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The Ultimate Guide For Scuba Diving In Costa Rica

Picture yourself gliding through an underwater paradise, surrounded by vibrant coral reefs, graceful manta rays, and majestic whale sharks. This dream can become a reality with scuba diving in Costa Rica, a country renowned for its diverse marine life and unparalleled scuba diving experiences…oh and you can choose to dive in either the Pacific Ocean or Caribbean Sea!

Aerial view of the Costa Rica coast line.
Welcome to Costa Rica, with 800 miles of coast line.

Let’s embark on a journey through the depths of this tropical haven, uncovering its hidden treasures and learning how to make the most of your underwater adventure.

Getting There And Accommodations

Costa Rica is home to two international airports. San Jose International Airport (SJO), also known as Juan Santamaria International Airport, is located about 11 miles from San Jose, which is basically in the middle of the country. Liberia International Airport (LIR), also known as Daniel Oduber International Airport, is located about 6 miles from the city of Liberia, which is Northwest of San Jose.

Liberia International Airport in Costa Rica.
LIR may be your better choice if staying in the Northwest part of the Country.

Depending on where you are traveling to for your diving, you may have to catch a connecting flight to the East or West coast.

There are many places to choose from once in country and many are also diving friendly. If staying on the Pacific coast you can check out La Puerta Del Sol, Aguila De Osa Marine & Adventure Lodge and Margaritaville Beach Resort. If staying on the Caribbean coast, some options are Manzanillo Caribbean Resort, Almonds and Corals Jungle Resort and Big Tree Wildlife Refuge.

Almonds and Coral Jungle Resort in Costa Rica.
At Almonds and Coral Jungle Resort you can stay within a National Reserve among the howler monkeys and sloths. ( Photo courtesy of

If Liveaboards are your thing, you have several to choose from including the Cocos Island Aggressor and Sea Hunter, which has a DeepSee submersible that can take passengers down to 1,500ft!!

Sea Hunter scuba diving boat in the waters of Costa Rica.
For a different kind of Liveaboard try the Sea Hunter with its DeepSee submersible.

Costa Rica Scuba Diving

While divers have a choice between the West coast, Pacific Ocean, and the East coast, Caribbean Sea, most of the diving and hot spots are, surprisingly, on the Pacific Ocean side. But that does not mean the Caribbean side does not have some fine diving too.

Map of Costa Rica's scuba diving sites.
While the West coast is the main attractions for scuba diving, there are a couple nice spots on the East coast. (Photo courtesy of

When planning your scuba diving adventure in Costa Rica, considering the optimal diving window is key. The country offers two distinct diving seasons: the rainy season, which runs from May to November, and the dry season, from December to April.

During the rainy season, experienced divers can witness massive schools of eagle rays, mobula rays, and manta rays feasting on plankton blooms, while also encountering bull sharks and other pelagics, including hammerhead sharks at Cocos Island.

Eagle ray swimming in Costa Rica.
Schools of eagle rays can be seen during Costa Rica’s rainy season.

For inexperienced divers, the best time to visit Costa Rica is between August and December. These months offer less rain and calmer conditions.

Costa Rica Scuba Diving Operations

On the West coast, many of the dive operators, like Rich Coast Diving and Rocket Frog Divers, work closely with a multitude of resorts. There is also Ocean’s Unlimited, Summer Salt Dive Center and Costa Rica Adventure Divers that are worth checking out. On the East coast, the main game in town is Punta Uva Dive Center.

Diving Sites Of Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s biodiversity and warm water temperatures have created a haven for scuba diving enthusiasts. Dive sites teem with marine life, including manta rays, reef sharks, whale sharks and the famed Cocos Island’s hammerhead sharks.

School of hammerhead sharks swimming in Costa Rica.
Witness the schooling of hundreds of hammerhead sharks off of Cocos Island.

As mentioned above, the majority of the diving in Costa Rica is off the West coast in the Pacific Ocean. However, the East coast Caribbean side offers some unique dive sites as well.

Caribbean Coast

Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast is a hidden gem for scuba divers, boasting pristine coral reefs and a diverse array of marine life. While the Eastern coast may be less developed than its Pacific counterpart, it offers unique diving experiences in locations such as Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge and Cahuita National Park. The protected underwater ecosystems found along the Caribbean coast make for unforgettable scuba diving adventures.

Cahuita national park in Costa Rica.
Cahuita National Park is stunning above and below the waves. (Photo courtesy of

Since the East coast is less developed, you’ll find some fantastic, less visited spots for underwater exploration. Marine life found in these waters includes healthy coral reefs that are home to a wide variety of tropical fish, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles, saltwater crocodiles and the elusive manatee.

Manatee underwater in Costa Rica.
On the Caribbean side of Costa Rica you might catch a glimpse of these gentle giants.
Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

This is the top of the charts for diving and snorkeling on Costa Rica’s East coast. With about two square miles of protected waters, water enthusiasts will find over 30 different species of coral and over 100 species of fish.

A boat in the reefs of Gandoca Manzanillo.
Divers and snorkelers will enjoy the protected reefs of Gandoca Manzanillo. (Photo courtesy of

In addition to the vibrant reef fish, you may also see dolphins, manatees and green, hawksbill, leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles that come here to lay their eggs within the refugee’s beaches.

Cahuita National Park

A close second for Costa Rica’s diving on the Caribbean is Cahuita National Park, which is just North of the Gandoca manzanillo wildlife refuge.

Aerial view of Cahuita beach in Costa Rica.
Cahuita National Park has over three miles of coast. (Photo courtesy of Caribe Fun Tours)

Just like Gandoca manzanillo, Cahuita is a diving and snorkeling paradise with beautifully preserved reefs and reef fish. There are also two unidentified wrecks to snorkel on that go by the names “Brick” wreck and “Cannon” wreck. These wrecks have historical significance as they may be Danish slave ships. While the wrecks are severely decomposed, it is still possible to see cannons that were on the, you guessed it, “Cannon” wreck.

Among the aquatic life to be found in Cahuita includes queen angelfish, barracudas, spiny lobsters, turtles, eels and the curious looking sea cucumbers.

Isla Uvita

This historical tiny island is about a 10 minute boat ride from the coast. what makes it historical is that this is where Columbus landed as a part of his fourth voyage in 1502.

A mural of Christopher Columbus in Costa Rica.
Columbus landed on Uvita in 1502 as a part of his fourth voyage. (photo courtesy of

Many great spots surround the island for both snorkeling and diving and there are many coral formations and caverns to explore. However, for us history buffs its the historical context that will make this a must stop.

An aerial view of the Uvita.
Big things come in small packages, like the diving off of Uvita. (photo courtesy of

Pacific Coast

Now to the main event, the West coast. The Pacific coastline is particularly popular for scuba diving, as the rainy season brings massive schools of various rays feasting on plankton blooms. Humpback whales can also be spotted migrating through Costa Rican waters from January to March and again in June and July. This rich variety of marine life is one of the many reasons why Costa Rica has become a hotspot for scuba divers.

A humpback whale in the waters of Costa Rica.
Depending on the time of year, you may be lucky enough to see a humpback whale.

While there are numerous islands off of the West coast, Cocos Island, Catalina Islands, Bat Islands and Isla del Canoare are among the most well-known. These treasures of the Pacific coast attract divers from around the world, eager to witness the rich marine life and unique underwater landscapes found in these locations.

Cocos Island

Located 300 miles off the coast of Costa Rica (think liveaboard for this trip), the uninhabited Cocos Island is a scuba diving paradise. This remote, protected island has been named a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site and is renowned for being one of the world’s top spots for diving with hammerhead sharks.

Hammerhead shark swimming in costa rica.
Cocos Island makes up part of “The Hammerhead Triangle.”

While the island might lack colorful coral, it more than makes up for it with its abundant shark populations and other pelagic species. In addition to the sharks and rays, divers may see dolphins, sea turtles and killer whales.

Due to its challenging diving conditions and the presence of strong currents, Cocos Island is best suited for advanced divers. Visibility generally ranges between 30ft to 65ft and water temps range from low 80s in the Summer months to low 70s in the Winter. As you will be doing deeper dives, hitting a thermocline is normal and water temps can get down into the 60s.

Aerial view of Cocos Islands.
The waters surrounding Cocos can be challenging, but very rewarding for divers looking for large marine life. (Photo courtesy of
Catalina Islands

The Catalina Islands, a chain of volcanic rock formations just about eight miles from the shore, offer a different kind of diving experience.

Coastal view of the Catalina islands.
The Catalina Islands may not be much to look at…until you get underwater. (Photo courtesy of Rocket Frog Divers)

These islands are renowned for their impressive topography and diverse marine life that includes large schools of tropical fish, sharks, sea turtles, moray eels and rays such as the large Pacific manta ray.

Water temps ranges from about 73 to 82 and visibility from about 25ft to 65ft. Half-day diving and snorkeling tours are available that cater to both beginner and advanced divers alike.

Bat Islands

Bat Islands are located in the Northwest of Costa Rica, within the Santa Rosa National Park, and offer a top diving spot for experienced divers seeking an adrenaline-pumping adventure. The islands are a marine protected area and are often considered a top dive site of Costa Rica.

Aerial view of the bat islands.
Bat Islands are a must for any dive trip to Costa Rica. (Photo courtesy of Scuba Dive Costa Rica)

Bat Islands are home to a diverse range of marine life, including large pacific manta rays, the smaller devil rays and sea turtles. While dolphins, whale sharks and humpback whales have been spotted here, the main attraction is the bull sharks.

The main dive site that is home to the bull sharks is called “The Big Scare!” This location can reach depths of about 100ft deep and visibility is usually between 30ft to 100ft. Water temps can range from about the mid 70s to the mid 80s, but there is a thermocline, so plan accordingly.

Bull sharks swimming in the waters of costa rica.
Bull sharks can be found at “The Big Scare!”

Visiting the Bat Islands during the dry season, between May and November, provides the best opportunity to encounter bull sharks and other pelagic life. With the depths and potential currents, Bat Islands is more for divers with at least an advanced certification. If you’re up for the challenge, the Bat Islands offer a thrilling diving experience unlike any other in Costa Rica!

Isla del Cano

Heading on down Southwest is Isla del Cano, a top diving destination in Costa Rica that offers an affordable and accessible option for those looking to explore the underwater world. Known for its impressive marine life, Isla del Cano is sometimes referred to as the “Miniature Cocos Island,” making it an attractive alternative to visiting the more remote Cocos Island.

Aerial view of Isla del Cano island in Costa Rica.
The beautifully preserved Isla del Cano makes for wonderful diving. (Photo courtesy of Vacation Villas)

Since Isla del Cano is a biological reserve, the number of divers is regulated. However, Among the over 14,000 acres of protected sea, there are five coral platforms that range in size between almost an acre to over 10 acres!

Home to diverse fish species, manta rays, sharks, and moray eels, Isla del Cano offers a thrilling underwater experience for divers of all skill levels. Between dives, you can relax on the beach or take a quick hike to a scenic viewpoint, further enhancing the magic of this island paradise.

A white Tip reef shark swimming in the waters of Costa Rica.
White tip reef sharks can be seen at Isla del Cano.

With its affordability, proximity, and diverse marine life, Isla del Cano has become a must-visit destination for scuba diving enthusiasts.

Other Activities

Without a doubt nature lovers will find plenty to do in Costa Rica and scuba divers don’t have a monopoly on the beautiful scenery of this country. There are numerous national parks and preserves to visit that will absolutely take your breath away.

A view of the Rio Celeste Waterfall in Tenorio Volcano National Park
Costa Rica offers many natural wonders, like the Rio Celeste Waterfall in Tenorio Volcano National Park. (Photo courtesy of

Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

while this refuge has some great scuba diving and snorkeling, there is also plenty to do on the land as well. Located about four hours from San Jose, the refuge is over 12 thousand acres and is made up of several different ecosystems. It protects nearly 70% of the South Caribbean coast!

An aerial view of the Gandoca Manzanillo beach.
Landlubbers will find incredible biodiversity at Gandoca Manzanillo. (Photo courtesy of

There are over 350 different species of birds, including toucans, among the various other type of animals to be found here. Favorite animals of visitors are the sloths, tapirs and howler monkeys.

A toucan in Costa Rica.
The colorful toucan is a favorite of visitors of Gandoca Manzanillo.

Hikers will love the trails and beachgoers will be in awe of the white sand beaches with crystal clear waters. If you’d like to see some of the marine life without getting wet, kayaking is available. Truly a remarkable place on plant earth!

Cahuita National Park

Cahuita is located North of Gandoca Manzanillo and just like Gandoca Manzanillo is fantastic for hiking and beach going.

The Cahuita hiking trail in Costa Rica.
Along the hikes you may feel like you stepped out of an Indiana Jones movie.

With almost three thousand acres, you won’t run out of land to explore to look for howler monkeys, pit vipers, sloths and Basilisk “Jesus Christ” lizards. Guided tours are available and recommended to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Arenal Volcano National Park

This 26,000 acre park is within the larger Arenal Conservation Area, which encompasses over 500,000 acres. And not one, but two volcanos can be found within the park!

A view of the Arenal volcano in Costa Rica.
The Arenal volcano is a most impressive sight to behold. (Photo courtesy of

The Chato volcano has been inactive for almost 3,500 years and has collapsed into a crater with a picturesque lagoon.

An aerial view of the Chato Volcano in Costa Rica.
Another stunning view awaits at Chato. (Photo courtesy of

The active, yes you read that right, Arenal is an amazing sight to see. Since 1968 Arenal has seen activity. While that activity has decreased since 2010, You can still hike along its cooled lava flows and witness billowing smoke coming from the volcano during the day. The activity is monitored closely by park rangers for any safety concerns as Arenal appears to be resting before its next big show.

Coffee and Chocolate Farm Tours

Step up and get your caffeine here! Both coffee and chocolate are staple exports of Costa Rica. There are many tours to choose from to see where and how these fine exports are harvested and processed into the treats we enjoy at home. So pick your pleasure, coffee or chocolate,or perhaps both, and enjoy a cultural experience.

An image of the coffee and chocolate plants in Costa Rica.
The coffee and chocolate farm tours are cool cultural experiences.

Wrapping Things Up

From the awe-inspiring hammerhead sharks of Cocos Island to the vibrant coral reefs of the Caribbean coast, Costa Rica offers a scuba diving experience unlike any other. Whether you’re a beginner looking for calm waters and colorful marine life or an experienced diver seeking the thrill of swimming with bull sharks, Costa Rica has something for everyone. With its diverse underwater landscapes, rich marine life, and commitment to conservation, Costa Rica is truly a scuba diver’s paradise just waiting to be explored.

An image of the Costa Rica sunset.
One beautiful day will lead to the next in this beautiful country.

“How boring would the world be if everywhere and everyone were the same. Safe travels and good adventures.” Scuba Jay

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