Justin Carmack – Updated January 2020
Costa Rica is native for “Rich Coast”, which is such a great name for the country since it is surrounded on three sides by ocean, the Caribbean, Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
With so much water there is bound to be an endless number of sites that are wonderful destinations when wanting to scuba dive Costa Rica. Then you add in other terrific options such as Cocos Island, Catalina Islands and the Bat Islands, it can get overwhelming trying to plan out your vacation.
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COSTA RICA SCUBA DIVING
Catalina Islands is one of the favorite sites for anyone scuba diving in Costa Rica. If you love caves, arches and spectacular coral, this is where you will want to head. It is also home to the Pacific Giant Mantas.
Cocos Island is considered by most seasoned divers to be among the top ten places in the world to dive. As a World Heritage site, it is also one of the most beautiful places on earth. Being able to dive with Hammerhead sharks is just one of the most popular things to do here.
The Bat Islands are a famous place to dive with Bull sharks instead of the Hammerheads. Located off the coast of Santa Rosa National Park it has been made into a marine preserve so is a perfect place to see all sorts of marine life.
Isla Uvita is located off the coast of Limon on the Atlantic side of the country. There are two awesome shipwrecks to explore here where there is a plethora of marine life.
Cahuita Reef is an incredible and magical place to dive. The colorful and spectacular reef fans out from Cahuita Point off the coast of Limon, not far from the shipwrecks of Isla Uvita
Caño Island is a magnificent island that is surrounded by underwater pinnacles and amazing coral reefs. The colorful coral and boundless numbers of reef fish are second to none. Of course, the ever-present sharks, rays and eels can be seen as well as many other unique fish.
Herradura is one of the newest places to scuba dive in Costa Rica, and has much to offer divers of all skill levels. One of the most popular underwater attractions is the Giant Oceanic Manta Rays that grace the area each year between December and May.
Tortuga Islands are one of the best places to scuba dive in Costa Rica for shipwrecks. There are three of those sunken treasures here – the Franklin Chang Diaz, the Colonel Alfonso Monge and the Caroline Star.
Puntarenas is a gateway to some of the best dive sites in the country, including Cocos Island Nicoya Peninsula, Manuel Antonio and Caño Island. Not a bad base.
Puerto Viejo is one of the best places to scuba dive in Costa Rica that sits in the Atlantic ocean. There is a magnificent coral reef that stretches from here to the Panamanian coast where there is amazing soft corals and myriads of reef fish.
Manuel Antonio is home to the countries smallest national park, but also has some awesome dive sites that you can’t miss in the Pacific.
Caves in Light House Rock
Light House Rock is an ideal place for anyone that loves cave diving. Located in the Manuel Antonio National Park, it has amazing volcanic formations underwater that have created great caverns and caves. The waters are calm enough for novice divers, which is sometimes hard to find in this park.
Caves and formations of Catalina Islands
Besides reef sharks and other critters, you’ll enjoy some swim throughs and nice formations, mostly covered in colorful coral growth.
Hammerheads of Cocos Island
Did you know that the last 2 Jurassic Parks were filmed here? Well did you also know that huge schools of hammerheads can be seen here, and is one of the reasons Cocos Island has made our top 100 sites.
Countless critters of El Aquario
El Aquario is the last dive site we will mention that lies in the beautiful Manuel Antonio National Park, or Quepos as it is known locally. This site is shallower than others in the area, ranging from 18-45ft. There are terrific rock formations with a sandbar that runs between them.
Pelagic of Cano Island
The pinnacles surrounding this island attract a number of larger marine species, including Manta Rays, Dolphins, Orcas, Humpbacks and Pilot Whales.
Formations of Isla Largo
Isla Largo is another island in the Manuel Antonio park that has great sites to dive all around it. Underwater you will find many caverns and other rock formations that are home to abundant marine life.
COSTA RICA TRAVEL INFO
Located in Central America, this tiny country is one of the biggest when it comes to spectacular beaches and opportunities for great scuba diving.
The rainforests and jungles are teeming with amazing wildlife and vegetation. In the interior of the country there are lots of cool hikes in cloud forest, jungles and of course the famous Arenal Volcano.
The exotic white sandy beaches are so inviting and fun that you will not want to leave. All of the cities and villages are so vibrant with color and full of friendly native people that make you feel welcome. It truly is the perfect place for a vacation.
The Pacific Ocean lies on the western side of the country while the Caribbean Sea is on the eastern side and the Atlantic Ocean also touches a portion of the country. This makes for a wide variety of diving opportunities.
Many islands surround the country as well, each with their own unique qualities. Underwater you can expect a diverse range of landscapes, such as pinnacles, seamounts, volcanic formations, caves and canyons.
The southern portion of the country is a protected reserve, which makes it a magnificent place to visit, whether you are diving or not. The reefs
here are some of the most beautiful ones around and are teeming with amazing marine life.
Some regions around the country are still unmapped for diving, or are newly discovered sites. Diving these sites can be exciting as you never know what new things you might run into. If you want a list of more great attractions, check out our Guide of 101 Best Things to do in Costa Rica.
HOW TO GET TO THERE
While there are a few other possibilities, you will most likely fly into Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) in San José.
Or you could fly into the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) if your final destination is the northwest portions of the country such as Guanacaste or the Nicoya Peninsula.
If you have arranged for a guide, or a liveaboard, they will very likely pick you up from either of these two airports.
VISA INFO FOR AMERICANS
The only requirement for traveling to Costa Rica is a passport that is valid for the entire length of your stay. If you plan to stay more than 90 days however, you will need to apply for an extension at the Office of Temporary Permits.
Many airlines require you to have a round-trip ticket, proving how long you will be there. They will probably add on a $29USD fee, so be sure to ask ahead of time. You do not want to get caught by surprise!
Still undecided about where to visit? Let me help a little more. Here are some suggestions based on questions I’ve gotten from readers:
What sites are best for shipwrecks?
Isla Uvita is in the Limon region and is well known for wrecks. There are two wrecks that are most popular here, with The Phoenix being the main one.
Another great place for shipwrecks is the Tortuga Islands. There are three main wrecks here – the Franklin Chang Diaz, the Colonel Alfonso Monge and the Caroline Star.
Other shipwrecks are around the country, these are just the most popular. Ask you guide if you want to see more of them.
What sites are best for cave diving?
Some great caves can be found around the Catalina Islands.
Volcanic rock formations have created some spectacular caves that are teeming with amazing marine life.
Another area for caves would be Isla Largo. It is located in the Manuel Antonio National Park, which is one of the most beautiful areas, both in and out of the water.
Another suggestion would be Herradura. It too has awesome volcanic rock formations, including caves, arches and so much more.
What are the best sites to combine?
As you plan your trip, you will want to spend the least amount of time traveling between sites and the most time possible diving.
With that said, you will want to stay in a few of the areas for more than one day.
The Catalina Islands is one such area. There are many places all around the islands that you will want to hit.
Cocos Islands is another area that just one day is not enough. It should be given a few days for thorough exploration as well.
The Limon region off the Atlantic coast is another area that you could spend a few days, as is the Manuel Antonio National Park region.
Even if you spent your entire vacation in just one of these regions, you will not get bored or see the same things each day.
Liveaboards are an ideal way to be able to get in as many dives and dive sites as possible and reducing the amount of time traveling between sites.
Is scuba diving Costa Rica safe?
Diving off of the Caribbean coast you will find the most vibrant reefs, and many places here are ideal for the novice divers, although divers of all skill levels enjoy these sites.
More commonly the dive sites are more suitable for the intermediate and advanced divers. The currents can be pretty strong in places, and are known to change suddenly.
Some sites are just for advanced divers, so be sure to check before making final plans.
With the many pinnacles, seamounts, caves and canyons, you will want to be sure to have the proper equipment and certifications to ensure the most stress-free and enjoyable dives as possible.
BEST TIME FOR DIVING
Scuba diving Costa Rica can be done all year round. Depending on what you are looking for in diving, some times during the year can be better than others, but they all have their advantages.
December to April is the dry season, and up to March, is the coolest part of the year. The cooler water temperatures is ideal for spotting some of the big guys such as humpback whales, pilot whales, giant manta rays, whale sharks, and more. Of course, this is the best time to get in a little sunbathing as well.
May to November is the rainy season when you can expect a couple of hours of rain each day. The turbulent weather is great for causing nutrient swells which is when the bull sharks are attracted to the Bat Islands and hammerheads to Cocos Islands.
If you are looking for a great adrenalin rush, this is the time to go.
June to September brings about perhaps the best visibility, which can get to around 100ft.
August to December is considered by many to be the best time to visit the Caribbean because the wind is more mild and the sea is at its calmest.
Generally, the air temperature ranges from 27°C/82°F in winter and 33°C/92°F in summer, so is never what most would consider cold. No matter what time of year you choose, you will have an awesome time!
WHERE TO STAY
As for finding accommodations, it really depends on the specific location. Some locations like Manuel Antonio have unlimited options, while others there are much fewer.
For each individual location you can click the guides above for information on where to stay at each place, but if you need to find a hotel at the best rate in San Jose or somewhere not listed above, CLICK HERE
FUN FACTS & GEOGRPHY
Costa Rica is a rainforest country in Central America with coastlines On the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The total area is 51,100 km² and a population of 4,857,274, it’s the same size with Slovakia and a bit smaller than West Virginia of the United States. Costa Rica is full of wildlife, rugged mountains, and spectacular shorelines.
Capital city of Costa Rica: San José
Currency of Costa Rica: The currency of Costa Rica is Costa Rican Colón.
Official Language of Costa Rica: The official language is Spanish.
UNESCO World Heritage sites in Costa Rica:
There are 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Costa Rica and 1 on their tentative list.
See the full list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in Costa Rica HERE,