Costa Rica, a gateway to the Caribbean and Pacific underwater worlds

It is near the seaside resorts of the Pacific coast of Costa Rica that some of the most accessible snorkeling in the country is found. The area of ​​Playas del Coco and Playa Hermosa is home to many spots nestled on the rocky coast.

If you’ll find decent snorkeling directly from Playas del Coco and Playa Hermosa beaches, some other spots in the area are more recommended. For the best experience, head to Playa Ocotal, Bahia Pez Vela Beach Resort, Playa Bonita or the small creeks nestled in Punta Cacique.

This small peninsula separating Playas del Coco and Playa Hermosa bays offer one of the best snorkeling on the Pacific coast, especially in Calzon de Pobre and Playa Penca.

Jewel moray eel in Playa Penca
A jewel moray eel encountered by Brian in Playa Penca, Guanacaste.

A few minutes by boat from the coast, the Islas Pelonas, surrounded by coral reefs, is frequently visited by hawksbill turtles and Pacific seahorses. You can reach the islands with a few hours of snorkeling tours from the beaches. A little further north, you can also snorkel on the Papagayo peninsula, for example around Nacascolo and Punta Huevos.

If you like snorkeling off the beaten track, Playa Bassey, north of Santa Rosa National Park, is a good option.

Snorkeling along the Guanacaste coast, Costa Rica
Wild and rocky, Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is full of small beaches suitable for snorkeling.

Around Playa Flamingo, two locations are particularly famous to snorkelers: Playa Conchal (opposite the Westin Reserva Conchal) and Playa Danta (at the foot of the small Las Catalinas resort).

Much further south of the country, you can snorkel in Manuel Antonio National Park, renowned as one of the most beautiful in Central America and the world. In the small bay of the park, bordered by a jungle where sloths, coatis, and raccoons live, you can explore shallow rocky beds with many fish.

Cortez angelfish at Playa Bassey
The Cortez angelfish is a common sight along Costa Rica’s rocky coast (here, an adult photographed at Playa Bassey).

The Pacific coast of Costa Rica offers mineral underwater scapes and a few hard coral reefs. The marine life here is typical of the ecosystems of the East Pacific, and we find much the same species as in the Sea of Cortez and the Galápagos Islands.

You can see colorful fish (including butterflyfish and angelfish), several species of pufferfish and porcupinefish, sea stars, and moray eels. To snorkel on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, however, you will have to deal with sometimes rough seas (this coast is famous for surfing), the tides, and above all variable underwater visibility, which sometimes is very poor.

Snorkeling at Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio is a gorgeous spot, where many fish (as this school of yellowfin surgeonfish) can easily be spotted

On the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, there are very few snorkeling locations, all located on a short twenty kilometers-long shore. The main snorkeling sites in the region are the Cahuita coral reef (located in Cahuita National Park, it can only be accessed by boat with a guide), Puerto Viejo rock pools, Punta Uva reef, and Playa Manzanillo.

Here too, underwater visibility and rough seas are often a problem. The east coast of Costa Rica has typical Caribbean reefs, where about 120 species of fish and 40 species of crustaceans can be seen at snorkeling depth. Stingrays and nurse sharks are also frequently encountered at the reef (especially in Cahuita).

Leather bass in Playa Danta
Juvenile leather bass is one of Eastern Pacific’s most beautiful fish (photographed in Playa Danta).

Isla del Coco, located about 550 kilometers from the mainland) is undoubtedly a must for snorkeling in Costa Rica. Protected by a National Park and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, this small island renowned for its shark populations is a marine biodiversity sanctuary. It can only be visited (and snorkeled) during multi-day cruises.

The tropical climate and extensive rainforests of Costa Rica (which pours out a lot of sediments in both oceans) may cause a very poor underwater visibility, that can last for weeks.

Encounter with a stingray in Playa Hermosa sandy beds

If you are planning a trip to Costa Rica and want to take a fish ID guide with you, we recommend the excellent Reef Fish Identification – Florida Caribbean Bahamas (also available in ebook) for the Caribbean Coast, and Reef Fish Identification – Baja to Panama (available in ebook too) for the Pacific Coast. These two books are the reference guides to ID the fish you will encounter snorkeling in the country.

When to go snorkeling in Costa Rica?

The climate in Costa Rica is tropical, and marked by two distinct seasons: the dry season, from the end of December to mid-April, and the rainy season (known as the “green” season) from May to mid-December, with lower rainfall from July to September.

But the climate is unusual for the Caribbean coast in that it rains almost continuously all the year-round.

To maximize your chances of good visibility, choose the dry season (from the end of December to mid-April) on the Pacific coast and September and October on the Caribbean coast.

On the Pacific coast, the maximum temperatures are around 90°F/32°C all through the year, compared with about 86°F/30°C (but with much greater humidity) on the Caribbean coast.

The water temperature never falls below 73°F/23°C (but you should take a rash guard with you, especially on the Pacific coast), and gets up to around 86°F/30°C during the warmest months.

Best months on Costa Rica's Pacific coast
Warm and humid
Warm and sunny

Hotels nearby Costa Rica snorkeling spots

The Westin Reserva Conchal, an All-Inclusive Golf Resort & Spa

Playa Conchal Guanacaste, 50308, Costa Rica

Offers an ideal balance of soothing escape and local culture, for an unforgettable vacation, offers a lagoon-style pool, a Fitness Studio, tennis courts, and championship golf. They have 406 stunning guest rooms, with an LCD TV and iPod docking station for inspiring entertainment, plus a refreshment center stocked daily and Westin Heavenly® Bed. A balcony or terrace is ideal for soaking up the sun and striking vistas.

Snorkeling spots nearby

Playa Conchal House reef Free shore access

Ocotal Beach Resort

Playa del Coco PO Box 1, Playa Ocotal Costa Rica

Providing an ideal mix of value, comfort and convenience, it offers a luxury setting with an array of amenities designed for travelers. Rooms at Ocotal Beach Resort offer a refrigerator and a seating area providing exceptional comfort and convenience, and guests can go online with free wifi. 

Snorkeling spots nearby

Playa Ocotal House reef Free shore access

Casa Chameleon

Soccer field in Potrero 4 Km North, Playa Danta, Guanacaste, Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica

Provides adults-only accommodation with a restaurant, a bar and a garden. Featuring room service, this property also provides guests with a terrace. There is an outdoor pool and guests can make use of free WiFi and free private parking, all rooms have a patio with a sea view. At Casa Chameleon Hotel Las Catalinas every room comes with air conditioning and a private bathroom. The accommodation offers a continental or à la carte breakfast.

Snorkeling spots nearby

Playa Danta 450m by foot Free shore access

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