We Mapped the 4 Best Places to Dive in Costa Rica

Diving in Costa Rica

Costa Rica hosts one of the world’s top dive destinations - Cocos Island - plus four other Pacific coast spots worth exploring.

  • Swim with hammerheads at Cocos Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • Dive with bull sharks on Bat Island and giant manta rays at Catalina Island
  • Discover the wrecks of Tortuga Island
  • Explore Caño island’s healthy reefs and rich marine life

Whether you want to go diving on a liveaboard or backpacking along the pacific coast, Costa Rica has options suited to your budget and way of traveling.

The 4 Best Places to Dive in Costa Rica

Cocos Island

Located 500 km (340 miles) west of Costa Rica, Cocos Island is a world famous dive spot. Its marine life is so rich as it is often called “the little Galapagos”. Cocos Island is a lush volcanic island. Underwater, the pinnacles, steep reef walls and the nutrient-rich upwellings attract many pelagic species - huge schools of scalloped hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, bull sharks, tiger sharks, but also oceanic manta rays, whale sharks, dolphins, huge schools of jacks and tunas and some endemic species such as the red-lipped Batfish.

The currents can be really strong in Cocos Islands, the dive sites are usually deep and it is very remote. This explains why the destination is only suited for experienced divers.

Due to its remote location, you can only access Cocos Island with a liveaboard

diving alcyone, the most famous site of cocos island

The Best Dive Sites of Cocos Island

  • Bajo Alcyone: the most famous dive site of Cocos Island is a seamount with its summit at 27 meters depth (90 feet). The marine life is countless: scalloped hammerheads, white and black tip sharks, many types of rays - marble, eagle, mobula, and manta rays, some whale sharks, turtles, sailfish, dolphins. This dive site is one of the most incredible dive sites on earth!

  • Dirty Rock: a Cocos favorite, this rock formation between 6 to 20 meters depth (20 to 130 feet) attracts very diverse marine life. You’ll see hammerheads among other sharks, plus marble and eagle rays, mantas, schooling jacks, dolphins, and turtles.

  • Manuelita Coral Garden: this protected dive site is awesome for macro divers. With depths varying between 6 to 21 meters (20 to 70 feet), you’ll see many critters, lobsters, eels, but also some bigger schools of fish and sharks again!

  • Submerged Rock: a pinnacle with beautiful arch you can swim through at around 15 to 20 meters (50 to 70 feet). It is a nursery for white tip sharks and you might see pregnant females.

Diving Season

You can dive on Cocos Island at any time of year. In the dry season, December to May, the sea is calmer but there are slightly less pelagic species. The rainy season - June to November - offers less visibility due to the blooms of plankton, but it is a peak time for hammerheads, manta rays and whale sharks.

Dive Conditions

  • The water temperature at Cocos Island ranges from 26° to 29°C (79° to 84°F) with occasional thermoclines

How To Get There

  • Fly to San Jose (SJC), the capital of Costa Rica at least one day before your cruise departs

  • The next day, you’ll take a mini bus to Puntarenas, on the Pacific Coast, where your liveaboard will depart from. These transfers are arranged by the dive operator

  • Remember that you can only access the dive sites after a 36-hour journey on the sea. Be sure to check out our liveaboard trip to Cocos Island! (10 nights starting from ...)

Catalina and Bat Islands

Bat Island or Isla Murcielago is located in the Guanacaste region in northwestern Costa Rica. Accessible from Playas del Coco after an hour boat ride, the dive site most often visited is called “the Big Scare”. A place that often sees heavy currents and bull sharks - we recommend this for experienced divers only.

Catalina Islands is a sprinkling of 20 rocky islands, famous for giant manta rays that can be seen year-round, even though you’ll have most chances to see them between November to May. The sites have strong currents, and often attract some sharks, some spotted eagle rays, mobula rays some turtles and plenty of fish.

diving in catalina island in costa rica

The Best Dive Sites of Catalina and Bat Islands

  • The Big Scare: off Bat island, divers will jump in the water to rapidly descend at 30 meters depth (100 feet). There, you’ll cruise the area looking for bull sharks. The sharks come without any bait or feeding practices. You may also see some manta rays, sailfish, and sometimes even some dolphins and whales.

  • Bajo Negro: the site of Bat Island hosts a steep pinnacle with many schools of fish, and also some sharks, eagle rays and sometimes, manta rays.

  • Catalina Grande: off Catalina Island, a dive between 13 to 36 m (43 to 118 ft) which is challenging but rewarding - you’ll have the best chances to spot there oceanic mantas and white tips.

  • La Pared or The Wall: another beautiful dive site in Catalina Island, more shallow than the previous one, where you’ll have chances to see sharks and many rays again.

  • Roca Sucia or Dirty Rock: another favorite in Catalina Island, with plenty of colorful fish - king angelfish, surgeon fish and barber fish to name a few.

Diving Season

  • May to November is the best time of year to dive Bat Island.
  • November to May is the best time to spot mantas at Catalina Island.

Dive Conditions

  • Bat Island water temperature ranges from 24° to 26°C (75° to 79°F)
  • Catalina Island water temperature ranges from 18° to 27°C (64° to 81°F)

How To Get There

  • Fly to Liberia international airport (LIR) North of Costa Rica.
  • Take a bus or a taxi to Playas del Coco, it is only half an hour drive from the airport
  • From Playas Cocos, go with a diveshop on a day trip to Bat Island or Catalina Island. The journey there takes an hour.

Tortuga Island

Tortuga Island lies further South on the Gulf of Nicoya. It’s a great place for beginner divers since the diving is mostly shallow and protected. It’s also an amazing place to dive on some wrecks - there are three sunken ships to explore!

wreck diving in costa rica

The Best Dive Sites of Tortuga Island

  • The Coronel Lafonso Monje: a very shallow dive, this 82-foot long retired coast guard ship lies at only 15 meters(50 feet).

  • The Franklin Chang Diaz: another former Coast Guard ship where you can usually see big schools of jacks and snappers.

  • The Caroline Star: the deepest wreck (30 meters(feet)) is where you can see some white-tip reef sharks and lots of tropical fish.

Diving Season

You can dive on Tortuga Island at any time of year.

Dive Conditions

Water temperature in Tortuga Island ranges from 21° to 26°C (70° to 79°F)

How To Get There

Go with a dive shop or a tour from Montezuma, Jaco or Puntarenas

Caño Island

Caño Island is part of a protected reserve famous for its beautiful coral reefs and rich marine life. The island lies 16 km (10 miles) off Costa Rica southerly Osa Peninsula. The topography is beautiful with pinnacles, swim throughs, plates and drop-offs. There’s a limit number of visitors there so try to book in advance. Some of the marine life you may see are oceanic manta rays, dolphins, turtles, white tip sharks, plus the seasonal humpback and pilot whales. Caño Island is the next-best dive area if you can’t go diving on Cocos Island

scuba diving in cano island costa rica

The Best Dives Sites of Caño Island

  • Bajo del Diablo (Devil’s Pinnacle): expect peaks and channels created by the rock formations, and a depth varying from 6 to 45 m (20 to 148 ft). You’ll get to spot sea turtles, stingrays, manta rays, moray eels, barracuda, tuna, snappers, sometimes oceanic manta rays and white tip sharks. With luck, you may even see migrating humpback and pilot whales.

Diving Season

  • The Caño Island diving season is from January to June (the dry season).

Dive Conditions

  • The water temperature at Caño Island ranges from 22° to 28°C (72° to 82°F)

How To Get There

  • You can fly to the nearest airport, Quepos Airport (XPQ). Or you can make the four hour drive from San Jose by bus or car.
  • Arrange a boat from the resort town of Manuel Antonio or the lesser-visited Bahía Drake (Drake Bay).

Dive Safety Recommendations

We always recommend to have your own dive gear, well maintained, you’ll be safer and more comfortable. Light and compact dive gear is particularly well-suited for travel. For safety reasons, always bring a surface marker buoy, and know how to use it. We also recommend you to have a Nautilus Lifeline, a GPS that could save your life if you’re swept away by currents. They can be really strong in Cocos Island and some other sites of the Pacific. Finally, remember to always use a reef-safe sunscreen

Top 3 Experiences Besides Diving in Costa Rica

Trekking in Lush Rainforests

Costa Rica is the country to go trekking. From an easy couple hours walk in Manuel Antonio to a longer trek in the Monteverde Cloud Forest - or the most remote Corcovado National Park - there’s plenty to discover on the Pacific side. On the Caribbean coast, Tortuguero National Park beaches are nesting grounds for sea turtles. Don’t forget to dedicate a day to the volcanoes: either Arenal or Poás.

manuel antonio in costa rica

Zip through the Canopy of the Monteverde Cloud Forest

Monteverde has fantastic ziplining options for those who seek to match thrilling challenges with awe-inspiring scenery. Zip your way across distances of 40 to 750 m (131 to 2461 ft). You could spend either a half-day or a full day here.

zipline in monteverde costa rica

Surf Some Waves in Nicoya Peninsula!

Costa Rica’s Pacific coast has some surfing spots that will please both beginner and very experienced surfers. If you’re just starting out, we recommend Tamarindo Beach on the Nicoya Peninsula or go further south to Manuel Antonio Beach. If you’re on the Caribbean side, there’s Playa Cocles. Experienced surfers will want to catch the surf at the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula at Santa Teresa or Playa Grande around Montezuma.

surfer in costa rica

Costa Rica Entry Requirements

  • You must have a valid passport to enter Costa Rica, and a return ticket.
  • Most USA, Canadian, EU and Japanese citizens do not require a visa.
  • Please check current visa policies that apply for your country.
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