, so if you want to go snorkeling in Costa Rica, you should schedule your vacation for the dry season.

However, Costa Rica is not the most famous snorkeling destination in the world, but there are some decent beaches on both sides of the country so if you keep reading, we will tell you exactly where the best Costa Rica snorkeling spots can be found!

Best spots to go snorkeling in Costa Rica Caribbean Coast

Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast is not a typical Caribbean snorkeling destination, so don’t expect such expensive reefs that for example Aruba snorkel spots can offer or what you can see while snorkeling in Grand Cayman, but there is a lot to see if you come in the right time. Let’s see now what places offer the most to see underwater!

Playa Punta Uva

This beach along the coast to the southeast of San José, along a major road that passes by is famous for its stunning white sand. Moreover, this coast has some of the best coral reefs in Costa Rica on the Caribbean Coast! The area is part of Gandoca Manzanillo wildlife refuge, so there are plenty of interesting fish and often stingrays to see near the reef there.

Playa Punta Uva Costa Rica
Playa Punta Uva – Costa Rica

Playa Punta Uva is not a remote spot, usually there are plenty of tourists around but if you want to see one of the most picturesque beaches of the county that is actually one of the best Costa Rica snorkeling spots too, definitely add Punta Uva to your travel itinerary.

However, to enjoy good visibility, you need to be lucky with the weather. Keep an eye on conditions as the waves can be strong, therefore this beach is not safe for children.

Tip: our hotel recommendation here: Sol de Nit

Playa Chiquita

If you wish to stay away from the crowds, then make sure to visit that is located just to the west of Playa Punta Uva. The beach lacks signs pointing to it which makes it a bit difficult to find, but if take the extra effort, you will certainly enjoy your time here where.

On good weather days, when there are no waves and wind, the water is incredibly transparent here (but be careful because there are rocks in some areas). Playa Chiquita is a popular place to go snorkeling in Costa Rica because of the tons of blue fish that can be seen here, so make sure to bring your snorkel mask and fins!

Tip: check out the Tierra de Sueños Lodge & Wellness Center if you seek out a great place to stay near Playa Chiquita!

Playa Bonita

The dark sandy Playa Bonita has a shallow coral reef therefore it is a popular spot to go snorkeling in Limon Costa Rica. Though it is not known by many, it can easily be identified when taking a drive on the Costa Rica beaches.

Playa Bonita
Playa Bonita – such a perfect spot to relax!

It is a quiet place and only the sounds of the ocean and the birds are heard. This small yet serene place has a fine restaurant too that makes Playa Bonita truly an ideal place to enjoy Costa Rica’s natural wonder.

Tip: discover other Caribbean destinations too, see here our related posts:
Jamaica snorkeling guide
Best snorkeling in Curacao

Snorkeling in Saint Martin

Playa Manzanillo

A popular palm-shaded beach town in Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge that is famous for diving & dolphin watching and has manatees in the surrounding mangroves.

Playa Manzanillo Limon
Playa Manzanillo is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica

Moreover, Playa Manzanillo is a superb Costa Rica snorkeling spot with a decent reef where often sea turtles can be seen too. This is a public beach with parking, and there is a bar nearby and also a few food vendors as well as some sort of shop where you can buy snorkel set and other beach gear.

Tip: should you look for a unique accommodation nearby, check out the Congo Bongo EcoVillage!

Cahuita National Park

Cahuita National Park lies on the Southern Caribbean Coast near Limon and it’s proud to feature Costa Rica’s largest protected reef with over 35 species of corals, 120 species of fish and 40 species of crustaceans, and many other species like stingrays, so no wonder why this is one of the best spots to go snorkeling in Costa Rica. If you are lucky, you might spot here nurse sharks too!

stingray spotted while snorkeling in Costa Rica
Stingray in the Cahuita National Park

The park, located 17 kilometers north of Puerto Viejo Costa Rica, has a 5.6-mile / 9 km long trail along the coastline, offering outdoor activities for those who don’t love water sports. However, if you wish to explore the beautiful undersea world (which we highly recommend doing), the best place for that is Punta Cahuita. To get there, walk approximately 2.4 miles / 3.8 km on the trail.

Best snorkel spots on Costa Rica Pacific Coast

The Pacific Coast has often challenging sea conditions like rough seas and poor visibility, therefore this coast is more famous for surfing than for snorkeling, but those who are lucky to get great weather will certainly enjoy exploring the underwater beauty.

The marine life here is interesting: besides colorful species like butterflyfish and pufferfish, you can see species that can be found in the Galapagos Islands and in the Sea of Cortez.

Playa San Josecito

Playa San Josecito has a thinner bar of sand backed by a forest overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The beach can be reached by a medium-level hike from Drake Bay, but it is more convenient to take a water taxi. Should you decide the hiking option, start in the morning, bring plenty of water and something to eat!

The beach is remote, which means fewer tourists take the effort the come here, but it is still a touristy spot since boats bringing people too. Playa San Josecito is definitely a great highlight for snorkeling in Costa Rica with its clear waters and stunning trees overlooking the sea. But make sure to keep your stuff in bags (especially food) so the Capuchin monkeys won’t get interested!

Caño Island Biological Reserves

Caño Island Biological Reserves is a marine biology reserve on Isla del Caño remote island that is considered as the best snorkeling in Costa Rica with good reason. The clear, warm waters here are full of sea life, including hermit crabs, angelfish, puffers, snapper, parrotfish and barracudas, but it is possible that you will spot turtles, rays, white tip and nurse sharks too.

Ball of fish in the Pacific Ocean
A ball of fish at Caño Island

Snorkeling is regulated in the reserve, so you need to sign up for a tour to come here. The visibility is usually very good since the very water is deeper here. On the way to Caño Island or back to the mainland, you might see whales breaching and also dolphin.

Manuel Antonio Beach

Manuel Antonio Beach is a pretty, two-sided beach that is near a small forest of tropical trees in between them. It is one of the highlights of the national park here and is south of the capital on the same trajectory as the Caño Island but on the same landmass as the capital.

Manuel Antonio Beach
Manuel Antonio Beach

The northern side is quieter, so if you wish to relax, I recommend going there. You should only be careful with the raccoons and monkeys who love to search for food in the bags left on the beach, so close everything before you go into the water.

Snorkeling is one of the best things to do in Manuel Antonio. You can see a wide variety of fish and there is also a turtle sanctuary where you can watch baby turtles being released into the wild.

Biesanz Beach

Biensaz is a hidden beach in a corner between Quepos and Manuel Antonio. It is a beautiful place filled up with forest. The forest is a habitat to monkeys, reptiles, and birds. The calm waters on this tiny beach is efficient for swimming and snorkeling when you can observe more than 80 species of fish that dot the ocean here.

Being 5 kilometers from the Quepos Airport, it is easy to reach by taxi. Biensaz has wonderful hotels with delicious cuisines. If you love road trips, you can take a shuttle from San Jose which is 160 kilometers.

San Juanillo Beach

San Juanillo is a less touristy Costa Rica snorkeling beach with breathtaking scenery and turquoise blue waters. This place is great for people who love exploring hidden gems instead of visiting the popular spots.

This faraway place has very few people but it also means that there are no facilities like bathrooms or shops around. It is recommended that if you plan to stay longer you should bring your food and drinks. The waves are not too strong so visitors can enjoy swimming and snorkeling.

Besides water activities, you can go rock climbing and beach combing too. If you come with your family, kids will certainly enjoy visiting the tidal pools where they can see slugs, fish, crabs, and snails when there is low tide.

Playa Conchal

Playa Conchal is a lovely beach that is north northwest of San Juanillo on the so-called Costa Rica Gold coast. The calm, clear waters make it an excellent Costa Rica snorkeling spot, however, you need to be careful with the sea urchins so wear snorkeling shoes or your flippers all the time when in the water.

Playa Conchal Beach
The picturesque Playa Conchal Beach

With its white shells, emerald blue sea, picturesque natural landscape, and tons of outdoor activities such as snorkeling, kayaking, and horse riding, Playa Conchal is probably that beach where everyone can have fun no matter it is a family holiday or a romantic getaway. And did we mention that one of Costa Rica’s best hotels, the 5-star Westin Conchal is also here?!

Playa Danta and Dantita

These neighboring beaches in the Guanacaste province stretch about 45 minutes North of Tamarindo on the shores of the Pacific. The waves are calm and this makes it easy for visitors and snorkelers to explore underwater.

There is a wide variety of marine life species here including Porcupine fish, Angelfish, and Acapulco-Gregory. There are vacation rentals and restaurants on the beach. Usually, there is a meager number of tourists on this side so if you are a person who does not love crowded places this will be a perfect match.

Playa Ocotal

Playa Ocotal is located 3 kilometers south of the popular Playas de Coco on the Northern Pacific coast. Should you choose this quiet spot to enjoy snorkeling in Costa Rica, you can observe colorful schools of fish among the rocks under the waves.

An interesting fact is that the air at the sea is tinged white and it is believed this is caused by negatively charged ions. These ions are beneficial to both humans and animals.

Playa Penca

This white sand beach with a glamorous view of monkeys jumping and lying around separates the Hermosa and the Playa de Coco and lies about 50 minutes drive from the Liberia airport. Though the place is enclosed with a rocky beach, it gets softer with white sands as you get close to the water.

The waters are translucent in the dry seasons making it a perfect place for underwater sports. This may change during the rainy seasons when the waves are too rough for snorkeling and diving. Therefore, it is necessary to look out for the best times to dive and snorkel for safety reasons.

Poor Calzon Beach

Graced with white sands, translucent waters, and a lot of vegetation: Poor Calzon is a lovely place about 50 minutes from the Liberia airport and can be accessed by taking a cab.

The water is perfect for snorkeling with schools of vibrant fish all along the area. The best thing is that you can tour both Playa Penca and Calzon Beach since they are not so far from each other.

Playa Hermosa

Playa Hermosa is one of the most popular seaside resorts on the Pacific coast. However, this is not the most fantastic Costa Rica snorkeling beach, but the small white sand area nestling in the rocks is worth checking out where you can see some corals, sponges as well as fish like blennies and wrasses.

Playa Hermosa
Playa Hermosa

Playa Hermosa is one of the most popular beaches in Guanacaste Province and offers lots of restaurants and accommodations for every budget, so it is a great place to stay if you like places with amenities around.

Tip: our hotel recommendation here: Bosque del Mar Playa Hermosa

Pelonas Islands

This island is located a few minutes boat ride from the Playas del Coco and Playa Hermosa. Numerous operators offer day trips from both seaside resorts to the Pelonas.

The islands are home to many types of fish such as razor surgeon fish, hawkfish, rainbow wrasse, and many marine species like sea urchins, starfish, mollusks but there are sea turtles, sharks, and even seahorses. The Pelonas Islands are a fascinating place for snorkeling in Costa Rica that cannot be recommended enough if you wish to explore the country’s colorful underwater world.

Isla Tortuga

Isla Tortuga, or Turtle Island, is an uninhabited island with decent snorkeling, amazing natural views, and wonderful sandy beaches. It is situated on the southeastern shore of the Nicova Peninsula only accessible by boat.

La Isla Tortuga aerial photo
La Isla Tortuga aerial photo

Overnight stays are not common but some travel agencies, companies, and hotels organize daytime visits for tourists who can enjoy rafting on grass-made rafts, zip-lining besides water sports. Snorkeling in Tortuga Island is an opportunity to see a variety of corals and fish, including sharks hidden in caves.

The island is like no other island in this country with crystal clear water and fine sand. You can relax in the sun, rest in the shade, and enjoy the refreshing water moreover there are plenty of activities like jet ski and volleyball too. Isla Tortuga is a not-to-miss-out spot to go when in Costa Rica.

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Anett Szaszi

Anett is a certified scuba diver, freediver and an expert in snorkeling with more than 10 years experience. She fell in love with the ocean when she put her head underwater in the Red Sea in 2008. Since then , she is traveling all over the world to discover our waters. Wherever she goes, she takes her mask, fins and underwater camera with her. Visiting mega-cities is not her style but getting lost in tiny coastal villages, capturing the beauty of the sea while snorkeling. She is interested in sustainable traveling and marine conservation. She is hoping to inspire people to protect our oceans by sharing her underwater stories. Find her photos on @anett.szaszi Instagram too!