Scuba Diving in Costa Rica ⋆ Supreme Guide [Season 2022/2023]

Scuba Diving in Costa Rica – Supreme Guide

Everything you want to know about diving in Costa Rica

Scuba diving in Costa Rica is one of the best activities offered by this beautiful country. Today we will answer all your questions about diving in this country and where are the best places to dive in Costa Rica. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced diver, there is something for you here. Magical islands, sunken wrecks, huge mantas and sharks – all this you have a chance to see with your own eyes during your stay in Costa Rica. The question is where is the best place for diving in Costa Rica and how to organize your trip. But I will try to answer these questions today.

How can I be sure you know enough about diving in Costa Rica? Well… we run one of the most successful dive centers in the country and if we didn’t know what we were talking about, clients wouldn’t come to us. We organize dive trips and PADI courses at all levels, so I think we know enough about scuba diving in Costa Rica. And today we will share that knowledge with you. Shall we?

What can you find in this post?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you’re planning on coming to Costa Rica, you only have a few days or so to spare and would like to plan everything well. Accommodation, transportation and of course attractions. All of this needs to be planned in advance so you don’t waste time on the trip. You do not want to read about how the best diving is only with us.

You may be thinking that this is what the text will look like because you found it on a dive center website. Nothing more misleading. I want to present you a competent study of the topic, so that you can plan your own diving and choose a place that suits you. I know you want something objective and specific about scuba diving in Costa Rica. That’s what you’ll find in this study. No marketing nonsense, just the facts. Like a diver for a diver.

Scuba Diving in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a country that is relatively small but boasts a huge variety 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.

There are many national parks in Costa Rica that protect their natural heritage and make sure that nothing is destroyed. This applies to both the land part of the country and the places under the water. Add to this the great diversity and high water temperature and you have ideal conditions.

Therefore, Costa Rica diving can really be something worth every dollar spent. From experience I can say that many times we have clients who have experience diving in Europe, but after a trip to Isla del Cano they always say the same thing, that only now they realized how much fun it is to dive.

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. You can dive in both parts of the country year round, but the Pacific is considered much better than the Caribbean.

On the Pacific side lie two gems of Costa Rica’s underwater world: Cocos Island and Caño Island. Both are UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites and are part of Costa Rica’s extensive national park system.

Most of the dive sites on both islands are located in protected areas. This ensures that you will be able to enjoy the richness of nature in its original form. We can safely say that these two sites offer the best diving in Costa Rica, but of course we have many other equally cool sites.

Most dive sites are only accessible from a boat and require an organized tour, but you can also find dive sites accessible from shore. This kind of diving will also be fun, especially during peak season, and it’s certainly more accessible. If you are looking for cave diving or high altitude diving there will also be something, but that is a topic for a completely different paper.

Beaches of Costa Rica

Diving on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica

The Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is the most developed and easily accessible. However, this does not mean that you will meet crowds of people and lack of nature everywhere. When it comes to scuba diving on the Pacific side, we must open the list with the queen of all sites, Cocos Island. The Pacific Coast is also easily accessible, and most of the dive sites listed here can be reached within a few hours’ drive from San Jose International Airport.

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 the rangers of the Costa Rica National Park.

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

Due to its location, access to this island requires a several-day expedition, during which you live on a ship, and a special permit is required to dive near the island. Consequently, these expeditions are not cheap. The water temperature ranges from 24 to 29°C (75-84°F) year-round, and visibility varies from 10 m to 20 m (30-65 ft). The best time to visit Cocos Island is between December and May, although rains occur during this time as well.

It is worth mentioning that the great diving authority and famous 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 for a moment.

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

As I mentioned before, these tours are not the cheapest, but it is a one-of-a-kind experience that is worth any money. Our dive center also organizes trips to Coco Island, so contact our office for the nearest date.

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Scuba diving in Costa Rica - for beginners and advanced. A practical guide
The best scuba diving 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. It can be reached within an hour trip from Uvita. Many people who have had the opportunity to visit the previously mentioned Coco Island say that Isla del Caño is its smaller sister.

The diving season here lasts almost all year round, but the best conditions can be found from December to May. It is also a very good place for divers of all levels, from beginners to advanced. The water temperature across the island varies between 24°C and 30°C, with visibility ranging from 10 m to 20 m.

It is also a great advantage to be able to go down 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 for what purpose you visit it, it will surely surprise you.

This place is a natural biological reserve where you can find 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 – tourist information.

Maybe I’m a little biased because Isla del Cano is where we dive most often, but it really is the best dive site in Costa Rica. Not only can you see magnificent animals, but most importantly, you can find places for beginner and intermediate divers, and even for adventurers. Moreover, the snorkeling at Isla del Cano is among the best in Costa Rica, making it a unique opportunity for the whole family to go on the same trip. No matter who goes underwater and who stays on the surface.

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Isla del Caño - practical tourist information national park
Scuba Diving on Isla del Caño

Marino Ballena National Park

Marino Ballena National Park is located in Uvita and all snorkeling, scuba diving and whale watching trips start from here. This is the first marine national park created in Costa Rica. It is in this area that humpback whales can be seen during their annual migration and it is in this park that they teach their young all the necessary skills. For this reason, the Marino Ballena Park is a popular destination for whale watching tourists.

Of course, this is not the only attraction. There are several good diving sites within the park that will also surprise you with their beauty. Due to the fact that the park is located right by the coast and the mouth of several rivers, the best time to dive here is during the dry season.

Scuba diving in Marino Ballena has the advantage that most dive sites can be reached within a few minutes from the beach. This of course speeds up the whole trip considerably, so you can start a little later. This is in case you prefer to sleep in the morning 😉

Unfortunately, diving in Uvita has one downside. During the low season, which is when it rains a lot, the visibility in the water decreases drastically. This is due to the simple fact that in this beautiful area we have many rivers, whose waters flow straight into the ocean. This unfortunately causes sediment, soil, clay and dead vegetation to fall into the ocean along with the waters, making diving in Uvita virtually impossible.

Luckily, Isla del Cano is just a short boat drive from the beach in Uvita!

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Marino Ballena10 – 15mJanuary to May❗️💲💲⭐⭐⭐

Catalina Islands – Islas Santa Catalina

Another famous spot for scuba diving in Costa Rica is Catalina Island. This island is located in Guanacaste province, which is the driest and hottest part of Costa Rica. The islands are actually a chain of rock formations of volcanic origin that reach nearly 40 meters below the water’s surface. Around these islands, you will find several dive sites that offer encounters with large animals such as mantas.

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).

Underwater visibility is usually good at all times of the year, and water depths range from 6 to 23 meters. However, keep in mind that there are usually strong currents and if you plan to dive in the Catalina Islands, you should have at least an advanced diver’s certificate.

To go scuba diving in the Catalina Islands, you will need to take part in an organized diving tour. Although the site is not very far from the mainland, this is a full day trip as it is the usual practice to do two dives. Dive trips to Catalinas Island are offered by various dive operators, so finding a deal will not be a problem. The most common places to start diving tour on Catalina Islands are Tamarindo and Playas del Coco.

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Bat Islands – Islas Murciélago

The Bat Islands are considered a world-class diving destination. The area is located within the Santa Rosa National Park, which is a protected area. Maximum depths vary depending on the dive site and range from 18 to 35 meters (60 – 130 feet). Visibility ranges from 6 to 30 meters (18 – 100 feet).

However, you must know that diving at this site is rather reserved for experienced and good divers. There are strong underwater and surface currents, so you need to have experience in this type of diving. Due to the difficult conditions on the surface, you will often need to go underwater quickly, so there is no time to waste. Therefore, the minimum recommended dive certification is advanced diver.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good site and you should definitely include it in your plan for scuba diving in Costa Rica. However, keep in mind that this is not a place where you will take non-diving friends or children. You come here to dive.

The island is about an hour from the mainland and to get there you must take part in an organized diving trip. The best starting point is Playa del Coco, where you will find at least a few dive tour operators.

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Scuba diving on Bat Islands

Scuba diving in Playas del Coco

Diving in Playas del Coco is mostly done from the shore or at sites a few minutes away by boat. Unfortunately, you won’t see coral in this area 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. As you already know Playas del Coco is also the place from which you can go to Isla Murcielago or Catalinas, but as we mentioned, 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 is the hottest and driest area in Costa Rica, so expect hot weather during the summer season. Honestly, if you don’t dive in then you’ll have to look to the pool or air conditioning to cool off.

If you look at a map, you will see that Playas del Coco lies in a sheltered bay and therefore the water here is usually calm. Visibility can be variable and while in high season it reaches several meters, in low season scuba diving in Playas del Coco may not be very attractive. But, hey! These are still tropical waters where you can see a lot of animals, regardless of the season.

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Scuba diving in Jaco

Jaco is a small but well-developed city located right on the ocean. It is only 2 hours from San Jose International Airport, making it a very popular destination. Scuba diving in Jaco is not as developed and popular as in other places, but completely unjustified. There are some very interesting dive sites near the beach that will be a beginner and intermediate diver’s dream. Diving in Jaco can also be done from the shore without being transported by boat, which also has its pluses and attractions.

Many tourists relate Jaco more to the nightlife and the perpetual parties that never end during peak season. If you’re looking for that type of entertainment, Jaco is perfect. But…. after the biggest party comes a day when you have to do something. And scuba diving in Jaco will be one of those things worth doing there.

You should definitely consider Jaco as a place to take part in the “discover diving” program, which means going underwater for the first time if you’ve never done it. The proximity to dive sites and calm water will be a good place to get your first taste of what it’s like to dive with equipment. Of course, in order to do this, you should look for a good instructor and preferably a PADI accredited dive center.

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Isla Tortuga – Wreck Diving

Isla Tortuga is usually paired with warm and clear waters and therefore this place is better known as a snorkeling destination. But there is a bit of a surprise here for divers! Besides the tropical water and amazing animals, you can see underwater wrecks here, something you won’t experience further south. This is a real treat for any diver, no matter how much experience you have underwater.

Among the wrecks currently well explored and open to divers are the 30-meter Caroline Star, the 25-meter Coronel Alfonso Monge, and the 28-meter Coast Guard ship Franklin Chang Diaz. You have to admit, it’s pretty good, and scuba diving in Costa Rica can be varied though.

How to get to Isla Tortuga? Unfortunately, the availability of diving services here is very limited. You can easily find trips from Puntarenas or other places along the coast, but most of them are only snorkeling trips. If you want to dive on Isla Tortuga, the best place to look for trips would be Jaco and one of the dive centers there. Although Isla Tortuga is not an obvious point on the diving map of Costa Rica, it is worth considering this place when planning a trip.

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Diving on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica

We’ve already discussed the top dive sites on the Pacific side, and now it’s time to see what scuba diving in Costa Rica we can find on the Caribbean side. The Costa Rican Caribbean is not as developed as the Pacific, which of course has its pros and cons. If you’re looking for something simple yet wild, you’re sure to find something for you on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. But what is diving like there?

The downside is that access to the Caribbean side is difficult, as there is only one road, which is often under repair and clogged with trucks heading to the port of Limon. If you think about public transport, it will be possible, but you have to be patient because the transport service is not very good here.

Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is located near the border with Panama 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 very well developed yet and it will take you a long time to get there, so you need to plan your dive 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. You are sure to encounter animals such as sea turtles, manatees, crocodiles and dolphins.

How to get there? The question of transportation is easy and difficult at the same time. If you have your own car, it will take you a few hours to get there from San Jose. Just because the road is easy does not mean it is fast… Unfortunately on this route to Limon there are constant repairs and traffic jams caused by trucks going to the port. You just have to be patient. If you don’t have a car, it will take you a long time to get to Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge by public transportation. But let’s just say that the possibility of scuba diving at Gandoca Manzanillo will justify the hardship.

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Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

Cahuita Reef

If you have the opportunity, head to the eastern part of Costa Rica, as it is home to the country’s only coral reef of such beauty, 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 boasts two shipwrecks. Additionally, Cahuita Reef is located near the shoreline of Cahuita Point, where divers can enjoy views of brain and staghorn corals. Don’t expect deep dives here, but that’s not the point after all. As I mentioned before, the most important advantage of diving in Cahuita is the coral reef, which is definitely worth seeing with your own eyes.

How to get here? Similar to the previous point, if you have a car, you only need a few hours and a little patience to enjoy scuba diving in Cahuita. Without a car, you are left with the great adventure of public transportation.

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Isla Uvita

Wasn’t there already something about Uvita? Well… Don’t confuse the town of Uvita located on the Pacific coast with the island of Uvita in the Caribbean. The name is actually similar, but they are two separate places. I’ve written about diving in Uvita and Marino Ballena above, and now it’s time for Uvita Island. It is a small island located very close to the town of Limon, so you already know how to get there because it is the same as the previous points.

So, what can diving on Uvita Island offer? This is an interesting place for several reasons. First, you can see not only the tropical waters of the Caribbean coast, but also two sunken wrecks. The second argument for choosing the island of Uvita as a dive site is an alleged historical fact. Supposedly it was here that Christopher Columbus landed when he “discovered” America, and it was on this island that he anchored his ship. Leaving aside the fact whether it was exactly this place, you have to admit that it would be nice to dive in the place where Columbus “discovered” America.

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Isla Uvita5 – 15mFebruary to April❗️❗️💲💲⭐⭐⭐

What is the best time to dive in Costa Rica?

The most common question and also misunderstanding is the question of weather and the rainy season. It can be said that the rainy season generally falls in the middle of the calendar year, which is the time of vacation in Europe, for example. Therefore, you are probably wondering whether planning your scuba diving in Costa Rica if is worth taking into account this period, or it will be a waste of time and money.

So let’s get this straight once and for all. It rains in the rainy season! Does this mean that it is not worth coming to Costa Rica during this time? On the contrary! Diving in Costa Rica during the rainy season has many advantages, but of course it depends on the dive site. During this period you can forget about diving in all places near the coast, because the visibility will be practically zero. However, all the islands, especially those more distant from the mainland, are a different story. And although it may seem strange, but diving in this period can be even better than the high season.

To give you an example – Marino Ballena is not suitable for diving during the rainy season, but Isla del Cano, located about an hour from the mainland, is very attractive during this time. I will even say more, the best dives and the biggest wildlife I saw there were during the rainy season. So what is the best time to dive in Costa Rica? Anytime as long as you plan it right. Very simple, right? Just choose well and enjoy a great time in Costa Rica, even if it’s in the rain.

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Scuba diving in Costa Rica.

What can you see in Costa Rica while diving?

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 just a few of the animal species you are most likely to encounter while scuba diving in Costa Rica.

  • whales – let’s start with the biggest ones. Costa Rica is where whales come in search of warm waters and to give birth to their babies. Diving with whales is not possible, but being able to see them on the 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 species of fish that attract divers with their distinctive shape and are certainly a big attraction. Who would not want to take a picture with the “sea devil”?
  • sharks – although this is the biggest fear for some, there are divers who dream to look into the eyes of these beautiful creatures. While diving in Costa Rica, you will have the opportunity to see sharks such as hammerhead shark, bull shark, tiger shark, whitetip reef shark or nurse shark.
  • various species of large fish such as tunas, merlins and barracudas. These fish are also an attraction for people who come to Costa Rica for sport fishing. However, we, as divers, prefer to simply observe them in their natural habitat.

How much is scuba diving in Costa Rica?

Now you know where the best dive sites are, what you can see underwater and what time period to choose for your trip to Costa Rica. What remains is to plan your budget and find out how much it costs to dive in Costa Rica. This is going to be a little tricky because, as you guessed, there are no top-down prices and individual places can vary greatly. So what do the prices of diving and package tours depend on?

There are a lot of factors, of course, but just so you know what it looks like from behind the scenes I’ll give you some examples:

  • where you want to dive – whether you want to dive from the shore or from a boat. Diving from shore is much simpler, and using a boat comes with the cost of fuel, captain, launch, insurance, and many other factors that go into the price.
  • fees for national parks – 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 – depending on whether it is low season or high season. In the high season there are a lot of customers and that’s why no promotions or price reductions are possible, because we have several people willing to take one place. In low season is different. You can count on discounts when we want to fill the minimum for a trip.
  • the group you want to dive with – whether you want to join a larger group of other divers or prefer a private trip. With a group trip, the level of diving may vary and you need to be aware of this. If you want to experience something unique, you can choose a private trip, but it comes with a higher price.
  • additional discounts on various occasions – you can certainly count on a discount if you bring a group that fills an entire boat. They can be divers or snorkelers.

As you can see there are many elements that affect the price and many variables, such as fuel prices. That’s why giving fixed prices is pointless and you just have to check current prices on the internet. If you want to know all our prices I invite you to this page: prices for diving in Costa Rica.

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Beautiful turtle encountered during diving

How to choose a good dive center?

To end this whole article about scuba diving in Costa Rica, I would like to leave you with some practical advice. As you can see, most of the dive sites we have discussed require boat transportation and the use of an organized dive tour. It is important to remember that when we dive into the ocean, we enter a world where we are only guests.

We have no power over nature and its unpredictability. So I’m not going to tell you here that diving in Costa Rica is just sun, beach and cool pictures for facebook. Despite the holiday mood, remember that we enter a world of unpredictable nature and we may encounter various adventures. Accidents are rather rare, but that doesn’t mean they can’t happen. Therefore, at this point, there are a few things to keep in mind that you should check when choosing a dive operator.

  • does the dive center belong to any well-known dive instructor federation? This is an important question, not only because of the “logo”. We are an authorized PADI dive center, 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 dive 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 at least a Divemaster level. Don’t be afraid to ask, because your safety depends on it!
  • does the person who takes you underwater work legally? This question rarely pops up in the minds of dive center customers, but it is equally important. Labor laws apply everywhere in the world. This is important both for the local economy and for your safety. In case of any problems, you would want to make sure that the person in charge of the job doesn’t disappear the next day, right?
  • does the dive center have liability insurance? Of course, when diving, we don’t think about lawsuits and seeking compensation from anyone. However, liability insurance is important, in case an incident occurs. That is why our dive center has full liability insurance for its activities.
  • do you have time for more questions? Sorry to say, but in some parts of the world the diving business is just a business…. And of course it is understandable that every dive center is run for profit. But you should be more than just another customer. Maybe it’s a matter of attitude to the world, but for us every customer is a colleague and 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 precautions when diving? For me, there is no diving without first aid kit, oxygen tank for first aid, lifebuoy, radio and navigation, fire extinguisher.

Of course, don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean that only the biggest dive centers are trustworthy and the smaller ones not so much. Remember that the risk associated with diving is taken not only by the operator, but also by you as a customer. You sign a document confirming this sort of contract, and therefore it is worth simply checking some things beforehand. At the end of the day, you decide where to leave your money.

Let’s recap – scuba diving in Costa Rica

In this piece, I think we have covered the topic of scuba diving in Costa Rica in a competent and comprehensive manner. I have introduced you to the best underwater sites and attractions, as well as how to get there. Each of these places is different from one another and it would be good to know them all. But of course, I understand that you may not have enough time and would like to choose the best diving in Costa Rica. I will try to help you with that.

Of course you may say that I am not objective, because as the manager of Costa Rica Divers I only aim to convince you to our offer, but…. Think of it this way – would we create a dive center from scratch in a place where there are no good conditions for this sport? Probably not, right? That’s why, if I had to name the single best place to dive in Costa Rica, I would point to Isla del Cano.

If you have any questions, first of all, browse our blog, as you will find many useful texts and studies there. Secondly, do not hesitate to contact our office and ask for details. And finally, of course, we invite you to Uvita and to our dive center, where we will show you what scuba diving in Costa Rica is like and why it is considered by many divers as one of the best in the world.