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10 Best Snorkelling Spots to Explore in Costa Rica

Article by Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah

Posted: May 7, 2023

Costa Rica is known for its stunning natural beauty and biodiversity, both on land and under the sea. With its crystal-clear waters and an abundance of marine life, the country boasts some of the best snorkelling spots in the world. From the pristine coral reefs of Caño Island and Isla del Caño Biological Reserve to the stunning beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park and Tortuga Island, there’s something for every type of snorkeller in Costa Rica. Join us as we explore the top 10 snorkelling spots to visit in Costa Rica, and discover the incredible underwater world that awaits.

1) Caño Island Biological Reserve

Located off the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, Caño Island Biological Reserve boasts pristine coral reefs and an abundance of marine life. The island is a popular destination for snorkelers and divers, as it offers clear water with excellent visibility. Some of the marine creatures you can expect to see include sea turtles, manta rays, reef sharks, and a wide variety of colourful fish. It’s important to note that access to the island is restricted, and visitors must go through a licensed tour operator to visit the reserve. Snorkelling tours usually last around three hours and include all necessary equipment.

2) Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is a popular tourist destination in Costa Rica, known for its stunning beaches and diverse ecosystems. The park also boasts several excellent snorkelling spots, including Playa Espadilla and Playa Biesanz. Playa Espadilla is located near the park’s entrance and is easily accessible, making it a popular spot for families. Playa Biesanz, on the other hand, is more secluded and offers a quieter snorkelling experience. The park is home to a wide variety of marine life, including parrotfish, octopuses, and even dolphins. It’s important to note that the park has strict regulations regarding the use of sunscreen and visitors are encouraged to use biodegradable options.

3) Tortuga Island

Tortuga Island is located in the Gulf of Nicoya and is a popular day trip destination for tourists. The island is surrounded by crystal-clear waters, making it an excellent spot for snorkelling. Visitors can expect to see an abundance of marine life, including colourful fish, sea turtles, and even humpback whales during the migration season. Snorkelling excursions are available through licensed tour operators and usually last around four hours. Some of the tour options include boat tours and stand-up paddleboarding, allowing visitors to explore the island’s coastline from a different perspective.

4) Cahuita National Park

Cahuita National Park is located on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and boasts a stunning coral reef that is easily accessible for snorkelling. The park’s coral gardens are home to a wide variety of marine life, including colourful fish, sea turtles, and even sharks. Snorkelling at Cahuita is a unique experience, as visitors can explore the underwater world just a few metres away from the shore. The park’s conservation efforts are also worth noting, as they aim to protect the park’s marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Visitors are encouraged to support these efforts by not touching or harming the marine life.

Cahuita is only minutes away from GVI’s base in Kekoldi, so as a volunteer in Costa Rica you will have plenty of opportunities to discover Cahuita’s amazing marine life. 

5) Coco Island

Coco Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located around 550 kilometres off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The island is home to an incredible array of marine life, including sharks, dolphins, and sea turtles. Snorkelling at Coco Island is a unique experience, as visitors can expect to see hammerhead sharks and other large pelagic species. The island is only accessible by boat and requires a permit from the Costa Rican government to visit. Snorkelling tours are available through licensed tour operators and usually last around eight hours.

6) Isla del Caño Biological Reserve

Isla del Caño Biological Reserve is another popular destination for snorkelers and divers in Costa Rica. The reserve is located off the coast of the Osa Peninsula and is known for its pristine coral reefs and abundant marine life. Visitors can expect to see a wide variety of fish, rays, sharks, and even humpback whales during the migration season. Snorkelling tours are available through licensed tour operators and usually last around four hours. It’s important to note that the reserve is a protected area and visitors are not allowed to touch or harm any marine life.

7) Marino Ballena National Park

Marino Ballena National Park is located on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica and is named after the humpback whales that migrate to the area from July to November. The park’s main attraction is the famous Whale’s Tail, a sandbar that resembles a whale’s tail during low tide. The park also offers excellent snorkelling opportunities, with colourful coral reefs and an abundance of marine life. Visitors can expect to see parrotfish, butterflyfish, and even sea snakes. Snorkelling tours are available through licensed tour operators and usually last around two hours.

8) Playa Conchal

Playa Conchal is a popular beach destination in Costa Rica, located on the northern Pacific coast. The beach is known for its crystal-clear waters and stunning white sand. Snorkelling at Playa Conchal is a unique experience, as visitors can explore the coral reef located just a few metres away from the shore. The reef is home to a wide variety of marine life, including starfish, pufferfish, and even octopuses. It’s important to note that the beach can get crowded during peak season, so it’s best to arrive early to avoid the crowds.

9) Playa Avellanas

Playa Avellanas is another popular beach destination in Costa Rica, located on the northern Pacific coast. The beach is known for its world-class surf breaks, but it also offers excellent snorkelling opportunities. The reef is home to a wide variety of marine life, including sea turtles, rays, and colourful fish. The beach is less crowded than other popular destinations in the area, making it a great spot for a quiet snorkelling experience.

10) Las Catalinas

Las Catalinas is a new beach town located on the northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The town boasts several stunning beaches and excellent snorkelling spots. The rocky coastline is home to a wide variety of marine life, including octopuses, moray eels, and colourful fish. Snorkelling equipment can be rented in town, and visitors can also take guided snorkelling tours to explore the area’s underwater world.

In conclusion, Costa Rica offers some of the most breathtaking snorkelling spots in the world, with an array of marine life and crystal-clear waters. It’s important to bear in mind that responsible tourism practices such as not touching or harming the marine life are essential in preserving these natural habitats. If you’re passionate about marine conservation and would like to experience some of the best snorkelling spots in Costa Rica, volunteering with GVI in Kekoldi is an excellent opportunity. GVI offers various marine conservation programs that include snorkelling and diving activities, allowing you to explore the underwater world while making a positive impact on the environment. So, get ready to put on your snorkel gear, explore the incredible underwater world of Costa Rica and make a positive impact by joining one of GVI’s programs in Kekoldi.

By Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah is a freelance writer from New Zealand with a passion for outdoor adventure and sustainable travel. She has been writing about travel for more than five years and her work has appeared in print and digital publications including National Geographic Travel, Conde Nast Travel, Business Insider, Atlas Obscura and more. You can see more of her work at petrinadarrah.com.
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