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.
This guide is designed to help you decide which sites you want to visit and then all the information you need to make that happen. I want your stay here as stress-free and enjoyable as possible.
If you have any questions that I haven’t covered, just contact me and I will help you out.
Also Read: The Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica
Where should you dive in Costa Rica?
When it comes to scuba diving in Costa Rica, where to dive can be an overwhelming question. There are so many sites to choose from, and every one of them offers a fantastic experience.
There are three major areas to dive – Cocos Island, the Pacific and the Caribbean. There are plenty of sites, especially in the Caribbean, that are ideal for divers of all skill levels.
There are plenty of caves, shipwrecks, reefs and so much more that will appeal to all divers. Marine life is so plentiful, from large pelagics to the tiny macro species, that you will see something new every time you dive.
Be sure to bring your camera – and expect to be thrilled with the vacation of a lifetime!
Here are the top 19 recommendations for the best dive sites in Costa Rica.
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. For more information on Catalina Islands, click HERE.
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. For more information on Cocos Island, click 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. For more information on Bat Islands, click HERE.
Virador is a field of boulder set in somewhat of a circular fashion. It ranges in depth from 25-70ft (8-21m) and is so full of amazing things to see that you will probably have to dive a few times to see it all. Its nickname “Turning Point” is a reference to the pattern it lies in.
Many of the fish are fairly friendly, such as the Barberfish and King angelfish who seem to like to have their pictures taken! Others, like the camouflaged scorpion fish and moray eels, like to play hide and seek.
You can also expect to see such critters as the white-tipped reef shark, spotted eagle rays and Latin grunts, just to name a few. A site well worth the time to dive.
Monkey Head is very close to Virador, and most divers will hit both sites during the same trip. It gets its name from the amazing rock formation that looks just like a monkey’s head that you can see from the surface.
Under the water, you will be amazed with the rich bio-diversity that awaits you. Vibrant corals, amazing macro species and plentiful larger fish make this an ideal place to dive for people of all skill levels.
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.
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. For more information on Isla Uvita Islands, click HERE.
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.
You will be amazed by the beautiful coral, including staghorn and brain coral, as well as sponges and small critters that cover the area. Lobsters and clams make an appearance along with billfish, angelfish, parrotfish, triggerfish and so much more.
The ever-present reef sharks, eagle rays and other pelagics that call Costa Rica home can all be seen here as well. A great site to add to your list.
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.
You can also expect to see many of the larger guys here to entertain you. Critters such as humpback and pilot whales, orcas and dolphins are known to make their presence known. Definitely worth visiting this site.
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.
When not diving, you may want to try your hand at surfing, which the area is also very popular for.
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.
Expect to see a plethora of sea life, including puffers and even the tiny, elusive sea horse, along with the usuals like reef sharks and more. A great dive for everyone.
Pixie rock is another dive site in Manuel Antonio National Park that is ideal for less experienced divers, although divers of all skill levels will enjoy it. Currents can get strong at times, so be aware.
The site is relatively shallow, only ranging from 20-40ft which makes it light enough to get a great view of all the beautiful marine life it has to offer. Large schools of angel fish and more will mesmerize you.
Canyon reef is yet another amazing dive site in the park. It perhaps has the best coral of all the sites yet. There are some great canyons that can run down to 80ft deep that are home to fish like the puffer, rays, sharks and eels. The current is fairly mild here, and you could explore it for hours and not see it all.
Ola Quita is an island in the Manuel Antonio Park where there is magnificent diving all around the entire island. Octopus is a popular attraction here that you may not be able to see elsewhere.
Ranging from 30-90ft, this site is also a great place to see lobsters, butterfly fish and so much more. The current can get a bit rougher on the bottom, but is well worth spending a lot of time at.
Veinte Seis is a spectacular site is you enjoy diving around pinnacles. It is a much deeper dive and is considered to be for advanced divers only.
There are literally hundreds of fish that call this place home, including wahoos, jacks and snappers.
It is a fairly new dive site, and is located much further from shore, so is not crowded with other divers usually. Still in the Manuel Antonio National Park, it is an ideal site to spend the day at.
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.
Critters such as the red snapper, scorpion fish, lobsters and puffers will entertain you for hours. This area is considered suitable for divers of intermediate skill level and above.
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.
You can expect to see turtles and reef sharks resting on the sandy bottom as well as stingrays, eels, lobster and so much more.
When not underwater at any of the sites in the park, be sure to enjoy the natural beauty of the surrounding rain forest, beaches and everything else it has to offer. A perfect place for a vacation.
Sorpresa means “Surprise”, and is appropriately named because of what awaits you underwater. At first it will seem as if you are diving into the open ocean. However, after you drop down to 50ft or so a spectacular oval shaped rock formation comes into view. It drops away to a depth of around 100ft, and is surrounded by hundreds of fish that swim all around you in large schools.
The water here is colder, so a full wetsuit is advised. It is also the reason some more unique fish can be seen here. Jacks, spade fish, and grunts as well as many varieties of rays and sharks can be swimming so close you feel you could reach out and touch them. This is a very exciting place to dive!
Common Questions About Costa Rica
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.
There are dive operations available that will assist you with any courses you want to take.
Scuba diving in Costa Rica can be one of the most adrenalin-filled things you will ever do. Known for the large pelagics, you can easily find yourself swimming with hammerhead sharks at Cocos Island or bull sharks at the Bat Islands. You may even see some whales with their calves hanging out at Cocos Island.
There are plenty of other species that you will likely see here that will give you a great show. So many critters of all sizes, shapes and colors that you will be enthralled. Many will come right up and greet you, so have your camera ready! Here are just a few.
Sharks – Hammerhead, bull and whale sharks, tiger sharks, white tip reef shark and galapagos shark (some reaching over16 foot long!), can be found at Cocos Island.
Whales – Humpback whales, pilot whales and even orcas are known to grace the area.
Rays – Devil rays, spotted eagle rays, bullseye rays, bat rays, moble rays, and various other forms of stingrays. Pacific Giant Mantas are ones that are more unique to this area.
Others include marlin, sailfish, dolphin, octopus, red snapper, barracuda and Latin grunts. Red-lipped batfish. parrotfish, jackfish, triggerfish, trumpet fish, king angelfish and sergeant majors are common as are barberfish, moray eels, scorpion fish, spade fish, puffer fish, billfish, sea horses, lobsters and clams.
Not only are there amazing critters, you will spectacular corals and sponges, both hard and soft, such as brain or staghorn corals and so much more. You will never tire of seeing it all!
Costa Rica Travel Information
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. 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.
Also Read: The Minimalist Packing Guide
How to get to Costa Rica:
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.
If you are traveling on your own, the best way to get yourself and all your gear to a specific location is by taxi. The bus is also a reliable and inexpensive way to get around the country.
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!
Best times to visit:
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!
Costa Rica Geography
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
Best times to visit Costa Rica: Best time to travel to Costa Rica is from December to April where the climate is dry and there is more sunshine. Tourists who are fond of wildlife and beaches arrive during these months. You’ll just have to make reservations ahead of your travel date.
How to get to Costa Rica: There are direct flights from Europe to Costa Rica but the majority of the flights will make you pass the United States. It means you have to comply with the required papers for entry to the US even if you’re just transiting.
Visa requirements for Costa Rica: No visa is required for US citizens upon entry to Costa Rica but a valid passport and a return ticket is needed.
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.
- Precolumbian Chiefdom Settlements with Stone Spheres of the Diquís (2014)
Area de Conservación Guanacaste (1999, 2004)
Cocos Island National Park (1997, 2002)
Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves / La Amistad National Park (1983, 1990)
More Costa Rica travel and scuba diving resources:
- Scuba Destination Spotlight #5: Cocos Island, Costa Rica
- What to do in Monteverde, Costa Rica
- Guide to the Envision Festival in Costa Rica
- A Guide to the Best Travel Backpacks