Your Ultimate Guide to Scuba Diving in Costa Rica

With coasts on the Caribbean and Pacific and famous islands like Cocos, Bat and Catalina, every diver is sure to find his own adventure in Costa Rica.

From Cocos Island in the Pacific to Cahuita National Park along the Caribbean coast, diving in Costa Rica is a wild affair. Cocos Island and, to a lesser extent, Bat Island are famous for hammerhead and bull shark diving. Cano and Catalina Islands also feature a high number of pelagics including manta rays and sailfish. Wreck divers will delight in the wrecks of the Tortuga Islands, and those who prefer gorgeous coral reefs and clear water with a dose of the unknown are sure to love Cahuita National Park.

When to Dive Costa Rica

Rainy season from April to June is by far the preferable time for diving in Costa Rica. The most pelagic species are spotted during these months.

Dry Season

From December until May, dry season descends on Costa Rica. During this time of year, you will find the best visibility (over 30 meters) and the calmest seas, which is important when you are traveling the open Pacific Ocean. Most days during this season are completely void of rain and perfect for going to the beach. Air temperatures are approximately 25.5°C.

Note that there are fewer liveaboard trips to Cocos Island during the dry season. At this time, many of the area’s ships alternate between Cocos Island and Cano Island.

Rainy Season

June to November is the rainy season in Costa Rica. This is often considered the best diving season due to the nutrient upwellings off the Pacific coast that attract hundreds of hammerhead sharks to Costa Rica and bull sharks to Bat Island. However, the seas are much rougher at this time and visibility falls to 15-20 meters.

During both seasons, water temperatures average between 24 and 30°C. Keep in mind that these represent the surface temperatures. Divers often encounter a thermocline at the offshore islands, with temperatures dropping to 6°C or less.

Where to Dive in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has several diving areas, including Cocos, Catalina, Bat, Tortuga and Cano Islands as well as the Osa Peninsula and Cahuita National Park.

Cocos Island

Home to huge schools of hammerheads, plentiful pelagics, deep pinnacles and highspeed drifts, Cocos Island is a scuba diver’s haven in the open blue.

Limon

Limon is the principal city on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and the gateway to Cahuita National Park where new dive sites are still being discovered.

Guanacaste - Playa del Coco

On the north Pacific coast, Guanacaste is the jumping off point for Catalina and Bat Islands, volcanic formations that attract a large number of pelagics.

Herradura (Tortuga)

Also on the Pacific Coast, operators in Herradura travel to the Tortuga Islands to dive the three wrecks in the area. Advanced certification is required.

Puntarenas

As the largest port on the Pacific Coast, Puntarenas is the departure point for liveaboard diving cruises headed to Cocos, Bat and Cano Islands.

Quepos - Manuel Antonio National Park (Cano, osa peninsula)

Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park are the onshore bases for the Osa Peninsula and Cano Island where you’ll find the ultimate manta ray adventure.

Dive Sites in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is home to hundreds of dive sites with more being discovered every year, particularly off the Caribbean coast. However, some sites are more famous than others.

Bajo Alcyone in Cocos Island is one of the best hammerhead shark dives in the world. At this advanced site, you’ll be surrounded by hundreds of these sharks.

Big Scare, Bat Island hosts dozens of bull sharks every rainy season making it one of the most adrenaline-inducing dives in the world.

El Bajo del Diablo is Cano Island’s premier manta ray site, but you’ll also see tons of tropical fish and nurse sharks in the area.

These three sites just scratch the surface of Costa Rican diving so be sure to research the best dive sites in your destination before setting off.

Snorkeling in Costa Rica

Unfortunately because of visibility and water conditions, Costa Rica is not a great snorkeling destination. If you wish to try your luck, head offshore to the pelagic-magnet known as Cano Island or the reefs in Cahuita National Park near Limon. These two areas have good visibility away from local runoff points.

What to See in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is the land of the pelagics. For your efforts in traveling to remote Pacific islands, you’ll be rewarding with hammerhead, bull, whitetip, Galapagos, silky, tiger, blacktip, silvertip and guitar sharks. There will also be manta rays, eagle rays, turtles, grouper and free swimming moray eels. As an added bonus, you might encounter orcas, dolphins, humpback whales or pilot whales on your way to these seamounts.

On the Caribbean side, you’ll be spoilt by 400 species of fish and 30 species of coral including staghorn, black and fire corals. Here tropical fish flit across colorful coral reefs while lobster, octopus and eels hide out in the crevices.