The author Ashleigh Bandimere diving at the Catalina Islands in Costa Rica

Diving in Costa Rica (9 Best Places to Scuba in 2023)

With miles of coastline that showcase the best of both the Pacific and the Caribbean, it comes as no surprise that there are so many amazing places to go diving in Costa Rica. 

I lived in Costa Rica for 5 years, and diving was a big part of my life there. Based on my experience exploring the best places in Costa Rica, I’ve put together this list of the best dive spots in Costa Rica to help you choose the best ones for you!

From coral reefs to rocky pinnacles, far-off tropical islands, and protected nearshore coves, these are Costa Rica’s best dive spots.

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9 Best Places to Go Diving in Costa Rica

Isla del Coco / Cocos Island

Cocos Island is considered one of the world’s top diving destinations where rare marine species can be spotted in abundance.

View of the shoal of fish at Isla del Cocoin Costa Rica
The biodiversity at Isla del Coco will take your breath away

📍 Google Maps | Destination Website

Surrounded by nothing but the Pacific Ocean for over 300 miles in any direction, Cocos Island is a top diving destination for experienced divers around the world. Its far-flung location makes the island a pit stop for rare pelagic species such as giant manta rays, whale sharks, Galapagos sharks, hammerhead sharks, spotted eagle rays, tuna, and more. 

Thankfully for these species, Isla del Coco is a protected marine park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the only island with a tropical rainforest in the entire tropical eastern Pacific. 

Be warned, scuba diving at Cocos Island National Park will take dedication. To reach the island you face a 36-hour boat ride from mainland Costa Rica on a large liveaboard ship that should be booked a year in advance.

👉 Fun Fact: Cocos Island may be recognizable to Jurassic Park fans as Isla Nublar.

Isla del Caño / Caño Island

Caño Island boasts world-class coral reef diving where you can see turtles, fish, and sharks in one place.

View of the schools of fish at Isla del Caño
The numerous schools of fish at Isla del Caño will mesmerize you

📍 Google Maps | Destination Website | Top Viator Diving Tour in Caño Island

Just off of Costa Rica’s South Pacific Coast, Isla del Caño is much easier to access than Isla del Coco and is considered a close second in terms of scuba diving. An hour boat ride from Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula will transport you to a pristine tropical island surrounded by the country’s healthiest coral reefs.

Also one of the best snorkeling spots in Costa Rica, divers often see moray eels, white tip sharks, green sea turtles, hawksbill turtles, bull sharks, and a rainbow’s worth of tropical fish. The boat ride to the dive sites is often just as exciting as scuba diving, with common sightings of dolphins and humpback whales. 

Golfo de Papagayo / Papagayo Gulf

The stunning beauty of the gulf of Papagayo is mirrored by the huge variety of amazing dives off the coast.

View of a diver with the white tipped reef sharks at Papagayo Gulf
White tipped reef sharks are docile, but still startling when they sneak up on you

📍 Google Maps 

The northern pacific coast of Costa Rica is mainly undeveloped and is known for its breathtaking beauty and bright blue, tranquil ocean. For divers, the Golfo de Papagayo’s beauty isn’t limited to the land, and also applies to what lies beneath the waves.

Just offshore, scuba divers can enjoy 15 dive sites with a variety of rocky reefs, sunken ships, coral reefs, and deep sea. You’ll often spot whitetip reef sharks, groupers, nurse sharks, sea turtles, and a plethora of tropical fish.

Parque Nacional Cahuita / Cahuita National Park

With the largest coral reef in the country, Cahuita is a must-visit dive spot in Costa Rica.

A parrotfish swimming near the coral reefs at Cahuita
You’ll have a smile as big as this parrotfish when you’re diving at Cahuita

📍 Google Maps | Destination Website

Cahuita National Park is the jewel of Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast, with a swath of protected jungle bursting with Costa Rican wildlife and a protected marine area. It contains an expanse of coral reef that covers over 2700 acres, making it the largest reef in the country. 

Scuba diving is hands down the best way to appreciate this incredible underwater wonderland and the colorful marine life that inhabits it. Dive sites off of Cahuita showcase the coral and feature a couple of shipwreck sites as well. 

👉 Pro Tip: Check out the other awesome tours in and around Cahuita!

Playas del Coco / Coco Beach

Playas del Coco has awesome offshore and island dives for all skill levels. 

A stingray on the seafloor at Coco Beach

📍 Google Maps  

The tourist town of Playas del Coco contains quite a few dive operators to meet the high demand for scuba diving in this beautiful area. Playas del Coco offers tours to the Catalina Islands as well as the Bat Islands, but the local, offshore dive sites are worth exploring too.

The calm, warm waters off the coast are inviting for novice and beginner divers who don’t feel ready for the tougher island dives and can be just as rewarding as divers often spot pelagic species in the area.

👉 Pro Tip: For the best visibility while diving, plan your dive trip during Costa Rica’s dry season from December through April.

Islas Santa Catalina / Santa Catalina Islands

Easily accessible and breathtakingly beautiful, divers visiting Costa Rica must have the Islas Santa Catalina on their lists.

The author Ashleigh Bandimere diving at the Catalina Islands in Costa Rica
In my happy place at the Catalina Islands

📍 Google Maps

The Catalina Islands lie just off of the northern Pacific coast of mainland Costa Rica and are often accessed by tours leaving from the popular tourist town of Tamarindo. 

The islands are one of my favorite places for scuba diving in the country because they offer such a high return on investment. The islands feature colorful coral reefs full of fish and white tip reef sharks. Plus, they’re super easy to reach from virtually any tourist town in Guanacaste.

My first diving experience in Costa Rica was at the Santa Catalina Islands and this quickly got me hooked on exploring the other scuba diving spots in Costa Rica.

Isla Tortuga / Turtle Island

Warm, clear water off a tropical island in the pacific ocean, Turtle Island is a diver’s paradise.

White tip reef sharks on the ocean floor and beneath rocks at Turtle Island
These white tip reef sharks can usually be found snoozing on the ocean floor and beneath rocks around the island

📍 Google Maps  

This small, paradisical island is located at the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, drawing tons of snorkelers and scuba divers wanting to explore what lies beneath the bright turquoise waters. The rock formations shelter whitetip sharks and brightly colored fish and lucky divers might spot an eagle ray. 

Turtle Island is a great destination for groups with divers and snorkelers as the sites can be enjoyed by both.

Islas Murciélago / Bat Islands

The Bat Islands offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dive with a school of bull sharks.

View of the school of fish at Islas Murcielagos
The Islas Murcielagos have tons of pelagic marine life

📍 Google Maps  

Bat Island is located off of Costa Rica’s northwestern coast, a stunning region covered by the Santa Rosa National Park. 

As far as dive destinations go, Islas Murcielagos offer some of the most unique and exciting dives including a site known for a large number of bull sharks that occupy the area year-round. It’s recommended that this site is best for more advanced divers due to its depth and strong undertow. 

Diving tours will often also visit a spot with a pinnacle that rises 80 feet from the ocean floor to reach the surface around which huge schools of fish congregate. 

Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio / Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park offers the best of tropical rainforest and tropical scuba diving.

View of the beautiful fish species at Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio has tons of beautiful fish species to watch on your dive

📍 Google Maps | Destination Website

Thanks to its teeming tropical rainforest and stunning white sand Costa Rica beaches, Manuel Antonio National Park is the most visited national park in Costa Rica. Less famous but equally amazing is the underwater landscape that lies just offshore of Manuel Antonio. 

The volcanic rock formations provide a home for a huge diversity of fish, white-tipped reef sharks, rays, sea turtles, octopuses, and more. If you’re lucky, you may even glimpse a giant manta ray gliding through the clear water.

FAQs About Costa Rica Diving Destinations

Is Costa Rica good for scuba diving?

Costa Rica is considered a top destination for scuba diving thanks to the variety of places to dive and the rare marine life that can be seen both on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Experienced divers can take advantage of the numerous island dive spots and novice divers are able to enjoy the protected offshore site. 

Which side of Costa Rica is best for diving?

The Pacific / Western side of Costa Rica has a greater variety and number of scuba diving locations where divers can enjoy coral reefs, rocky reefs, shipwrecks, and an abundance of marine life. 

Where can you go diving in Costa Rica?

You can dive in both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean in Costa Rica and enjoy the stunning diving destinations that feature coral reefs, shipwrecks, rocky reefs, and incredible marine species. Some of the most popular diving spots in Costa Rica include the Santa Catalina Islands near Tamarindo, Cahuita National Park on the east coast, and Caño Island off the southwestern coast. 

Can you scuba dive in Costa Rica without a license?

While you won’t be able to do any unlicensed scuba diving in Costa Rica, many Padi dive centers will offer “baptism dives” or exploratory dives that are in protected, safe spots with an instructor. If you have some time, you can also attain your dive license from many dive shops throughout the country.


Costa Rica scuba diving is some of the best in Central America and will have you re-visiting your favorite dive spots over and over again. Up next, check out my article on the best time to visit Costa Rica!

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One Comment

  1. Hi Ashleigh, Thank you for the informative post! My partner and I are planning to go and live in CR for a couple of months. He a dive master instructor and I am brand new (still trying to get comfortable with buoyancy!). We’d like to choose a location where we can shore dive easily. Do you have a recommendation for what area we might look for a rental that would allow us to dive almost daily? Thank you so much!

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