Snorkeling in Costa Rica (13 Best Places in 2023)
With over 802 miles (1,290 km) of stunning Caribbean and Pacific coastline, snorkeling in Costa Rica is some of the best in the world.
From coral and rocky reefs to remote pacific islands, there is an incredible diversity of marine habitats to explore in Costa Rica. Here, snorkelers are often rewarded with sightings of rare and intriguing marine life including sea turtles, sharks, rays, eels, and a rainbow assortment of tropical fish.
After spending five years exploring Costa Rica’s beaches and underwater islands, these have made it to the top of my list of favorite snorkel spots in the country.
Table of Contents
- 13 Best Places to Go Snorkeling in Costa Rica
- Isla del Caño / Caño Island
- Playa Carbon
- Playa San Josecito
- Parque Nacional Cahuita / Cahuita National Park
- Playa Hermosa
- Islas Santa Catalina / Santa Catalina Islands
- Isla Tortuga / Turtle Island
- Refugio Natural Gandoca-Manzanillo / Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge
- Islas Murciélago / Bat Islands
- Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio / Manuel Antonio National Park
- Parque Nacional Marino Ballena / Marino Ballena National Park
- Montezuma Beach
13 Best Places to Go Snorkeling in Costa Rica
Isla del Caño / Caño Island
The best snorkeling in the country is just a short boat ride off the Osa Peninsula
📍 Google Maps | Destination Website | Top Viator Snorkeling Tour in Caño Island
Just off the coast of Osa Peninsula, Caño Island Biological Reserve is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site but also a marine paradise for sea life, snorkelers, and scuba divers. The coral reefs surrounding the island provide a safe haven for colorful fish, reef sharks, sea turtles, whales, and sometimes even whale sharks.
Because of the incredible diversity, Caño island is considered one of the best snorkeling spots in Costa Rica. Snorkeling tours for Caño Island Biological Reserve usually leave from the town of Drake Bay by boat and last for a half day.
This secluded beach is a little known-snorkeling paradise
Playa Carbon is a little-known secluded beach that lies on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, north of the tourist town of Tamarindo. The beach is named for its glittering black sand created by volcanic rock – the same rock that creates rock reefs and tidal pools that draw lots of diverse sea life.
Snorkeling along the point of the beach offers the opportunity to glimpse tropical fish, but my favorite underwater moment at Playa Carbon was in one of the large tidal pools where I found an octopus.
👉 My Favorite Gear: Since this is a relatively isolated beach, there won’t be anywhere to rent a snorkel mask. This snorkeling mask is a great option!
Playa San Josecito
Those willing to hike through dense jungle will be rewarded with a secluded snorkeling oasis
Tiny San Josecito Beach is hidden along the Pacific Coast between Drake Bay and Corcovado National Park. The secluded beach is protected from most waves and currents by rocky reefs and outcroppings, making it a wonderful spot to explore the coral reef and its colorful inhabitants.
The beach is accessible by hiking a couple of miles along the coastal trail that starts in town, or by boat from the town.
Parque Nacional Cahuita / Cahuita National Park
With the largest coral reef in the country, this national park offers the best of Costa Rica’s Caribbean underwater marvels
📍 Google Maps | Destination Website
While not the most popular or famous national park in Costa Rica, Cahuita deserves recognition as a world-class snorkeling destination. The small park showcases the beauty of the Caribbean sea, with calm turquoise waters that contain the largest living coral reefs in the country.
The shallow coral reefs and warm tropical water provide a habitat for abundant marine life including tons of colorful reef fish, making it one of my favorite snorkeling locations in Costa Rica.
👉 Pro Tip: Check out the other awesome tours in and around Cahuita.
Explore the marine wonders just off this popular beach
Many people visit this town on Costa Rica’s northern pacific coast to relax at one of the seaside resorts, lounge on the beach and enjoy the warm tropical water.
Waves are tempered by the half-moon shape of the beach making it a great spot to swim. Grab some goggles and head to the rocky outcroppings to find some decent snorkeling.
The rocky outcrops of Ocotal provide the perfect, easily-accessible snorkeling spots
Ocotal is a small protected cove located on the northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica just south of Playas del Coco.
The long stretch of sand beach gently curves and has rocky points on either side that form a tranquil bay ideal for swimming and snorkeling. You can spot colorful fish swimming around the rocky reefs at either end of Ocotal.
Islas Santa Catalina / Santa Catalina Islands
These easily-accessible islands offer snorkelers the opportunity to enjoy coral reefs and tropical fish
📍 Google Maps | Top Viator Snorkeling Tour in Santa Catalina Islands
The Santa Catalina Islands are a top snorkeling and scuba diving destination in Costa Rica. Located in the Pacific Ocean off the Northern Nicoya Peninsula, scuba and snorkeling tours from the popular town of Tamarindo make the islands easily accessible.
The abundant coral reefs shelter an array of impressive wildlife including whitetip reef sharks, moray eels, and sea turtles.
Isla Tortuga / Turtle Island
Located off the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, the rocky reefs surrounding this island are home to tons of marine life
Turtle Island can be found just off the tip of the Nicoya peninsula; accessible by a tour from Montezuma. While snorkeling around the island and its underwater reefs, you’ll have the opportunity to see tons of brightly colored fish. When I took a tour, our snorkeling guide showed us two dozing white-tipped reef sharks sheltered under a rock.
Not only is it one of Costa Rica’s ultimate snorkeling destinations, but the boat ride to the island also offers opportunities for dolphin watching and sea turtle sightings.
Refugio Natural Gandoca-Manzanillo / Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge
This coastal refuge protects some of Costa Rica’s rare Caribbean coral reefs and their tropical inhabitants
Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is a beautiful protected coastal rainforest with a rocky shoreline on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean Coast. The warm water and rock formations make this a great spot to grab some goggles and search for underwater wildlife.
In addition to the larger, main beach called Playa Manzanillo, the refuge is made up of curves and small protected bays that will keep a snorkeler entertained for days.
Islas Murciélago / Bat Islands
This stunning Pacific archipelago provides protected habitat for turtles, whales, sharks, and tropical fish
If you’re looking for a snorkeling adventure, the Bat Islands are the way to go. The small archipelago lies off Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast and together forms a protected habitat where diverse marine life can flourish.
The islands are home to rare Costa Rican wildlife and bucket list animals, such as eagle rays, giant manta rays, and sea turtles are known to inhabit nearby waters.
Although the islands are less accessible than other spots in Costa Rica, they are well worth the drive to the northwest coast and boat ride.
Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio / Manuel Antonio National Park
There’s nothing quite like snorkeling off a pristine white sand beach surrounded by tropical rainforest
📍 Google Maps | Destination Website
With a stunning tropical rainforest and pristine white sand beaches, it’s no wonder why Manuel Antonio is the most visited of Costa Rica’s many national parks.
Playa Manuel Antonio is a fantastic family-friendly snorkeling spot with its gentle waves and clear blue water. After hiking through the jungle and seeing all of the terrestrial wonders that the national park contains, it’s a treat to cool off in the ocean and explore the underwater world.
Parque Nacional Marino Ballena / Marino Ballena National Park
The rocky reefs off the shore of this protected area are teeming with colorful fish and marine life
📍 Google Maps | Destination Website
Most famous for its rainforested whale-tail-shaped peninsula and fantastic whale-watching opportunities, Marino Ballena National Park is often overlooked as a snorkeling destination. But it’s a mistake to skip out on snorkeling around the rocky reefs right off the shore of the whale’s tail!
Plus, there’s a good chance that you’ll pick up some whale songs while you’re at it. Take it from me, there’s no comparison to snorkeling as a whale serenades you.
For those that don’t feel comfortable snorkeling in open water, the hot tub-sized pools on Montezuma beach are the perfect place to safely search for sea creatures
Some people may not feel comfortable snorkeling in open water, but there’s no reason that this should keep you from enjoying the wonders of the sea. Low tide on the Pacific coast reveals a large system of risk pools on Montezuma Beach right in the coastal town of Montezuma.
Some of these pools are as large as a hot tub, so you can bring your goggles and look for tide-pool creatures. These include small fish, crustaceans, sea hares, and barnacles on and under the rocks.
Costa Rica snorkeling is some of the best in the world, and I hope my picks have inspired you to have a great time beneath the surface! Up next, check out my picks for the best places to visit in Costa Rica.
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