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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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Easily sighted along the Pacific coast, especially at Calzon de Pobre, Playa Ocotal, Playa Penca and Playa Bonita
Found only on the Pacific coast; frequently observed at Calzon de Pobre and Playa Penca
Found on every snorkeling spot of the Caribbean coast; a very similar species (Abudefduf troschelii) occur on the Pacific side
On all spots of the Pacific coast, in rocky areas
Common at Playa Danta, rare elsewhere
On all spots of the Pacific coast
On all spots of the Caribbean coast
On all spots of the Pacific coast; often in large schools
Small rocky and sandy bay with colorful fish
Level: Free shore access
Rocky areas with fish, stingrays and sea turtles
Small islands bordered by reefs with turtles, sea horses and colorful fish
Rocky seabed with colorful fish and sea stars
Level: Free shore access Resort nearby
Rock and coral reef with colorful fish, rays and turtles
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