10 Best Places To Go Scuba Diving In Costa Rica

For a fantastic scuba diving adventure in Costa Rica, Cocos Island is top-notch. But if you’re watching your wallet and still want an incredible experience, Caño Island is a good choice. If you’re into seeing lots of colorful underwater plants, head to places like Punta Uva and Manzanillo in the Caribbean.

Costa Rica’s abundant, colorful coral reefs and marine life make it an ultimate destination for scuba divers. It’s no wonder that topics like “Where is the best place to scuba dive in Costa Rica?” remain one of the most discussed subjects in many online travel communities. 

However, not all places with beaches are suitable for scuba diving. While some are recommended for beginners, others have a difficulty level for expert divers. 

In this article, you will learn about the best places to scuba dive in different parts of Costa Rica, their difficulty and visibility level, and other relevant information you’ll need to have a wonderful diving experience. 

Key Takeaways

  • Overall Best Scuba Diving Costa Rica Experience—CCoscos Island
  • Costa Rica diving season: high season (from December to April) when the weather is dry and the water is calm and clear. 
  • The best places for diving in Costa Rica for beginners are Dirty Rock, Coral Gardens, Los Sombreros, and Tortuga Island (for shipwreck experience).
  • Best places for diving in Costa Rica for experts: Bajo Alcyone, El Bajo del Diablo Deep, Bat Island, Roca Sucia
  • Scuba diving Costa Rica prices Expect to spend between $70 and $250 per person on scuba diving. Prices can vary, but this is generally a placeholder.

Costa Rica Towns and Their Best Areas for Scuba Diving 

In case you’re in a hurry and need to make a quick decision, I have created the table below to briefly run you through our top recommendations for the best places to scuba dive in Costa Rica based on the town in the area. 

Costa Rican Area The Best Place(s) to Go Scuba Dive
Guanacaste Bat Islands, Catalina Islands, 
Jaco  Tortuga Island
Uvita  Caño Island Biological Reserve, Coral Gardens, 
Puerto Viejo Cahuita National Park, Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, and Cocos Island

Read on to get more information about the best ten places for scuba diving: 

1. Cocos Island (Isla del Coco)

  • Address: 330 miles off the coast of Columbia, south of Costa Rica, in the Pacific Ocean.
  • Depth: up to 130 ft (40 m)
  • Difficulty Level: For Advanced Divers
  • Visibility: 30 ft to 100 ft (10 to 30 m) 
  • What to see underneath the water: all kinds of sharks, including hammerhead sharks, rays, and dolphins

Cocos Island is a special place for diving, known for its rare sea animals. It’s in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, far from any other land, making it popular among experienced divers. People come here to see unique creatures like giant manta rays, whale sharks, and hammerhead sharks.

Luckily, Cocos Island is protected as a marine park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the only tropical island in this part of the Pacific with a rainforest.

But getting to Cocos Island isn’t easy. The long 36-hour boat ride from mainland Costa Rica requires dedication. You have to book a spot on the boat a year ahead of time.

2. Caño Island (Isla del Caño)

  • Address: Off the south coast of Costa Rica, just above the Parque Nacional Corcovado.
  • Depth: 60 ft (18 m) to 115 ft (35 m)
  • Difficulty level:
  • Visibility: around 50 feet (15 meters)
  • What to see underneath the water: sharks, rays, dolphins, turtles, manatees, eels, and octopuses

Caño Island is famous for its fantastic coral reef diving. Here, you can see turtles, fish, and sharks all in one place.

Situated just off Costa Rica’s South Pacific Coast, Isla del Caño is easier to get to than Isla del Coco and is considered one of the best spots for scuba diving.

 It’s just an hour’s boat ride from Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula to reach this untouched tropical island surrounded by healthy coral reefs.

Not only is it great for scuba diving, but Isla del Caño is also a fantastic snorkeling destination. 

Divers often spot moray eels, sharks, sea turtles, and colorful tropical fish. 

The boat ride to the dive sites is exciting, too, with opportunities to see dolphins and humpback whales.

3. Cahuita National Park (Parque Nacional Cahuita)

  • Address: Costa Rica’s southeast tip
  • Difficulty level: all levels
  • Visibility: 20 ft (6 m) to 70 ft (21 m)
  • What to see underneath the water: turtles, orcas, killer whales, tropical fish, mollusks, nurse sharks, and lobsters…
  • Google maps

Cahuita stands out as a top diving destination in Costa Rica because of its massive coral reef.

To get here, you have to take a 3-hour bus ride from San Jose, 500 meters from the beach off Cahuita Point.

Nestled along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, Cahuita National Park is a true treasure. It boasts dense jungles teeming with Costa Rican wildlife and a protected ocean zone. 

This marine area is home to the country’s largest coral reef, spanning over 2700 acres.

Scuba diving is the best way to explore this underwater paradise and its vibrant marine life.

Dive sites around Cahuita offer close encounters with the coral, as well as a couple of sunken ship sites to explore.

4. The Bat Islands (Islas Murciélagos)

  • Location: 30 miles off Costa Rica’s northwest coast
  • Depth: 60 ft (18 m) to 130 ft (35 m)
  • Difficulty level: For expert divers
  • Visibility: 18 ft (6 m) to 100 ft (30 m)
  • What to see underneath the water: bull sharks, giant ray mantas, devil rays
  • Google maps

A one-hour boat ride from Playas del Coco will take you to the Bast Islands, one of the best places in Costa Rica for scuba diving. 

Diving around the Bat Islands offers a chance to see incredible marine life. However, it’s not for the timid. You might come across sharks!

Given the strong winds and the presence of bull sharks, this dive is best suited for experienced divers.

Believe it or not, the Bat Islands are famous for being one of the world’s top spots to see bull sharks. Scientists are still trying to figure out why these powerful creatures gather here, but they just do.

5. Tortuga Island

  • Address: Isla Tortuga Located just a 90-minute boat ride from the Nicoya Peninsula
  • Depth: 100 ft (30 m)
  • Difficulty level: any level 
  • Visibility: 30 to 100 feet (10 to 30 meters)
  • What to see underneath the water: dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and shipwrecks
  • Google maps

Tortuga is on the Nicoya Peninsula, just across from Jaco but on the opposite side of the water! It’s also near Santa Teresa, one of the coolest surf towns in Costa Rica. The vibe there is super laid-back, but you still need to know some basic snorkeling guides to enjoy this place. 

There are actually three exciting shipwrecks to explore. The first two wrecks (Franklin Chang Diaz and Coronel Lafonso Monge) are old Coast Guard ships, and they’re at depths suitable for divers of any skill level.

Now, the third wreck, known as the Caroline Star, is a bit deeper. It’s more suited for experienced divers. 

In addition to the shipwrecks, Tortuga boasts other famous diving spots, such as Acuario, La Cueva (the cave), and The Labyrinth.

6. Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

  • Address: Head east on the Guápiles highway (32) to Limón, take a right, and head south on the coast road (36) until there is no more road.
  • Difficulty level: intermediate divers
  • What to see underneath the water: manatees, turtles, dolphins

The Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge stands out in Costa Rica for a unique reason—it’s the only place where you can dive alongside manatees. 

These gentle creatures are rare, so encountering them underwater is truly special.

It’s not just manatees that call this place home; it’s also a haven for various marine species. Moreover, it’s an important nesting site for sea turtles, especially from March to July, offering visitors a magical experience.

The Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is also home to three types of dolphins: bottlenose, Atlantic, and the elusive Guiana dolphin, also known locally as “tucuxi.”

7. Marenco Rock

  • Address: 6 km al sur de Bahía Drake, Playa Punta San José, Osa, Puntarenas, Costa Rica ·
  • Depth: 50 to 60 feet
  • Visibility: around 50 feet (15 meters)
  • What to see underneath the water:  sharks, rays, dolphins, turtles, manatees, eels, octopuses, etc.

A one-and-a-half-hour boat trip from Uvita will take you to Merenco Rock, where you can have a great scuba diving experience. People also get here via a two-hour boat trip from Sierpe. 

This spot is filled with black corals gently swaying in the water. Grunts and snappers swim around, while lobsters scuttle back and forth, hunting for their next meal. 

Moreover, plankton is abundant in the area, attracting enormous schools of various fish species to gather and feed at Marenco Rock.

8. El Bajo del Diablo (Devil’s Rock)

  • Address: a mile off the Cano Island’s shore
  • Depth: 20 to 80 feet
  • What to see underneath the water: nurses, bulls,  whale sharks, rays…

Here, towering rock formations rise from the ocean floor, creating an incredible underwater landscape of peaks and valleys.

You might catch a glimpse of various shark species, including bull sharks, nurse sharks, and, if you’re lucky, the majestic whale shark. And don’t forget the colorful tropical fish darting around the rocky outcrops.

This area is also famous for sightings of giant manta rays, with wingspans stretching up to 20 feet, and playful Mobula rays leaping out of the water. 

9. Cueva del Tiburon (Shark Cave)

  • Address: Isla del Caño, Costa Rica. About a 30-minute boat ride from Isla Mujeres
  • Depth: 50 ft.
  • Difficulty level: Advanced diver 
  • What to see underneath the water: sharks, pufferfish, boxfish, goatfish, sea turtles, and sometimes even giant rays.

The “Shark Cave” is where you’ll find several white-tip sharks. Divers are usually able to spot about six or seven of them resting near the cave’s mouth. 

Divers are prohibited from entering the cave by park rules, but it’s breathtaking to see the sharks within the rocks. You’ll also see plenty of tropical fish, such as pufferfish, boxfish, goatfish, sea turtles, and sometimes even large rays.

If the sunlight hits the coral just right, you can enjoy beautiful reflections of colorful corals, creating memories that last a lifetime.

This dive is open to divers of any skill level, and, depending on your luck, it could be one of the most amazing dives you’ll ever experience. 

Apart from the cave, this dive takes you past various underwater rock formations and challenging coral areas.

10. The Coral Gardens

  • Address: 40-minute boat trip from Caño Island
  • Depth: up to 40 ft (12 m)
  • Difficulty level: intermediate diver
  • What to see underneath the water: humpback whales, beautiful fish swimming in coral gardens
  • Destination website

Coral Gardens is a shallow dive, reaching only 40 feet deep. 

Here, divers can swim alongside damselfish, parrotfish, butterflyfish, porcupine fish, gobies, and maybe even an octopus! 

The colors of these animals are breathtaking, like an underwater rainbow. I shared more information about my diving experience at Coral Gardens with pictures in this separate article

This spot is hands-down the best for seeing fantastic coral reefs and the creatures that live there. 

Scuba diving prices in Costa Rica.

If you’ve got a PADI certification and want to dive along the coast, it usually costs between $70 and $100 per person. 

But if you’re going to an island for diving and need a boat to reach the underwater spots, it can be pricier, around $150 to $200 or more.

FAQs

What is the best month to scuba dive in Costa Rica?

Between August and December is the best period to scuba dive in Costa Rica. 

During this period, the weather is nice, with less wind and calm waters. During this time, the giant ocean creatures that are common in the rainy season move away from Costa Rica’s coast. 

Instead, you’ll see lots of different kinds of fish and smaller sea creatures. 

This period is ideal for beginners who enjoy easy and colorful diving experiences.

Can you scuba dive in Costa Rica without certification?

No, you can’t unless you go for a resort dive or Snooba. A resort dive is no deeper than 30 feet. 

If it’s your first time, you need to go through the PADI Discover Scuba Diving Program and get certified before you can scuba dive deeper into areas of the Pacific Ocean and see turtles, sharks, rays, octopus, and lots of schooling fish. 

Many diving tour facilities in the area offer this, which usually takes 2–4 days. 

How much does it cost to get certified to scuba dive in Costa Rica?

The price to get certified for scuba diving in Costa Rica can vary. Typically, it can cost between $200 and $300. However, the exact cost depends on how long and how complex the training is.

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Born in California, Michelle traveled extensively through the USA and Europe before moving to South Florida during the pandemic. Her career in Marketing has taken her all across the world. Her favorite country is France but she'll never turn down a beach vacation!

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