Costa Rica is not considered a world-class dive spot except in one extremely remote location, Isla del Coco, which Jacques Cousteau called “the most beautiful island in the world.” It’s famous for big schools of hammerhead sharks and Galapagos-like isolation. But it takes a few thousand dollars and a couple of weeks on a live-aboard boat to get there and back, and you have to be an expert diver.
For the ordinary person certified to dive, the waters off Isla del Caño, near Drake Bay, are the prime destination in the country. But other options abound at Pacific dive spots like Playa del Coco, Islas Murciélagos (Bat Islands), and the Catalina Islands, where you may spot manta rays, moray eels, and white-tipped sharks.
On the Caribbean coast, runoff from banana plantations has destroyed much of the reefs, although Isla Uvita, the landing place of Columbus just off the coast of Limón, and Manzanillo, near the Panamanian border, still have good diving.
Visibility varies with season and location. Generally, heavy rainfall tends to swell the rivers and muddy the waters, even well offshore. A two-tank dive should cost around $85, and snorkelers should pay as little as $35.
For snorkelers, the same rain, runoff, and wave conditions that drive scuba divers offshore tend to make coastal and shallow-water conditions less than optimal, but sometimes the weather is calm and the water is clear. Ask around for snorkeling options; there are some good ones at Manzanillo Beach on the southern Caribbean coast, especially in the calm months of September and October.
Diving Outfitters & Operators
In addition to the companies listed below, check the listings at specific beach and port destinations in the regional chapters.
Sirenas Diving Costa Rica ★★ ((tel) 8721-8055; www.sirenasdivingcostarica.com) is perhaps the largest, most professional, and best-established dive operation in the country. Based out of Playa Hermosa, this outfitter is also a local pioneer in Nitrox diving. Based at Playa Ocotal is Rocket Frog Divers ★ ((tel) 2670-1589; www.scuba-dive-costa-rica.com), which offers a number of PADI courses and runs dives to popular Pacific Coast sites like the Bat and Catalinas Islands.
Aggressor Fleet ★★ ((tel) 800/348-2628 in the U.S. and Canada; www.aggressor.com) runs the 36m (118-ft.) live-aboard Okeanos Aggressor on regular trips to Isla del Coco and Isla del Caño. Undersea Hunter ★★ ((tel) 800/203-2120 in the U.S., or 2228-6613 in Costa Rica; www.underseahunter.com) offers the Undersea Hunter and its sister ship, the Sea Hunter, two pioneers of the live-aboard diving excursions to Isla del Coco.
On the Caribbean side of the country, look up Reef Runner Divers ★ ((tel) 2750-0480 or 8796-8898; www.reefrunnerdivers.com) in Puerto Viejo. On the Pacific, Playa del Coco is a top diving spot, and one of the major outfitters is Rich Coast Diving ★ ((tel) 2670-0176 or 2670-0004; www.richcoastdiving.com).