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Diving in Costa Rica

From diving with hundreds of hammerhead sharks at Cocos Island to the bull sharks of the Bat Islands, no matter what adventure you crave, you’ll find it in Costa Rica.

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.

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.

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.

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 and Catalina Islands in Guanacaste, offer up enticing shark and manta ray encounters. These destinations boast heavy currents, making them more suitable for advanced divers. 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. Remember that the southern area of the country is a protected biological reserve. The underwater landscape is made up of boulders and pinnacles, and you’ll enjoy large schools of fish swimming by on almost every dive. Finally, the Caribbean coast, where you’ll find vibrant reefs teeming with marine life, has not yet been fully mapped by divers. 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.

Recommended training

Take the PADI Deep Diver and Drift Diver courses to be prepared for the pinnacle and seamount dives in Costa Rica. The AWARE – Coral Reef Conservation and the AWARE – Fish Identification courses will help you appreciate the many marine protected areas.

When to go

Diving seasons in Costa Rica can be split into rainy season (May to November) and dry season (December to April). Each season brings its own advantages. Depending on the area, visibility usually ranges from 15-30 metres/50-100 feet. June through September generally brings the best visibility. Water temperature ranges from 26-29ºC/78-84ºF. From December through March, cooler currents bring water temperatures as low as 19ºC/68ºF along with large animals such as humpback whales, pilot whales, giant manta rays, whale sharks, and more.   Seasonal air temperature averages vary widely and with altitude, but in general, along the coasts, it’s 27°C/82°F in winter and 33°C/92°F in summer.

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.
  • Caño Island
  • 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.

  • Guanacaste & Bat Islands
  • 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.

  • Osa Peninsula
  • 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 1,203Per person for 7 nights for 2 divers
USD 1,545Per person for 7 nights for 2 divers
USD 2,057Per person for 7 nights for 2 divers
USD 4,645Per trip
USD 1,298Per trip
USD 1,498Per trip

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. However, 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.
* Cocos Island – Because reaching Cocos Island National Marine Park requires a lengthy boat trip, most divers visit on a liveaboard dive vessel. Besides the pelagic species – marlin, sailfish, rays and sharks – that are drawn to the area, you’ll find more than 25 endemic fish species, including the red-lipped batfish. Whales also use the Cocos Island seamount as a place to congregate and calve. * Caño Island – Expect to find a large number of reef fish species on the pinnacles and coral reef that surround the island. You’ll also likely see bigger creatures such as manta rays, free-swimming moray eels and sharks. Mammals, such as orcas, dolphins, humpback and pilot whales are known to cruise through. * Catalina Islands – The unique underwater structure is what draws divers to these islands. Look for arches and caves, plus vibrant coral growing on the volcanic rock formations. You may see several different kinds of rays and sharks as well as sea turtles. * Big Scare, Bat Island – What better way to get your heart racing then by diving with bull sharks? You’ll also have the chance to spot other large pelagics like manta rays, sailfish and the occasional whale or dolphin. This dive site drops to more than 30 metres/100 feet and can have a strong current. It is best suited for advanced divers. * Virador – This volcanic island acts like a magnet to sea life. There’s a shark cave at 10 metres/33 feet and frequently there are large stingrays and white-tipped reef sharks at 22 metres/70 feet. You’ll also see huge schools of grunts, snapper, king angelfish and sergeant majors. * Tortuga Islands – There are three shipwrecks to visit off the Tortuga Islands. The Franklin Chang Diaz and Coronel Alfonso Monge were both Coast Guard ships that now lie comfortably below the surface within scuba diving depths. Nearby, the Caroline Star, sits a little deeper at 30 metres/100 feet and is home to white-tip reef sharks and a variety of tropical fish.

What to see

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, eagle rays, mobulas and whale sharks. January, February and March bring whale season, during which you can hear the haunting songs of humpback and pilot whales. June and July represent another humpback season as Costa Rica lies on the whales’ migratory path. 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

For better readability of the table, pass into the landscape mode.

Most likely sightingsPossible sightings

Country

Costa Rica is found between Nicaragua and Panama. Much tussled over in the olden days, Costa Rica gained its independence in 1949. Since its release from Spanish rule, this tropical nation has been one of the most stable and progressive in Latin America. Bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea in the heart of Central America, Costa Rica is a prime ecotourism destination and boasts some of the world’s most biologically diverse habitats. Volcanoes dot the horizon, shaded from view by verdant rainforests. The landscapes give guests the feeling they are secluded in nature. Spend some time at nearby landmarks, eat fresh fish and drink local rum to make the most of your holiday. Or try speeding through the rainforest canopy on a zip line.

Other attractions

Seemingly primordial, the jungles of Costa Rica are home to all sorts of flora and fauna, and exploring the interior of this magical country is not to be missed. Canopy tours are the ideal way to get a bird’s-eye view of the forest. Furthermore, the colonial cities of Heredia, Alajuela, and Cartago are overflowing with life, and people visit from all over the world to photograph the pastel lined streets. The country’s volcanoes promise relaxing hot spring experiences, and adventure-seekers might also enjoy white water rafting or surfing at more than 50 locales.

Getting there

Flying into Costa Rica is easy. There are two international airports in Costa Rica - Juan Santamaría International Airport in Alajuela near San Jose and Daniel Oduber International Airport in Guanacaste. Most international flights arrive to the capital city of San Jose. It’s also possible to enter the country by bus from other Central American countries. From San Jose, you can reach either coast by bus or private transfer. Offshore islands require travel by liveaboard.

UTC-06:00

Time zone

CRC

Currency

+506

Calling code

120 V

Electric volt

A, 

B

Plug type

SJO

Main airport
Note - Travel to any destination may be adversely affected by conditions including (but not limited) to security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate. Regardless of your destination, check your local travel advisory board or department for travel advice about that location when planning your trip and again shortly before you leave.