Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, both above and below the water. Scuba diving is one of the most remarkable activities in Costa Rica, as the ocean's marine life is incredibly diverse.
While diving in Costa Rica, you'll see various species, including sharks, sea turtles, manta rays, barracudas, and dozens of other beautiful fishes.
There are many great scuba companies to dive with that will make you feel safe if it's your first time diving. And even if you're a master diver, the adventure of diving in the oceans of Costa Rica is simply unmissable.
Where's the Best Scuba Diving in Costa Rica?
Located in the heart of Central America, Costa Rica has coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Take your pick because there are incredible beaches with out-of-this-world scuba diving in both!
While there is beauty anywhere you look in Costa Rica, some spots in this tropical paradise are better than others for scuba diving.
To make your trip planning as simple as possible, I found the top 7 spots to scuba dive in Costa Rica and the best companies to dive at each place.
Now, let's dive into the 7 best places to scuba dive in Costa Rica. They're in no particular order, but I did save my favorite for last:
7. Santa Catalina Islands
First on the list is Santa Catalina Islands, just a short boat ride away from the popular seaside town of Tamarindo. Because they're so easy to reach, the Santa Catalina Islands are a trendy spot for beginner, intermediate, and expert divers alike.
White tip sharks, reef sharks, coral reefs, and other unbelievable fishes swim in these waters. You may even see a stingray or a large school of seahorses!
Best Dive Shop: Catalina Divers Supply
6. Papagayo Gulf
With a lush tropical landscape and calm, protected bays, the Papagayo Gulf is a gorgeous spot for scuba diving in Costa Rica. If you're a beginner diver, you'll feel comfortable in these quiet, clear waters.
Although there are some new resorts and hotels in the area, the Papagayo Gulf in the northeast Pacific of Costa Rica is relatively untouched and, therefore, offers some of the most pristine beaches and dive spots. You'll find shipwrecks, hundreds of tropical fish, sea turtles, nurse sharks, and so much more there.
Best Dive Shop: Rocket Frog Divers
5. Cocos Island
Cocos Island is a Costa Rican favorite, and it's just as magical above water as it is below. One of the most incredible aspects of Cocos Island is that it's home to hammerhead sharks!
Of course, Cocos is considered a must-visit as one of the best places in the world to dive with sharks. The oceans around the island are also home to killer whales, sea turtles, dolphins, and many other big fish.
Because of the sometimes aggressive nature of these animals, Cocos Island is not known as a dive spot for beginners. You'll need to be able to regulate your air, even when scared, and quickly hide behind rocks if necessary.
Best Dive Shop: Sirenas Diving Costa Rica
4. Bat Island
While Bat Island, also known as Islas Murcielagos, is an incredible dive spot in Costa Rica, it's not for beginners. With strong currents, big fish, and even dangerous sharks, you should only head to Bat Island if you're a strong diver.
However, if you can dive there, you certainly won't be disappointed. Between May and November, you'll likely see bull sharks and awe-inspiring giant mantas with a wingspan of almost 30 feet. Because of these huge animals, Bat Island is often called "the big scare," so get ready for some serious adrenaline.
Best Dive Shop: Rocket Frog Divers
3. Catalina Islands
Another excellent option for scuba diving from Tamarindo, Costa Rica, can be found in the Catalina Islands. Known by the locals and divers as "the cats," these islands provide some of the best diving in Central America!
There are 20 islands, surrounded by crystal clear indigo waters, full of every kind of marine wildlife you can imagine.
Although you can dive in the Catalina Islands all year round, there are certain times when the currents can be quite strong. So if you're a beginner, contact a dive shop and find out if it will be safe enough for newbies when you're planning to go.
Best Dive Shop: TamaDive
2. Caño Island Biological Reserve
Found on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, the Caño Island Biological Reserve is a fantastic dive spot for beginners and experts alike.
It's home to a world-class coral reef and hundreds of colorful fish, sea turtles, white tip sharks, eels, bull sharks, dolphins, and even humpback whales.
There are not one but several incredible dive sites around Caño Island, so you can even dive all week and hit a new spot every day.
Best Dive Shop: Caño Divers
1. Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge
Ready to hear about my favorite place to scuba dive in Costa Rica? I'm not the only one who thinks the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is the best spot to dive. In fact, it's widely regarded as just that.
The refuge is breathtaking, with fantastic coral reefs, small bays with crystal clear waters, and islands that attract all kinds of marine life. You may even see sea turtles, dolphins, manatees, and crocodiles, while you're there.
One of the best features of this dive spot is that the wildlife on land is just as incredible. So when you take a break from the ocean, you can enjoy walking about the refuge to look for jaguars, toucans, monkeys, pumas, and sloths.
Best Dive Shop: Punta Uva Dive Center
Top 3 Places to Get Scuba Certified in Costa Rica
While scuba diving is a safe activity, there are aspects to life underwater that you need to learn before heading into the deep sea.
Some scuba schools offer dives for those not certified, often called fun or discovery dives. Still, other companies will only let you dive if you're PADI certified.
The good news is that there are many fantastic dive schools in Costa Rica where you can get your certification. Almost every one of the dive spots I listed above has one, if not many, places to get certified. So if you want to pick your spot first and get your cert while there, that's an option!
However, if you want to pick the school first to ensure you get the best possible training, here are my picks for the top 3 places to get scuba certified in Costa Rica and why!
Note: If you're going to get certified, you should ensure that the school offers the official PADI certification. Once you have this qualification, you can scuba dive anywhere worldwide.
Remember, if someone in your gang doesn't scuba dive, or if you need a break from diving deep, there are some incredible snorkeling spots in Costa Rica too!
When is the Best Time to Scuba Dive in Costa Rica?
You'll be excited to know you can scuba dive in Costa Rica all year. Because of the beautiful tropical weather, there are always dives available.
That being said, specific times of year are technically better for diving due to weather, animal migrations, and visibility. Therefore, the best time to scuba dive in Costa Rica for the best animal sightings and weather is May-December.
How Much Does Scuba Diving Cost in Costa Rica?
Finally, you might want to know how much it'll cost for various dives, get your certification, and go scuba diving in Costa Rica.
Even though every school has different pricing, here are the average costs throughout Costa Rica:
- 2-3 tank dives: $150-$250
- Fun or discovery dive: $150
- PADI open water certification: $400-$500 (including 3-4 dives)
- PADI refresher course: $160
- Night dive: $75
Overall, Costa Rica is one of the more expensive locations to scuba dive. But with all the incredible marine life and beautiful oceans, it's undoubtedly worth it.
Grab Your Gear and Go!
What are you waiting for? Your trip to explore the beautiful and captivating underwater life awaits you. Now that you know the top scuba diving spots to hit up in Costa Rica, you can start to craft your ideal travel experience for you, your family, and your friends.