With lengthy coastlines on both the Pacific and Caribbean coast, snorkeling in Costa Rica is the perfect activity. It is possible to experience coral reefs, dolphins, tropical schools of fish, whales, sea turtles, reef sharks, rays, octopus, and more!
I always recommend snorkeling for families because it is something that people of every age can do and will love.
In fact, to further prove that point, the last time Thomas and I went on a snorkel tour in Costa Rica there was a couple with their 18 month old baby. They put floaties on and held her in the water. She loved it!
Northern Pacific Coast Snorkeling
The Northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica is home to stunning white sand beaches that are perfect for a wide variety of water activities. This area is easily accessible from Liberia International Airport.
The Papagayo Peninsula is located just south of the airport. This area is populated by several high class all inclusive resorts. Most resorts offer snorkel tours as a tour option. Coral is not prevalent but there are rock reefs which are home to several types of small fish and star fish.
Playa Hermosa is located between Playas del Coco and Liberia International Airport. The wate is typically calm enough to swim from shore with your snorkel gear. However, you likely won’t see much. You will have much better luck with a boat tour.
It is possible to book a tour from this area, but another option is to just walk the beach. It is very common for locals with a boat to stand on the beach and offer tours to passing tourists.
A visit to Isla Tortuga is typically a full day affair with the boat departing around 9am and returning around 4pm.
When we did this tour we visited two snorkeling locations before spending a few hours on Isla Tortuga with lunch.
We have a full guide to visiting Isla Tortuga for more info.
Islas Santa Catalinas
The Catalinas are located off of Playa Flamingo. Tours typically depart from Tamarindo and Playa Flamingo. The islands attract a variety of underwater species including whales, octopus, dolphins, turtles, reef sharks, and several species of rays.
Isla Choro is located off the coast of Samara. I’m a big fan of this snorkeling location because most tours are done by kayak or stand up paddle board. Fun!
Also, it is sometimes possible to see dolphins and humpack whales here. More fun!
Central & Southern Pacific Coast Snorkeling
The Central and Southern Pacific coast is known for its expansive beaches and jungle backdrops. This area is easily accessible from San Jose International Airport.
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 snorkelling.
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.
It is also possible to book a variety of nice snorkel tours from private companies. You can find sunset tours, catamaran tours, fishing/ snorkel combo tours, and more!
Caño Island Biological Reserve
Cano Island Reserve is located off of the Osa Peninsula near Drake Bay. This area is popular with nature lovers due to its proximity to Corcovado National Park. The waters are generally extremely calm here. It is possible to see bright colored coral and teams of fish.
Marino Ballena National Park
Marino Ballena National Park is the name for the protected beach and waterways off the coast of Uvita. This area becomes a popular 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 is typically much better during the dry season (December to April).
If you are interested in the whale watching combo tour we have a full guide here.
Caribbean Coast Snorkeling
The Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica has an afro-Caribbean feel to. There is a mix of black and white sand beaches in this area.
Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park is our favorite national park in Costa Rica. A great way to get the full experience is by doing a combo tour. These tours usually consist of a walk through the park with a guide who will point out all wildlife and interesting plants.
You will then meet up with another guide who will take you out on a boat to snorkel.
Here you can see coral reefs, fish, and sometimes reef sharks. The water tends to be relatively calm here.
Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge
This national refuge is located at the most southern part of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. 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 tours as well, if you prefer.
From here you might see turtles, tropical fish and dolphins. The refuge is also a sanctuary for the endangered West Indian manatee.
Book a Snorkeling Tour
Typically it is not necessary to book a tour way in an advance, however if you are traveling during the dry season it is a good idea. Things book up fast.
Keep in mind that there are a wide variety of types of snorkel tours offered in Costa Rica.
Some snorkeling tours are done as combo tours. This means that usually you might do some snorkeling combined with another activity like exploring an island or kayaking.
It is also possible to find sunset tours in which your trip will be a combination of snorkeling and viewing the sunset usually while enjoying drinks and snacks.
There are also a wide variety of boat options to choose from. We have seen snorkeling tours on basic boats, luxurious catamarans, and large sail boats.
The options are endless!
Snorkeling Tours from Locals
In some of the locations above I mentioned that you may find locals on the beaches with boats who offer snorkeling tours.
This is a great way to save some money on your excursion.
Keep in mind that they will be somewhat willing to haggle, so don’t hesitate to let them know if the price is a bit too high.
By going with a local the price will be much lower, but don’t expect the amenities you would likely have with an organized tour company.
For example, with many organized tours your guide might provide details on the surrounding area and you might get a snack of fresh fruits and drinks.
With a local guide you will likely only be given the necessary snorkel gear to use.
Besides saving money, the other peerk of going with a local guide is that your group will likely be the only people on the boat This gives you much more flexibility in deciding what exactly you would like to do with your time on the boat.
Our Snorkeling Tips
- Snorkeling is typically much better from a boat rather than from shore. Sometimes waves in Costa Rica can be a bit too big depending on where you are to actually swim out to decent snorkeling spots. However, if you would like to do your own snorkeling, just pack your own snorkel mask with you and you can enjoy a little swimming anywhere.
- We highly recommend wearing a fast-drying shirt when snorkeling. The sun in Costa Rica is strong! Often tourists seem to think that because they are in the water they won’t get burned. Keep in mind that you will be swimming on the top of the water and your back, shoulder, and legs will frequently be exposed.
- If you are interested in taking underwater pictures or videos, the GoPro is great for that. It works well on its own, but for even better coloring we suggest buying a red light filter.
- 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.
- If snorkeling is a bit tame for you, Costa Rica is also a popular scuba diving destination. There are several tours that offer diving and snorkeling opportunities depending on each person’s skill level.
Let us know if you have any questions about snorkeling in Costa Rica in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out as best as we can!
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