Diving in Costa Rica – The ultimate guide for 2022

Everything you want to know about scuba diving in Costa Rica

Diving in Costa Rica is one of the best activities offered by this beautiful country. Today we will answer all your questions about scuba diving in this beautiful country. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced diver, you will find answers to your questions here.

Our dive center organizes diving trips to Isla del Cano and around Marino Ballena National Park, and we organize diving courses for all levels. Based on our experience, we have prepared this complete guide to the world of diving in Costa Rica. However, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact our team.

The ultimate guide to scuba diving in Costa Rica

What will you find in this study?

  1. The best Costa Rica scuba Diving Destination
  2. Scuba diving on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica
  3. Scuba diving on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica
  4. Best time to visit Costa Rica for diving
  5. I am a diver – what can I see in Costa Rica?
  6. How much does diving cost in Costa Rica?
  7. Why should you try diving in Costa Rica?
  8. Is diving in Costa Rica safe?
  9. What is the minimum age to go scuba diving?
  10. What to look for when choosing a diving center in Costa Rica?
  11. Scuba Diving in Costa Rica – summary

The best Costa Rica diving destination

Costa Rica is a country of relatively small size, but it boasts a great diversity of animals and plant species. The country has put a lot of effort into protecting its natural treasures. As a result, about 25% of Costa Rica’s land area is protected areas.

In Costa Rica, you can find many national parks that protect their natural heritage and make sure that nothing is destroyed. This applies to the land part of the country as well as the places under the water. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today, because these are the most interesting dive sites in Costa Rica!

Where can you go scuba diving in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica has access to two large bodies of water. On the western side is the Pacific Ocean and on the eastern side is the Caribbean Sea. Both sides of the country can be dived year-round, but the Pacific is considered much better than the Caribbean.

On the Pacific side lie two jewels of Costa Rica’s underwater world: Cocos Island and El Caño Island. Both are part of the UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site and are part of Costa Rica’s vast system of national parks.

Most of the dive sites in both of these places are located in protected areas. This ensures that you will be able to enjoy the richness of nature in its original form.

Scuba diving on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica

Coco Island

This island is one of the best dive sites in the entire world. Coco Island is located in the Pacific Ocean, about 300 miles off the coast of Costa Rica. The whole island is covered with jungle and is actually completely uninhabited. The only people who stay here are rangers of Costa Rica National Park Guard.

Cocos Island is a diver’s paradise and the best dive site in Costa Rica! This is a great place to see a variety of sharks and manta rays, as well as humpback whales and huge schools of fish. However, due to strong currents and waves, it is only recommended for advanced divers. It is also recommended to use nitrox, which requires prior training and a nitrox diver’s license.

Due to its location, access to this island requires a several-day trip during which xyou will live aboard a ship. A permit is required to dive near this island. Consequently, these trips are not inexpensive. The water temperature ranges from 24 – 29°C (75-84°F) throughout the year and visibility is between 10m and 20m (30-65 ft). The best time to visit Cocos Island is from December to May, although it rains during this time as well.

It is worth noting here that the great authority on diving and a well-known personality, Jacques Cousteau considered this island as the best diving site in the world. So, if you ever have the opportunity to visit it, do not hesitate a moment.

Also… It is said that a huge pirate treasure was hidden on this island….

Scuba diving in Costa Rica - for beginners and advanced. A practical guide
Scuba diving in Costa Rica. The best diving spots in Costa Rica – Coco Island

Caño Island Biological Reserve

Costa Rica’s second most beautiful island is much closer and does not require a long journey. You can get to it within an hour’s sea journey from Uvita. Many people, who had the opportunity to visit the previously mentioned Coco Island, claim that Isla del Caño is its smaller sister.

The diving season here lasts almost all year round, but you can find the best conditions from December to May. It is also a very good place for divers of all levels, from beginners to advanced. Water temps around the island remain between 24°C and 30°C (75 – 85°F) and visibility is between 10m and 20m (30-65 ft).

A great advantage is also the possibility of descending to the island between dives. You can relax on the beach or take a short walk to the viewpoint. This island is simply magical and no matter what purpose you choose to visit it, it will surely surprise you.

The place is a natural biological reserve and you can expect to encounter many species of fish, manta rays, sharks and moray eels. Dolphins and whales can also be found around the island. Definitely one of the best dive sites in Costa Rica. It is a very good dive site for beginners. You can read more about Isla del Caño in our other article: Isla del Caño – practical tourist information.

Isla del Caño - practical tourist information national park
Isla del Caño
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PADI Discover Scuba Diving – Marino Ballena Try Dive

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Where exactly is Isla del Caño located?

This island is located in the southern part of Costa Rica, on the west coast. All diving trips to Isla del Caño start from the town of Uvita. This is a small town that is located on the national road, which is also known as the Panaamericana. The trip from San Jose should take you about three hours, and then you will have to take a boat trip that leaves from the beach in Marino Ballena National Park. If you need advice on transport or accommodation then get in touch with us and we will be happy to help you.

Where-exactly-is-Isla-del-Caño-located
Where exactly is Isla del Caño located?

Marino Ballena National Park

Marino Ballena National Park is located in Uvita and all snorkeling, diving and whale watching trips start from here. This is the first marine national park to be created in Costa Rica. It is in this area that humpback whales can be seen on their annual migration and it is in this park that they teach their young all the necessary skills. This is why Marino Ballena Park is a popular tourist destination for people who want to watch whales.

Of course, this is not the only attraction and within the park we have several good diving spots that will also surprise you with their beauty. Due to the fact that this park is located right on the coast and the mouth of several rivers, the best diving season here is the dry season. You can read more about the national park here: Marino Ballena National Park.

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Marino Ballena National Park in Uvita

Islas Santa Catalina – Catalina Islands

This island is located in Guanacaste province, which is the driest and hottest part of Costa Rica. Around these islands you will find several dive sites that offer encounters with large animals such as manta rays.

Diving in the Catalina Islands is available year-round, thanks to the tropical climate on land and warm water temperatures at all times of the year. Water temperatures range from 24 to 29 degrees Celsius (75 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit).

Visibility underwater is also usually good during all seasons and you can expect to see between 6 and 23 meters (18 – 75 feet). Just keep in mind that there are usually strong currents here and if you plan to dive in the Catalina Islands, you should have at least an advanced diver’s certificate.

Islas Murciélago – Bat Islands

The Bat Islands are considered a world-class diving area. This area is located in the Santa Rosa National Park, which is a protected area. Maximum depths vary from site to site and range from 18 to 35m (60 – 130ft). Visibility is a range of 6 to 30 meters (18 – 100 feet).

However, you must know that diving in this place is rather reserved for experienced and good divers. There are strong underwater and surface currents here, so you must have experience in this type of diving. Due to the difficult surface conditions, it will often be necessary to quickly descend underwater, so there is no time to waste. Therefore, the minimum recommended diving certification is advanced diver.

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Scuba diving on Bat Islands

Isla Tortuga – Tortuga Island

This island is located in the province of Puntarenas. It is a great place to dive in Costa Rica, especially since it offers wreck diving.

Tortuga Island offers good diving and snorkeling, especially for wreck enthusiasts, as there are three great wreck sites off its coast. You will also find a few sites for beginners and some deeper ones for advanced divers.

While diving here you will see schools of fish, large pufferfish, turtles, stingrays and reef sharks, as well as many tropical fish. You can also see mantas here, but the season for them is only from December to April. Depths in this area range from 10 to 20 meters, and the wrecks are mainly for certified divers at depths of 16 to 30 meters.

Overall underwater visibility is between 10 and 30 meters for most of the season. However, if you visit the site during the rainy season, you may be disappointed with the visibility. During this period, it is better to use dive sites further south in the country.

Diving in Playas del Coco

Diving in Playa del Coco is mainly from shore or at points a few minutes away by boat from shore. Unfortunately in this area you will not see corals, and the water is much colder than in the south of the country. The sites close to shore have little or no current and are great for beginner and intermediate divers. This is also the place from which you can go to Isla Murcielago, or Catalinas, but as we mentioned earlier these are places for advanced divers.

The season here runs from December to April and falls during the dry season in Costa Rica. However, you must remember that this area is the hottest and driest in Costa Rica, so expect hot weather during the summer season. Honestly, if you don’t dive then you will have to seek cooling in the pool or air conditioning.

Scuba diving on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica

The Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica is not as developed and popular as the Pacific Coast. Diving here is also not the best, but this does not mean that there are no interesting places to see. So what is worth visiting on this side of Costa Rica to do a little diving?

Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is located near the Panama border on the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. It is classified as a humid tropical forest, protecting some of Costa Rica’s most endangered plant and animal species. Unfortunately, this part of Costa Rica is not yet very well developed and it will take you a long time to get to this area, so you need to plan your diving well.

Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is considered by many to be the best snorkeling and diving spot on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica. Here you will find coral reefs and small coves full of marine life. Here you are sure to encounter animals such as sea turtles, manatees, crocodiles, and dolphins.

Cahuita Reef

If you get a chance, head to the eastern part of Costa Rica, as it is home to the country’s only coral reef, which lies off the coast of Cahuita National Park. Despite severe damage from the 1991 earthquake, the reef is home to more than 123 species of fish, 140 species of mollusks and 35 species of coral.

There are several dive equipment rentals in the nearby town of Puerto Viejo. There are three main dive sites on the reef, namely Punta Uva, Gandoca and Cahuita National Park. In addition to the stunning marine life, Cahuita Reef also boasts two shipwrecks to explore. Additionally, Cahuita Reef is located near the shoreline of Cahuita Point, where divers can enjoy views of brain and staghorn corals.

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Scuba diving on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica

Best time to visit Costa Rica for diving

Often our clients in the planning stages of their trip to Costa Rica ask us when is the best time to dive in Costa Rica. As we described earlier, Costa Rica is not a large country, but it is very diverse. Depending on the time of year and location, conditions can vary greatly. For example, in our area during the rainy season diving in Marino Ballena National Park is not very popular due to the lower visibility underwater during this period.

This, however, in no way affects the diving in Isla del Cano, where visibility and conditions are good almost all year round. And these two places are separated by only an hour boat ride. As you can see, to answer the question of when is the best time to dive in Costa Rica, you must first determine what area you are asking about. We will try to answer your question in the table below.

LOCATION VISIBILITY HIGH SEASON DIFFICULTY OUR REVIEW
Isla del Coco 10 – 20m December to May ❗❗❗❗❗ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Isla del Caño 10 – 20m December to May ❗❗❗ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Marino Ballena 10 – 15m January to May ❗❗ ⭐⭐⭐
Isla Catalina 6 – 23m September to March ❗❗❗ ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Isla Tortuga 18 – 35m December to May ❗❗ ⭐⭐⭐
Islas Murciélago 10 – 30m May to October ❗❗❗❗ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Playa del Coco 5 – 15m December to April ⭐⭐
Gandoca Manzanillo 10 – 15m February to April ❗❗❗ ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Cahuita Reef 10 – 15m February to April ❗❗ ⭐⭐⭐

I am a diver – what can I see in Costa Rica?

As I mentioned in the beginning, Costa Rica is a country full of animals and amazing vegetation. The same goes for the oceans and underwater life. I will mention here just a few of the animal species that you will most often find while diving.

  • Whales – let’s start with the biggest ones. Costa Rica is where the whales come in search of warm water and to give birth to their babies. Diving with the whales is not possible, but being able to see them on your way to the dive site is a great attraction. You can read more about whale watching in Costa Rica here: Whale watching – where is the best place?
  • Mantas, also known as “sea devils,” are a species of fish that attract divers with their distinctive shape and are certainly a big attraction. Who wouldn’t want to take a picture with a “sea devil”?
  • Sharks – although for some it is the greatest fear, there are divers who are dreaming to look these beautiful creatures in the eye. While diving in Costa Rica, you will have the chance to see sharks such as Hammerheads, Bull Shark, Tiger Shark, White-Tip Reef Shark, Nurse Shark, and even Whale Shark.
  • Various species of large fish, such as tuna, merlins, and barracuda. These fish are also an attraction for people who come to Costa Rica for sport fishing. However, we as divers prefer to just watch them in their natural environment.
whale watching tour uvita costa rica
Whales in Costa Rica

How much does diving in Costa Rica cost?

If you have decided to go scuba diving in Costa Rica, then you are surely wondering how much it costs to go scuba diving. The prices of different tours vary due to many aspects, such as:

  • where you want to dive – whether it’s shore diving or boat diving.
  • national park fees – if you want to dive in a national park, the tour operator must pay a fee for each diver. This affects the final price you will pay for the dive.
  • the period in which you want to dive – whether it is low season or high season.
  • the group you want to dive with – whether you want to join a larger group of other divers or prefer a private trip
  • additional discounts on various occasions. Here I can only tell you about our resort and the promotions we have on various occasions. The best way is to like our Facebook profile, where we post all the events and promotions we are currently running.

The price for a guided dive on Isla del Cano is $179 per person. The price includes everything you need, i.e. entrance fees, complete diving equipment, boat transportation, snacks and drinks and the assistance of a guide. The price with local diving in Marino Ballena National Park is $99 per person and here also all the necessary elements are included. Our dive center does not apply any additional fees or hidden surcharges. The proposed price is always the final price.

Why should you try diving in Costa Rica?

This question has many answers, as many divers visit Costa Rica each year. Everyone has their own reasons for diving, but let me list a few reasons from my point of view.

  • Scuba diving in Costa Rica is one of the best things you can do. Of course, it depends on the place and the time of year, but in general, what you will see underwater will remain in your memory for a long time. It is worth saying that Jacques Cousteau himself spoke highly of diving in Costa Rica.
  • A scuba diving course in Costa Rica is a great way to become a diver and join a great family of divers. Costa Rica offers the opportunity to dive in the warm tropical ocean waters. Believe me, there is nothing worse than cold water pouring over your collar…. In Costa Rica it’s different. Here diving is always fun!
  • Diving in Costa Rica for beginners is also a way to explore the underwater world without having to do the entire PADI course. If you don’t know yet if you want to become a diver, a trial dive like this is just for you. It’s like taking a car for a test drive. You don’t want to buy a pig in a poke, do you?

As you can see Costa Rica has a lot to offer and not only on land, but especially underwater. If you are an experienced diver, we will take you to more challenging places, and if you would like to try diving for the first time in your life, you will dive in a cool and safe place accompanied by an instructor. Can there be anything better?

Diving course in Costa Rica

The best way to explore the underwater world is when you have a diver’s license and when you know how to use the diving equipment. This gives you more freedom underwater and opportunities to see more. You can use your stay in Costa Rica to earn your PADI international diver’s license. With this document you can dive all over the world! So, if you don’t have any plans for Costa Rica yet, the best idea is to take a scuba diving course.

Become a diver!

The entire scuba diving course consists of three parts. Theoretical part, practical part in the pool and 4 dives in the ocean. All this can be completed in 3 days if you use the PADI e-learning package. Contact our team and our instructor will answer all your questions.

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Scuba diving in Costa Rica – what you can see?

But what if you don’t know if a scuba diving course is what you want to do and you just want to try going underwater? Is there something suitable for you? Of course there is!

Scuba diving in Costa Rica for beginners.

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Scuba diving in Costa Rica for beginners

However, scuba diving in Costa Rica for beginners is not just a scuba diving course. You can also take a try dive with an instructor to see the beauty of the underwater world. This program is called PADI Discover Scuba Diving and is designed for anyone who wants to try scuba diving.

After this try dive you can decide if you want to do the whole diving course or if this experience is enough for you. If you would like to learn more about scuba diving in Costa Rica for beginners, please contact us and we will surely give you all the information you need.

You can also see our diving offer for beginners: Caño Island Try Dive.

Snorkeling in Costa Rica

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Snorkeling and diving in Costa Rica

You can go scuba diving in Costa Rica, but you can also try other water sports. If you haven’t yet decided on a scuba diving course or try dive, then you can go snorkeling. It is a great way to spend time with the whole family.

With a mask and snorkel, you can look below the surface of the water and see underwater life. You don’t always have to go deep to see great things underwater.

You can do snorkeling from the beach or from a boat if you want to see more remote places. One such place where snorkeling is highly recommended is the natural biological reserve, Isla del Caño.

You can read more about safe snorkeling in Costa Rica in our other text: snorkeling in Costa Rica.

Is diving in Costa Rica safe?

One of the most common questions is whether diving is safe. When it comes to diving safety, you need to specify what exactly you are asking about. Are you asking about the general sport and risks of diving, or are you asking about the safety of diving in Costa Rica?

Regarding the general safety while doing this sport, I can say that it is a very safe sport and recreation. Because of the potential dangers, all the procedures are perfectly prepared and you will learn them during the diving course. By following the rules, the risk of any injury is minimal.

We leave nothing to chance and always follow what we have learned on the course. With this approach, diving is a safe form of recreation. If you want to learn more about the safety of diving, I invite you to read our other text, which you will find here: Is scuba diving safe? We will dispel all your doubts!

Scuba diving in Costa Rica and safety.

Safety while diving in Costa Rica is another important topic. Most dive centers in Costa Rica are run by experienced people who are knowledgeable and certified. This way, you are assured that everything will be done according to the procedures that are used in recreational diving.

And it doesn’t matter if you choose the biggest dive center in Costa Rica or a small school hidden on the beach. If everything is done according to the current standards, then scuba diving in Costa Rica will be a great pleasure for you.

HOW TO CHOOSE A DIVING REGULATOR
Scuba diving in Costa Rica – safety rules

However, as you know, it is people who make mistakes, not the equipment. Therefore, when choosing a dive center in Costa Rica, you need to check a few things. Based on our internal standards at Costa Rica Divers, I will list what you should look out for. At least I always check this when I dive in one of the many best dive sites in the world.

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PADI OWD Diving Course in Marino Ballena

PADI Open Water Diver course in Marino Ballena National Park in Costa Rica.
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What is the minimum age to go scuba diving?

Scuba diving is fun and educational, but there are some risks involved. It is important that children learn from a professional instructor before they dive into the ocean. With the right course tailored to their abilities, kids will learn how to assemble and properly use scuba gear. They will learn how to swim and breathe properly underwater and just as importantly, they will become aware of the changes their bodies experience in the water.

It is a generally accepted rule that scuba diving and scuba diving courses can be taken from a minimum age of ten years. After completing such a course, the child will obtain the PADI Junior Open Water Diver qualification, which allows diving accompanied by an adult.

If your child does not meet these requirements, he or she can participate in snorkeling, where all ages are welcome.

What to look for when choosing a diving center in Costa Rica:

  • Does the center belong to a well-known federation of diving instructors? This is an important question, not only because of the “logo”. Our center is a member of PADI, the largest organization in the world. Our dive center number is #28430. Because of this, we have to meet high standards and our activities are constantly audited and checked by PADI.
  • Is your dive guide certified to guide clients? If you are diving privately, you can do so with a friend. However, professional divers are subject to different rules and this is directly related to your safety. At a dive center, the person who takes you underwater must be a professional diver with a minimum Divemaster level. Don’t be afraid to ask, because your safety depends on it! You can read about how to check the qualifications here: Check your instructor’s qualifications
  • Does the person who takes you underwater work legally? This question is rarely on the minds of dive center customers, but it is equally important. Labor laws apply anywhere in the world. It is important both for the local economy and for your safety. In case of any trouble, you would want to make sure that the person in charge doesn’t disappear the next day, right?
  • Does the dive center have liability insurance? Of course, going diving we do not think about lawsuits and seeking compensation from anyone. However, liability insurance is important, in case an incident does occur. Therefore, our dive center has full liability insurance for our business.
  • Do you have time for more questions? Sad to say, but in some parts of the world, the dive business is just a business…. And of course it is understandable that every dive center is run for profit. But for a good dive center you should be more than just another customer. Maybe it is a matter of attitude towards the world, but for us every customer is a colleague and a partner. After all, diving is a wonderful sport that is about experiencing beauty together.
  • Are there safety precautions when diving? This is a very important question to answer before you decide to jump into the water. What are the most important safety measures when diving? For me, there is no diving without:
  1. first aid kit
  2. oxygen tank for first aid
  3. lifebuoy
  4. radio and navigation
  5. fire extinguisher

Scuba diving in Costa Rica – Summary

Here we present the best attractions for scuba divers in Costa Rica. As you can see, the selection is large and each place is different from the others. You can find easy shore dives, trips to more remote islands, or even multi-day diving trips. You can discover all this for yourself and learn about the beauty of the underwater world in a very accessible form. If after reading this text you still wonder whether diving in Costa Rica is a good idea, the answer can only be one. Of course yes!

Diving in Costa Rica for beginners and for experienced divers is a wonderful experience. You really don’t have to wonder anymore if it’s worth it! Perhaps ocean diving in Costa Rica will be your first step to a great adventure. Or maybe even become a dive instructor? If you have any questions about traveling, diving, snorkeling or whale watching in Costa Rica, please contact us and we will be happy to answer your questions.

Be sure to write us in the comment what do you think about diving and whether you plan to visit Costa Rica.

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