Costa Rica's underwater wonders range from coastal coral reefs to offshore
islands. Those varied dive spots contain diverse and beautiful marine life
that includes giant manta rays, timid sea turtles, colorful angel fish,
intricate coral formations, psychedelic sea slugs, spiny puffer fish,
delicate sea fans, curious dolphins and, on rare occasions, whales.
Though the country's waters contain enough marine life to please the most
experienced of divers, you need be little more than a curious swimmer to
catch a glimpse of some of its underwater sights, since there are plenty of
spots that are perfect for snorkeling. Costa Rica is also an excellent
place to learn how to scuba dive, since most dive centers offer inexpensive
certification courses in English that can be completed in less than a week.
There are several excellent snorkeling areas along the southern Caribbean
coast. The country's largest coastal reef is protected within Cahuita
National Park, south of the town of the same name, where you can rent
snorkeling equipment and hire people to take you out in boats. The point at
Puerto Viejo, south of Cahuita, also has a coral reef wrapped around it
that makes for convenient diving. Punta Cocles and Punta Uva, two points to
the south of town, have healthier coral formations with plenty of fish
around them. Manzanillo, a small fishing village a few miles further south,
also has some decent diving off shore. There are also a few good dive spots
near the city of Limon, such as the water surrounding Uvita Island. The
best visibility in the Caribbean is from March to early May and from mid
August to mid November, but water quality can change from day to day.
The Pacific has the country's best diving, with less coral, but plenty of
big fish. The most popular Pacific diving area is the northwest, where dive
centers in Playa del Coco, Ocotal and Hermosa offer trips to several spots
in the Culebra Bay and the Bat Islands (Islas Murcielagos), to the
northwest, where divers often see sharks and manta rays. The dive center in
Flamingo usually takes people to Santa Catalina Island, about five miles
off shore, which is another good spot to see sharks and other big fish. The
best visibility and water temperatures in the northwest are found from June
to September, though the conditions can change from day to day.
There is good snorkeling in Curu National Wildlife Refuge, and near the
beach resorts of Tambor and Montezuma. There is also usually good
snorkeling off the second beach in Manuel Antonio National Park, and around
the points and islands between Dominical and Marino Ballena National Park.
However, the best diving off the Pacific coast is found at several
underwater reefs near Caño Island, which can be explored on dive trips
offered by some of the lodges in nearby Drake Bay. Contrary to the
northwest, the best visibility in the waters around Caño occurs during the
dry season, though the water tends to be pretty clear year round.
Cocos Island, a national park located some 330 miles southwest of the Costa
Rican mainland, has the country's best diving by far. While the Island is
covered with virgin forest, the ocean that surrounds it contains abundant
marine life, and the visibility is good year round. Divers at Cocos Island
regularly see such impressive animals as manta rays, dolphins and
hammerhead sharks, which sometimes gathering in schools of 30 or 40
animals. It takes about 36 hours to reach Cocos Island, and some companies
have ships that run regular dive cruises there, which last ten days and
include three dives per day.