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.
Table of Contents
- 9 Best Places to Go Diving in Costa Rica
- Isla del Coco / Cocos Island
- Isla del Caño / Caño Island
- Golfo de Papagayo / Papagayo Gulf
- Parque Nacional Cahuita / Cahuita National Park
- Playas del Coco / Coco Beach
- Islas Santa Catalina / Santa Catalina Islands
- Isla Tortuga / Turtle Island
- Islas Murciélago / Bat Islands
- Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio / Manuel Antonio National Park
- FAQs About Costa Rica Diving Destinations
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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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