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Snorkeling and Diving in Costa Rica

With its coral reefs, tropical islands, underwater caverns and 7,000 species of marine life, Costa Rica is a haven for snorkelers and divers. Organized tours are a great way to explore the biodiversity and treasures of this beautiful country. Some of the best diving and snorkeling can be found at the nearby islands dotting the Pacific Ocean. The year-round warm water and uncrowded beaches make for a comfortable day of snorkeling as well.

In general, the rainy season causes rivers to overflow into the ocean, making the waters murky and clouded. From December to March, the Papagayo winds result in choppy waters, so it is best to dive during June and July when visibility is clear. A great place to set up camp is at the Nicoya Peninsula near Nosara. This area has several diving shops and tour companies offering offshore adventures.

For decent snorkeling, the beaches near Montezuma and Manuel Antonio offer clear waters. Further south, Cano Island has both diving and snorkeling and is located near Drake Bay. On the Caribbean side, the coral reefs are popular for underwater exploration, with the best visibility occurring during dry months.

Beginners should partake in a course with one of the many tour operators and travel agencies in the area. Before registering, be sure to inquire about PADI instruction, safety regulations and the quality of equipment. Below is a list of Costa Rica’s top diving and snorkeling destinations.

Northern Pacific
The Nicoya Peninsula, located in the Guanacaste Province, offers several snorkeling and diving spots. Coco Beach has some of the best scuba diving in the country. Nearby dive shops provide offshore diving and snorkeling tours, starting at $50 for two dives. Experienced divers can explore the islands of Catalina and Murcielago for roughly $100. Although the islands are two hours from shore, divers are rewarded with stunning sea life including groupers, bull sharks and jewfish.

Snorkeling trips from a tour boat start at $25 and include gear and an instructor. The waters here are filled with tropical fish and amazing marine life like manta rays and sharks. Unlike some of the murky areas around the coast, the Nicoya beaches including Coco, Hermosa and Ocotal, have crystal clear waters with great visibility. The south end of Ocotal Beach is the best option for snorkeling. This area is also popular for surfing and fishing.

The village of Montezuma has rental shops with snorkeling gear, costing $10 per day and tours starting at $40. The beaches here are beautifully separated by rocky inlets, which make for enjoyable tide pool exploration.

Southern Pacific
Located in the Puntarenas Province, Drake Bay on Osa Peninsula is considered one of the best scuba diving spots on the Pacific Coast. Twelve miles west of the bay is Caño Island, great for both diving and snorkeling. Populating the waters are devil rays, turtles, dolphins and reef sharks. The island is also surrounded by puffers, surgeonfish, snapper, and barracuda. Although seldom seen, the whale shark and giant bull shark can sometimes be found perusing the area. Water visibility can range from 45-90 feet and temperatures remain in the upper 70’s. Certification courses and diving tours for all levels are available from nearby dive shops in and around Drake Bay.

A popular option is to purchase dive packages to both Cano Island and Coco Island. Billed as one of the top ten scuba destinations in the world, Coco Island has 18 species of coral, 3 species of dolphin and 57 species of crustaceans. Located 331 miles off the Pacific Coast, the island can only be accessed through approved tour companies. Divers and snorkelers will encounter everything from sharks to turtles on an afternoon trip.

Caribbean Coast
In the province of Limon, divers and snorkelers will find plenty of spots to explore. Although not as developed with dive shops as the Pacific side, the Caribbean waters are home to Costa Rica’s only coral reef. Located near Cahuita national park, the reef provides refuge for 140 species of mollusk, 35 species of coral, 11 species of sponge, and 27 species of algae. Divers can also enjoy the 123 species of fish including angelfish, blue parrot fish, starfish, sea fans and sea cucumbers. The 600 acres of shallow reef make for excellent snorkeling, as sea turtles and Atlantic tarpon frequent this area. The best time to snorkel or dive on the Caribbean side is between March and May and September to November when the waters are calm and the sun is shining.

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