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Snorkeling in Costa Rica is the perfect water activity for everyone. There are many great snorkeling spots located throughout the country on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Some of the marine life you might get to see includes nurse sharks, sea turtles, Humpback whales, dolphins, eels, eagle rays, and tons of other colorful fish.
We have called Costa Rica our home for several years and often find ourselves exploring all the different coastlines throughout the country. One of our favorite ways to explore is by snorkeling. We have our own snorkel masks which we always bring with us, but sometimes taking a boat trip with snorkeling included is the best way to explore.
This guide to the 10 best places to snorkel in Costa Rica includes spots on both coasts, our favorite snorkeling day tours from each location, and some beaches you can swim from to snorkel on your own.
1. Isla Tortuga
Isla Tortuga is an uninhabited island with amazing tropical vibes located off the coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. This island is home to beautiful white sand beaches dotted with palm trees and clear waters.
It is possible to take a full-day boat trip out to Isla Tortuga from the Nicoya Peninsula, Jaco, or San Jose. On your trip, you will have the chance to snorkel off of the boat in the waters near Isla Tortuga.
You might get a chance to see dramatic rock outcrops as well as tropical fish. Some fish you may be lucky enough to spot include; angelfish, needlefish, moray eels, and spotted eagle rays.
Isla Tortuga from Jaco Tour
We suggest a day tour with Turismo Marítimo del Pacífico.
This tour also includes a stop to at Rio Tarcoles to see crocodiles, a stop at the Puntarenas lighthouse, a stop at a wildlife reserve to see monkeys, and lunch while on Tortuga Island.
Isla Tortuga from Nicoya Peninsula
This tour departs from Paquera. You will need to drive to Paquera in order to participate.
The boat will take you out to a nice snorkeling spot at a group of islands called Morteros.
After snorkeling you will head to Isla Tortuga where you will have fresh fruit and drinks. You will have time to participate in some fun island activities before taking the boat back to Paquera.
Isla Tortuga from San Jose
As part of a day tour here from San Jose, you will be picked up from your San Jose area hotel in the morning by a van and transferred to Puntarenas. In Puntarenas, you will board a comfortable boat that will take you towards Isla Tortuga.
Near Isla Tortuga you will have 45 minutes to snorkel with provided equipment. After snorkeling you will continue to the island, where you will have five hours to enjoy the tropical vibes. You will also be served lunch.
At the end of the experience, you will enjoy a boat ride back to the mainland. You will then be transferred back to your hotel in San Jose.
This is a long day, but a fun day!
2. Caño Island
Caño Island is located off the southern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica in what is referred to as the Osa Peninsula. It is located near Corcovado National Park.
This island is often considered one of the very best snorkeling locations in the country due to its coral reefs, rock outcrops, and abundance of marine life.
In the waters around Caño Island, snorkelers can sometimes see octopuses, rays, turtles, sharks, and many tropical fish.
The best way to access the island is with a half-day tour from Drake Bay.
We suggest arranging your tour with Yemanyá Expeditions using the link below. This fun half-day adventure combines a boat trip, two snorkeling sessions, snacks, and lunch.
3. Isla Chora
Chora Island is located in the Pacific Ocean close to the mainland near Samara. This island is a great place to see puffer fish, rainbow fish, and sometimes even sea turtles.
We suggest visiting here on a kayak and snorkel tour from Samara. The waters are typically really calm around here and great for a nice paddle.
The tour includes transportation from your Samara area hotel, snacks, kayak usage, snorkeling equipment usage, and an experienced guide.
4. Catalina Islands
The Catalina Islands are a series of small island off the coast of the Guanacaste Province. This is often a popular scuba diving destination. However, it is also possible to visit here on a snorkeling adventure.
Some of the marine life you may see here includes turtles, seahorses, reef sharks, angelfish, balloon fish, and rays. You will also get to explore the various underwater rock formations.
During this trip you will board a boat out to the islands. You will then have the chance to snorkel from two different snorkel sites.
Transportation, boat ride, use of snorkel gear, and snacks are included.
5. Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park is our favorite national park in Costa Rica. This park is located on the Caribbean side of the country near the Panama border.
The hike here is relatively flat, easy, and filled with wildlife such as monkeys and sloths. The main trail runs parallel to the beach, so you can pop out on to the coast at any time.
However, the park is also home to a vast area of ocean including over 600-acres of reefs with over 30 kinds of coral. This reef is one of the largest living coral reefs. It is also filled with over 240 marine species including tropical fish, mollusks, reef sharks, and nurse sharks.
The water tends to be relatively calm here, making it a great place to take a snorkel tour.
Snorkel Tour from Puerto Viejo
This is a full-day tour from Puerto Viejo that goes to 2 snorkeling locations.
It also includes a 1.5 guided hike through the national park, breakfast, a visit to the sloth sanctuary, a canoe ride, and transportation.
I think it is the perfect way to combine a bunch of amazing things in one full day.
Snorkel Tour from Limón
If you are taking a cruise to Costa Rica on the Caribbean Coast, this tour is for you!
You will be picked up from the Limón cruise terminal for your shore day and driven south to Cahuita National Park.
On this private excursion, you will enjoy a walk through the Cahuita National Park trails with a guide.
Next, you will enjoy snorkeling before returning to the cruise terminal.
6. Marino Ballena National Park
This area is most well known for its beach which resembles a giant whale’s tail during low tide. However, the waters off of the coast are also protected and home to diverse marine life.
This area becomes a popular Humpback whale-watching destination from August to October.
If you are visiting during this time I highly suggest taking a combo whale-watching and snorkeling tour.
Keep in mind that visibility in the water for snorkeling is typically much better during the dry season (December to April), but you likely won’t see whales at that time of year.
7. Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country thanks to its easily accessible and wildlife-filled national park. This area is also great for snorkeling.
There are a few different options for snorkeling here.
Playa Biesanz is a small white sand beach located in Manuel Antonio on a cove. The water is almost always calm here and it is very easy to swim out with snorkel gear directly from the beach.
There are always locals renting snorkel masks, fins, kayaks etc. from the shore. I believe that we paid about $7 per person to use snorkel gear last time we were there.
From the main beach in Manuel Antonio, you may find locals who will offer you a private snorkeling tour for a budget-friendly rate.
Alternatively, you can arrange a catamaran trip from Manuel Antonio with snorkeling included. This is one of our favorite things to do in the area.
On this adventure, you will to a beach where you can enjoy snorkeling with the provided snorkel gear. You might see a variety of fish and sometimes even dolphins!
The All-Inclusive Catamaran Eco Adventure also includes a delicious lunch featuring fresh fruit, cocktails, Costa Rican coffee, and an array of fruit drinks to quench your thirst.
We think this tour is perfect for couples or families. Really, anyone will enjoy it.
8. Papagayo Peninsula
The gulf of Papagayo is a beautiful area of coastline with turquoise waters and sandy beaches.
It is possible to swim and snorkel here from the beaches (we like Playa Hermosa for the calm waters) but, you need to be careful because there are a lot of boats and jet skiis.
Our favorite way to snorkel here is with a catamaran tour. This is a great way of combining snorkeling with other fun activities.
Our favorite catamaran tours in the area are:
Marlin del Ray
This catamaran and sunset tour offers pick-up from Playas del Coco.
You will enjoy lunch, an open bar, sunset views, the use of snorkel gear and pool noodles, and a really great time!
Private Boat Trip
From Papagayo, you can also book a private boat trip.
We suggest doing this in the afternoon so you can enjoy some snorkeling and catch the sunset views on your way back to shore.
9. Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge
This national refuge is located at the most southern part of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast in Manzanillo. It is beautifully idyllic and usually not overly filled with tourists. The water is usually calm, so it is possible to snorkel directly from shore.
There are a few companies in the village that offer snorkel gear rentals if you need them.
From here you might see turtles, tropical fish, and dolphins. The refuge is also a sanctuary for the endangered West Indian manatee.
10. Bat Islands
Bat Islands, also referred to as Islas Murciélago, are located off the northern tip of Costa Rica near Santa Rosa National Park.
These islands are usually visited as a scuba diving trip, but it is also possible to go here for snorkeling. You might see turtles, mantas, and other marine life.
Safety While Snorkeling
Here are all of our tips for staying safe while snorkeling
There are rip currents in Costa Rica. You especially need to be cautious of this if swimming from shore.
I suggest asking at your hotel for safe swimming areas with calm waters before getting in the water. Also, keep an eye out for any signs on the beach indicating unsafe swim conditions.
Most of the underwater wildlife that you will come across while snorkeling in Costa Rica is harmless.
However, it is always best to use caution.
Don’t attempt to touch any fish and stay away from anything that looks a little sketchy to you.
If you are not comfortable with your swimming abilities, snorkeling is probably not the best activity for you.
However, if the rest of your travel partners are very eager to go snorkeling, you can always opt to stay on the boat while they are in the water.
Keep an eye out for other boats. This applies to when you are snorkeling from off of a boat and also if you are snorkeling from shore.
Typically, your boat captain will try to find an area where there are no other boats, but you can never be sure.
My biggest worry for you if snorkeling from shore is jet skis. They often go so fast and aren’t looking out for swimmers. If you see any jet skis around, make yourself visible and get away from them.
Getting in and Out of the Boat
Surprisingly, getting in and out of the boat while snorkeling can be really dangerous. Most boats will have a ladder that you can climb up and down.
We suggest using the ladder when possible.
It is easy to slip if the side of the boat is wet while jumping in. It can also take a lot of arm strength to try and get yourself back into a boat if there is no ladder.
Getting sunburned on the back of your arms and legs seems to always happen on snorkeling adventures. It’s so easy to feel cooled off from the water and not realize that your back is exposed to the sun.
We suggest wearing a long-sleeved UV-protecting water shirt while in the water to help combat this.
Also, bring some after-sun lotion on your trip to Costa Rica. I can almost guarantee that you’ll need it.
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Other Things to Know Before Snorkeling in Costa Rica
Buy Your Own Mask
If you would like to swim off of the beaches in Costa Rica you can always bring your own snorkel mask. I have a few suggestions for you that can easily fit in your suitcase.
Full Face Mask: I bought this for Thomas a few years ago. He really likes it for the viewing, but he says sometimes it is hard to breathe out of.
Regular Snorkel Mask: This mask is easy to pack in your luggage and is decent quality.
What to Wear and Bring
Additionally, you should wear SPF 50 sunscreen. For snorkeling it is best to use reef-safe sunscreen.
We also suggest wearing flip-flops that are easy to take on and off as you get from the boat to land.
To bring on a snorkel tour, we suggest this waterproof backpack. It has saved us so many times when on boats when big waves come.
I also suggest motion sickness pills (it can get choppy out there), tons of water to drink, a sun-blocking hat for when on the boat, and a plastic cell phone protector for keeping your phone from getting wet.
Best Time of Year
Snorkeling can be done year-round, but you will likely experience the clearest conditions during the dry season from January through April on the Pacific coast and from August to October on the Caribbean coast.
During the rainy season, the water can be more murky and water temperatures will be a bit cooler.
Other Fun Water Activities
If you’re not sure if snorkeling is the right activity for you, have no fear! Costa Rica is filled with opportunities for fun water activities.
We suggest surfing, fishing, kayaking, or just relaxing on one of the many beautiful beaches.
Conclusion: Snorkeling in Costa Rica
In conclusion, snorkeling is a great way to explore the waters around Costa Rica’s extensive coastlines. We suggest this activity to couples, solo travelers, families, or groups of friends. The list of the 10 best snorkeling spots in the country is perfect for all of you who would like to explore the marine life off both coasts.
If you have any questions about planning your snorkeling adventure don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you with your planning.
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🚗 Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?
Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will allow you to visit more off-the-beaten-path destinations and will allow you to take fun day trips on your own.
☀️ Should I buy travel insurance for Costa Rica?
Yes, travel insurance is always a good idea. It is not just for illness or injury, but also lost luggage, delayed trips, and more!
We like Heymondo for Costa Rica travel insurance.
✈️ What is the best way to book a flight?
Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner. Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).
🛏️ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?
🗣️What is the main language in Costa Rica?
The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.
💰 What is the currency in Costa Rica?
The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas
🌴 Is Costa Rica safe?
Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.
🛂 Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?
Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.