Snorkeling in Costa Rica – Supreme Guide

Everything you want to know about snorkeling

Snorkeling in Costa Rica is one of the best ideas for a trip and a great day out. The vast diversity 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. This attraction is a must on any trip to Costa Rica. But where are the best places to go and how do you organize it all?

How can you be sure we know enough about snorkeling 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 diving trips, but equally important in our offerings are snorkeling trips from Uvita. Today we will tell you all the secrets and the best places. Shall we?

What can you find in this post?

When planning your stay in Costa Rica, you definitely want to know the best attractions and places to visit. You need specifics, not marketing gimmicks. While we probably offer some of the best tours, my goal is not to convince you of our services. The goal is to create a complete guide to snorkeling in Costa Rica.

Here you will find not only an overview of the best sites, but also safety rules and even information on what equipment is most suitable. All so you don’t have to waste time looking for it. Because our ultimate marketing goal is not to sell you a tour, but to simply make you happy with your stay in Pura Vida country.

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Snorkeling is fun!

Snorkeling in Costa Rica

To begin with, we will briefly explain what snorkeling is. It is simply swimming with a mask, snorkel and fins on the surface. With the equipment you use, you have the opportunity to look below the surface of the water and observe the wonderful underwater world. You can also try to dive as far as your held breath will allow. For safety, it is a good idea to use a life jacket, and in some places like the Isla del Cano biological reserve, the use of life jackets is mandatory.

I encounter questions from tourists about whether or not snorkeling on your own in Costa Rica is allowed, or even if it is perhaps illegal. Because apparently somewhere on the Internet there is information circulating that you are not allowed to snorkel without buying a tour. This is, of course, nonsense and there is no need to fear anything. In all places that are open to tourists and where you can enter the water, you can also swim with a mask and a tube. Another question is whether you will see something cool and whether the visibility will be good. So let’s see where is the best snorkeling in Costa Rica.

Best snorkeling destination in Costa Rica

As I mentioned before, snorkeling 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 snorkeling mask, you will be able to admire the underwater world.

Costa Rica’s coastline is long and inviting, but not all of it is accessible to snorkelers. The Caribbean part of the country is underdeveloped and therefore most places are difficult to access. Instead, you can enjoy empty beaches and great views. However, if you would like to go on an organized tour, the Caribbean does not have much to offer in this regard.

On the Pacific side, you’ll find many places that are simply sensational for surfers. The waves are bigger here, which on one hand allows you to have fun on the board, but on the other hand, many of the beaches here are not suitable for snorkeling.

Fortunately, on this side of the country you can find some great islands where snorkeling and diving conditions are usually much better than on the coast. When the coastal waters become more murky in the low season, just head to one of these islands and you can still enjoy the wonderful underwater life in Costa Rica.

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Snorkeling in Costa Rica

Snorkeling on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica

As I mentioned above, Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is more developed and better communicated. The international road “panamericana” runs along the coast and you can get almost anywhere within a few hours. However, this doesn’t mean that you will find crowds of tourists and huge queues for all the attractions. The Pacific Coast is so long and rich that you can find quiet spots even during peak season.

Isla del Caño

The Osa Peninsula belongs to the province of Puntarenas and lies near the border with Panama. Beautiful beaches and rich vegetation are characteristic of this area. There are many species of plants and animals that cannot be found anywhere else. There are many national parks in this area, such as Corcovado, Isla del Caño and Marino Ballena. Snorkeling is available 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 truly impressive islands. In one of them, Isla del Coco, Jacques Cousteau himself fell in love. He considered this island to be the best diving spot in the world. If you get a chance to visit it, don’t hesitate a moment. The problem is that this island, although it belongs to Costa Rica, is 2 days away from the coast by sea. This makes traveling to this island complicated, long and thus very expensive.

However, I have good news for you. Costa Rica’s second most beautiful island is within easy reach, as it is only an hour away from Uvita, where we have our dive base. Many people who have had the opportunity to visit the Coco Island say that Isla del Caño is its smaller sister.

This island is located in the southern part of Costa Rica, on the west coast. If you want to go snorkeling on Isla del Caño, the easiest way to do it is from the town of Uvita. The trip from San Jose should take about three hours. Then, take a boat tour that leaves from the beach in Marino Ballena National Park.

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Isla del Caño

Marino Ballena National Park

Marino Ballena National Park is the first marine park in Costa Rica and it protects 5510 hectares of waters and beaches in its area. Surely you’ve seen on the internet, the distinctive whale fin shaped beach – it’s located in Marino Ballena Park. You’ve surely seen the distinctive whale fin beach online – it’s located in Marino Ballena Park and is a great attraction. You can take the “whale fin” tour, but check the ocean level. At high tide, the water level rises significantly and the passage is more difficult.

Snorkeling in Marino Ballena is also possible and quite fun and you have two options here. You can just swim off the beach with a mask and snorkel and look under the rocks for tropical fish. Just keep in mind that the waves here can sometimes be quite large and take this into account when choosing a snorkeling spot.

Another option is to take a snorkeling tour with a boat. This option is highly recommended because you will have the opportunity to visit sites that are inaccessible without a boat. Whale Rock, Playa Ventanas and The Three Sisters are just some of the sites we visit while snorkeling from Uvita. You can read more about the park here: Marino Ballena Park in Uvita.

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Marino Ballena National Park

Jaco Beach

Jaco is a very popular entertainment destination, especially rich in nightlife. It is a more developed place and can be said to be full of western style stores and restaurants. However, this does not mean that the attractions in Jaco end there. Jaco is also a starting point for diving and snorkeling tours and would certainly be a good choice for a hot day.

The snorkeling spots in Jaco are just minutes away from the shore, so the whole trip will be quick and fun. The only drawback is that visibility can be poor, especially during the rainy season. In that case, it is better to go snorkeling to Turtle Island, which tours also start in Jaco.

Isla Tortuga

When it comes to snorkeling in Costa Rica, trips to Isla Tortuga are very popular. This is a true paradise island with beautiful sand and clear water. It is also a good place for snorkeling as there are three sunken wrecks under the water. Isla Tortuga 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 hike inland to see the rich vegetation of the area. Excursions to Isla Tortuga start from several locations such as Jaco, Puntarenas and Montezuma. You also have several transportation options to choose from, such as fast boats or large and slower ships. It all depends on your preferences.

Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio National Park is a very popular place that is visited by thousands of tourists every year. In the park, you have the opportunity to enjoy amazing wildlife and you can often see tropical animals at your fingertips. There is also a beautiful white sand beach within the park. There is a fee to enter the park, and if you want to fully experience the richness of this place, it is worth hiring a guide. This is the only way to see hidden animals and places that without a guide you will simply miss.

However, before entering the national park, there is a second beach that is also a great place to relax or jump into the water. The beach is open to the public, so you don’t have to pay an entrance fee. There is a parking lot right next to the beach that is not guarded, but there are always people there to watch your car for a small fee. Manuel Antonio is a recommended place to snorkel in Costa Rica because the beach is really nice and calm, so this place will be perfect for families. The only thing to watch out for is not to venture too far upstream because you may encounter crocodiles, as warnings posted there indicate. However, it is perfectly safe to stay on the beach.

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Manuel Antonio

Snorkeling in Guanacaste

The 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 place to swim with a mask and snorkel. However, this tour requires boat transportation, so you’ll have to look for an organized snorkeling tour at this location.

Snorkeling on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica

The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is definitely different from the Pacific coast. It is less developed and more wild. It is also different in terms of flora and fauna because it is a completely different body of water – the Caribbean Sea. Snorkeling in this part of Costa Rica can also be a great way to spend a hot day. Let’s see where the best spots are.

Cahuita National Park

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 underwater coral reefs in this park and it is a great place for snorkeling.

It’s also worth mentioning that Cahuita National Park is a breeding ground for sea turtles and if you’re in the right place at the right time, you may see young turtles at the beginning of their life journey.

How to get there? If you have your own car it will take you a few hours to get there from San Jose, if you want to use public transportation it will be time consuming.

Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge

Gandoca Manzanillo is located on the southern coast of the Caribbean Sea, near the border with Panama. This park is over 5,000 hectares and protects the waters of the Caribbean Sea, jungle and mangroves. On the Caribbean side, it is one of the most popular snorkeling spots.

You can spot turtles, manta rays, dolphins, lobsters and toucans. You can find many species of tropical fish in the beautiful coral reef. Although this place is quite remote, it is highly recommended. Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is considered by many to be the best snorkeling and diving spot on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica.

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Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

Isla Uvita

The town of Uvita on the Pacific coast and the island of Uvita are two very different places. The island is located near the city of Limon and also has interesting snorkeling spots to offer. There are two sunken shipwrecks near the island, which can also be an interesting attraction. However, perhaps the most famous legend associated with this place is the alleged anchorage of Christopher Columbus’ ship…

Best time to go snorkeling in Costa Rica

The tourist season in Costa Rica is virtually 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.

It can be assumed 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 go snorkeling. For example, in the Guanacaste area, which is dry and hot, the water is unfortunately very cold. If you want to jump into the water in this area, you should think about a wetsuit. In Isla del Cano, on the other hand, the water temperature often exceeds 30° Celsius (90° Fahrenheit).

What is the best equipment for snorkeling?

As I mentioned earlier, snorkeling in Costa Rica does not require complicated equipment. All you need is a basic mask, snorkel and a set of fins. If you are booking an organized snorkeling tour, the rental of such equipment should always be included in the price. If you are unsure, it is a good idea to ask the tour operator what exactly is included in the price.

However, if you want to explore the beaches on your own, it is worth getting this minimal set of equipment. Manufacturers rush to surprise us with new products and solutions to facilitate recreation in the water, but you do not need a sophisticated and expensive equipment to enjoy snorkeling. I can not say which set will be best for you. However, I have a few tips that you should follow when choosing equipment.

How long do you need snorkel gear for?

Will this 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 that case, I would advise you to buy a simple kit that is cheap and that you can just give away to someone at the end of your vacation.

However, if you plan to take the equipment home and use it more often, I would suggest going for a better quality kit. Such equipment will be more expensive, but it will also be made of better materials and will serve you for a long time.

Are you planning to do a scuba diving course?

Or to put it another way, a full-face mask or a traditional mask? In recent years, many masks designed for 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 sports stores.

This is to make snorkeling easier and more comfortable. Previously, masks were used that only covered the eyes and nose and did not cover the mouth. The difference is that masks designed for snorkeling are not suitable for 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 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, during your scuba diving course, you will already have a tested and fitted mask. If you are not going to go this route, consider buying a comfortable full face mask.

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Snorkeling Mask

Is it better to buy or rent snorkeling gear?

The downside of snorkel gear is that you have to carry it with you. If you’re going on a trip and plan to snorkel only a few times, maybe it’s not worth bringing the whole kit with you? In that case it will be better to rent the necessary equipment on site. Also consider that the price of a snorkeling trip usually already includes the rental of the necessary equipment, so it may not be worth bringing your own kit.

Safety rules during snorkeling

You must remember that snorkeling is an aquatic activity and despite the beautiful scenery, it may involve some hazards if you do not take precautions. Read the following instructions carefully and remember that safety comes first. You wouldn’t want to end your vacation too soon because of a stupid incident that you could have prevented by following simple safety rules. Right?

  1. Do not go into the water alone – never go snorkeling alone. If you are alone then, ask at your hotel if anyone would like to snorkel as well. You can also choose places where there are other people. In this case, organized tours have an advantage because you are under the constant supervision of a guide.
  2. Choosing a right place for snorkeling – in Costa Rica, not all places are suitable for snorkeling. Before entering the water, make sure the area doesn’t have a swimming ban or signs warning of dangers – such as crocodiles!
  3. Entry and exit of the water – before entering the water, make sure you can return the same way, even if you are very tired. See if you can locate this exit point from the water. If it is not safe to enter the water, look for another entrance.
  4. Strong currents – ocean currents pose a great danger and can carry away a person who is snorkeling. Remember, no waves does not mean no currents below the surface of the water. A strong current can pull you into a place that is difficult to return from.
  5. High waves – 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.
  6. Muscle cramp – this is a common problem in people who have not swum or do not have long experience with fins. If you catch a muscle cramp 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.
  7. Dangerous animals – 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.
  8. Pressure injuries – in water, pressure increases by 1 atmosphere for every 10 meters of water. Diving requires you to equalize the pressure, otherwise various injuries can occur. You’ll learn how to do this properly in a scuba course. And remember, snorkeling is not freediving! Going underwater without training is a simple way to have an accident.

Is snorkeling in Costa Rica for everyone?

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 tube in your mouth is a subjective matter. You may feel strange at first because breathing through a piece of plastic in your mouth is not natural for humans. However, you will quickly get used to it and the opportunity to observe the wonderful underwater life will be a great reward for you.

As I mentioned earlier, snorkeling can be done at virtually any age and is just as much an activity for adults as it is for children. Of course, there are a few aspects to consider before you decide to go on a snorkeling trip. If the excursion will be in an offshore location, like our Isla del Cano, consider that a long stay on a boat may be uncomfortable for young children or the elderly.

If this is the case, you can try snorkeling from the beach, such as at Marino Ballena National Park. In general, people from the age of 5 are welcome on our trips. Of course, all minors must be accompanied by an adult. If you have any questions about this, please contact us.

Snorkeling in Costa Rica
Snorkeling in Costa Rica

Let’s recap – snorkeling in Costa Rica

It is said that snorkeling is the first step to scuba diving. This is partially true because you can see great things underwater while snorkeling, but some of them will be inaccessible to you. If you want to be able to look into more inaccessible places, you will have to opt for a scuba diving course.

On the other hand, snorkeling is fun 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 admire the wonderful 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!