Snorkeling in Costa Rica is one of the best ideas for a trip and a great day out. The huge variety of Costa Rica’s underwater world guarantees an amazing experience and best of all, you don’t have to go deep underwater to see it. Snorkeling with mask and snorkel is a must for any trip to Costa Rica.
Our dive centre organises snorkeling trips to Isla del Cano and the Marino Ballena national park area. Based on our experience, we have prepared this complete guide to the world of snorkeling in Costa Rica. However, if you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact our team.
What will you find in this study?
As I mentioned before, snorkelling is a great way to see underwater life without having to dive to great depths. Often just dipping your face in the water is enough to see beautiful things. With a snorkelling mask, you will be able to admire the underwater world. So let’s see where the best snorkelling spots are in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica’s coastline is long and inviting, but not all of it is accessible to snorkelers. The Caribbean side of the country is underdeveloped and therefore most places are difficult to access. Instead, you can enjoy empty beaches and wonderful views. However, if you would like to take an organised tour, the Caribbean side doesn’t have much to offer in this respect.
On the Pacific side, you’ll find plenty of spots that are downright uber-awesome for surfers. The waves are bigger here, which on the one hand allows you to have fun on a board, but on the other hand makes many local beaches unsuitable for snorkeling.
Fortunately, on this side of the country you will find some wonderful islands, where conditions for snorkelling and diving are usually much better than on the coast. When the coastal waters become more murky in the low season, you only need to head to one of these islands to continue enjoying the wonderful underwater life in Costa Rica.
The Osa Peninsula belongs to the province of Puntarenas and is close to the border with Panama. Beautiful beaches and rich vegetation are the characteristics of this area. Many species of plants and animals can be found in this area that cannot be found anywhere else. There are many national parks in this area, such as Corcovado, Isla del Caño and Marino Ballena. You can go snorkelling in each of them, but Isla del Caño is considered one of the best snorkeling spots in Costa Rica.
Let’s face it – Costa Rica has many beautiful places and some really impressive islands. Jacques Cousteau himself was in love with one of them, namely Isla del Coco. He considered this island to be the best diving spot in the world. If you have the opportunity to visit it, do not hesitate for a moment. The problem is that this island, despite belonging to Costa Rica, is 2 days away by sea from the coast. This makes trips to this island complicated, long and therefore very expensive.
I have good news for you, though. The second most beautiful island in Costa Rica is within your reach, as it is only an hour away from Uvita, where we have our diving base. Many people, who had a chance to visit the above mentioned Coco Island, claim that Isla del Caño is its smaller sister.
The island is located in the southern part of Costa Rica, on the west coast. If you would like to go snorkeling on Isla del Caño then the easiest way to do it is from the town of Uvita. You can get here by taking the fast and convenient national road, which is also known as the Panaamericana. The trip from San Jose should take you about three hours. After that you will have to take a boat trip that starts from the beach in the Marino Ballena National Park.
It is a very popular snorkeling spot because of its beautiful beach and clear water. It is the perfect place for a day trip where you can enjoy the underwater world or relax on a tropical beach.
While on the island, you can also take a hike inland to see the rich vegetation of the area. In the Isla Tortuga area, there are three wrecks that are great attractions for divers. Trips to this area start from Jaco, Puntarenas or Montezuma.
Manuel Antonio National Park is a very popular place that serves thousands of tourists every year. In the park, you have the opportunity to enjoy amazing wildlife. You can often see tropical animals at your fingertips. You will also find a beautiful white sand beach within the park.
The second beach is located before the entrance to the national park and is also a great place to relax or jump into the water. Manuel Antonio is a noteworthy place for snorkeling in Costa Rica.
Guanacaste area is located on the border with Nicaragua. It is the driest and hottest place in Costa Rica. There will be plenty of sunshine here during the season, although it can be too warm at times. Snorkeling can be done anywhere you can enter the ocean.
Each beach is different and each has something different to offer. If we are talking about popular snorkeling spots, Catalina Island should be mentioned. These are volcanic rock formations that attract sea creatures and are a great spot to swim with a mask and snorkel.
Cahuita National Park is a national park in the La Amistad Protected Area in Costa Rica. It is located on the southern coast of the Caribbean Sea in the province of Limón. You can find beautiful beaches and coral reefs underwater in this park. It is a great place for snorkeling.
It is also worth mentioning that Cahuita National Park is a breeding ground for sea turtles. Although the area is poorly developed, it is one of the places worth recommending for snorkeling in Costa Rica.
Gandoca Manzanillo is located on the southern coast of the Caribbean Sea, near the border with Panama. This park is over 5,000 hectares in size and protects the waters of the Caribbean Sea, jungle and mangroves. On the Caribbean side, it is one of the most popular snorkeling destinations.
Turtles, manta rays, dolphins, lobsters and toucans can be found here. On the beautiful coral reef you can find many species of tropical fish. Although the place is quite remote, it is definitely worth recommending.
The tourist season in Costa Rica is practically year-round, although the seasons vary. During the rainy season, visibility in the water will be worse, so it is a good idea to come to Costa Rica during the driest months. This is when the ocean is calm and conditions for snorkeling are by far the best.
We can assume that the best time for snorkeling on the Pacific side is from December to May, while on the Caribbean side the best time is September and October.
The water temperature varies depending on the area where you intend to snorkel. For example, the Guanacaste area, which is dry and hot, unfortunately has very cold water. If you want to jump into the water in this area, it’s a good idea to think about a wetsuit. In contrast, the Isla del Cano area has water temperatures that often exceed 30° Celsius (90° Fahrenheit).
The best part of most snorkeling trips in Costa Rica is that you can arrange them yourself. You don’t need much to enjoy the beautiful nature and tropical fish. All you need is a mask, snorkel and fins.
Most of the places I have described are accessible from the mainland and do not require transport by boat. All you have to do is pack the necessary equipment, drinking water and sunscreen and you can go on your first swimming with mask and snorkel in Costa Rica.
However, if you are thinking of visiting such beautiful places as Isla del Cano, then you will have to hire a boat to take you there. The cost of such a trip can vary depending on the time of year, where you depart from and the standard of the trip.
Using our example, I can tell you that a snorkeling trip to Isla del Cano is a great way to spend a day. The trip starts around 7am and lasts until early afternoon. Depending on where you want to depart from, you will have up to two hours on the boat.
The price includes admission to the national park, snorkeling equipment, lunch and drinks and of course the care of a guide. The cost of such a trip starts at $139 per person. Details of the trip can be found here: Snorkeling around Caño Island.
As I mentioned earlier, snorkeling in Costa Rica does not require complicated equipment. All you need is a basic mask, a snorkel and a set of fins.
If you are booking an organized snorkeling tour in Costa Rica, the rental of such equipment should always be included in the price. If you’re not sure, it’s a good idea to ask the tour operator what exactly is included.
However, if we want to explore the beaches on our own and try our hand at it, it is worth getting this minimal set of equipment. Manufacturers outdo each other in surprising us with new products and solutions to facilitate recreation in the water.
I can’t tell you which snorkeling kit will work best for you. However, I do have some tips that you should follow when choosing your snorkeling gear.
Is this going to be a short-term purchase and only for a few times, or do you plan to go snorkeling more often?
If you have come for a short vacation and only want to try swimming with a mask and snorkel a few times, there is no point in buying expensive equipment. In this case, my advice would be to buy a simple kit that is cheap and that you can just give away to someone at the end of your Costa Rica vacation.
However, if you plan to take the equipment home and use it more often, I suggest you choose a better quality set. Such equipment will be more expensive, but it will also be made of better materials and will serve you for a long time.
Or to put it another way – a full-face mask or a traditional mask? In recent years, many masks dedicated to snorkeling have appeared on the market. These masks are built differently, often covering the entire face, and the snorkel is integrated into the mask. You have certainly seen such masks in sporting goods stores.
This is to make snorkeling easier and just be more comfortable. Previously, masks were used that covered only the eyes and nose, and the mouth remained outside. The difference is that masks dedicated to snorkeling are not suitable for scuba diving. This means that in the future, if you decide to take a diving course, you will have to buy a second mask. And here comes the question – which snorkeling mask to choose? My advice is as follows.
If you plan to take the next step and become a diver in the future, I advise you to buy a good snorkel mask. You will be able to use it for snorkeling, and later on in your scuba diving course you will already have your mask tested and fitted. If you don’t plan to go this route, then consider buying a comfortable full face mask.
The downside of snorkeling gear is that you have to carry it with you. If you’re going on a road trip and only plan to snorkel a few times, maybe it’s not worth bringing all the kit with you? In that case, it will be better to rent the necessary equipment on site. In our center we rent snorkeling equipment, you can choose from many models of snorkel masks and fins. After each use we check, wash and disinfect the equipment, so we can be sure of its safety.
Snorkeling does not require any special skills and can be done at almost any age. Of course, whether you will feel comfortable swimming with a mask on your face and a snorkel in your mouth is a subjective matter. You may feel strange at first because it is not natural for a person to breathe through a piece of plastic in their mouth. However, you will quickly get used to it and the possibility of watching the wonderful underwater life will be a great reward.
As we mentioned earlier, snorkeling can be practiced virtually at any age and is as much an attraction for adults as for children. Of course, you need to take into account several aspects before you decide on a snorkeling trip. If your trip will be to a place far from the shore, such as our trip to Isla del Cano, take into account that a long stay on a boat can be uncomfortable for small children or the elderly.
If this is the case, you can try snorkeling from the beach, such as at Marino Ballena National Park. Generally speaking, everyone from the age of 5 is welcome on our trips. Of course, all minors must be accompanied by an adult. If you have any questions about this topic, please do not hesitate to contact our team.
You must remember that snorkeling is an aquatic activity and despite the beautiful scenery, there may be some dangers if you do not take precautions. Please read and remember the following instructions carefully. Remember that safety is paramount.
If you plan to go snorkeling in Costa Rica, always remember the basic safety rule. Never go snorkeling alone. If you are on a solo trip, ask your hotel if anyone wants to go snorkeling too. You can also choose places where there are other people. Here, organized snorkeling tours have an advantage because during them you are under the constant supervision of a guide.
In Costa Rica, not all places are approved for sports. Before entering the water, make sure the area doesn’t have a swimming ban or signs warning of dangers – such as crocodiles!
Before entering the water, make sure you can return the same way, even if you are very tired. Be sure to see if you can locate the place from the water. If it is not safe to enter the water, look for another entrance.
Ocean currents pose a great danger and are capable of swept away a person engaged in snorkeling. Remember that the absence of waves does not mean the absence of currents below the surface of the water. A strong current can pull you into a place that is difficult to return from. If you feel that you have encountered a current underwater, it is better to look for another place.
If you encounter rough waves, definitely refrain from diving in this area. High waves can pose a serious threat to your safety. Additionally, when the waves are rough, visibility underwater is usually poor anyway. So there’s no point in taking any chances.
This is a common problem for people who have not swum or do not have long experience with fins. If you get muscle cramps while snorkeling, don’t panic. Try stretching the muscle by pulling on the tip of the fin. If that doesn’t help, go back to shore and try to massage the sore area.
Snorkeling is relatively safe. However, use caution when snorkeling and do not touch anything or stand on the bottom or reef. Try to stay in the water without coming in contact with anything.
In water, the pressure increases by 1 atmosphere for every 10 m of water. Underwater immersion in ABC equipment requires pressure equalization, otherwise various injuries may occur. You’ll learn how to do it correctly on a scuba course. And remember, snorkeling is not freediving! Going underwater without training is a simple way to have an accident.
These few basic safety rules will allow you to fully enjoy swimming with a mask and snorkel. Remember, vacation is a time of relaxation and you don’t want to ruin it with some stupid accident.
It is sometimes said that snorkeling is the first step to scuba diving. This is partly true, because while doing snorkeling you can see great things underwater, but some of them will be inaccessible to you. You need to opt for a scuba diving course if you want to be able to look into more inaccessible places.
On the other hand, snorkeling is a great pastime and a great way to spend the day with your family. Even as a scuba diving instructor, I often jump into the water with just a mask and snorkel to enjoy the magnificent nature from the surface of the water. And that is what I wish for you on your trip to Costa Rica. Jump in the water!