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Scuba Diving in Costa Rica

Scuba Diving in Costa RicaCosta Rican Turtle

No matter what adventure you crave, you’ll find it in Costa Rica — both topside and underwater. Try speeding through the rainforest canopy on a zip line, hiking through waterfalls, surfing the swells or diving with bull sharks. Take some time to trek to a volcano summit, go white water rafting, or kick back and play a round of golf. In Costa Rica, you’re only limited by your time in the country.

But, it isn’t just about topside activities or diving along the mainland. Cocos Island lies about 550 kilometres/340 miles off the Pacific coast and is well known for its hammerhead shark schools, whale sharks and manta rays.

Bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea in the heart of Central America, Costa Rica is a prime ecotourism destination and boasts some of the world’s most biologically diverse habitats – including rainforest, volcano and mangrove ecosystems.

With more than 116 volcanoes (both active and dormant) and over 26 national parks and protected zones, this small country is a topside treasure ripe for exploration. Costa Rica is home to rare and endangered leatherback turtles, Morpho butterflies, scarlet macaws, lush rainforests, rolling hills and pristine beaches.

While most travel to the country for topside exploration, Costa Rica has recently become known as a dive destination. The underwater volcanic rock formations and pinnacles are home to small hard corals, sponges and gorgonians. Plus large pelagic animals are also frequently spotted.

While the Caribbean coast has yet to develop a serious sport diving infrastructure, diving off the Pacific Coast is nothing short of spectacular. The southern area is a protected biological reserve and offers the chance to see rays, turtles, and whitetip reef sharks. Plus, you’ll see large schools – so bit that they occasionally block out the sunlight – of fish swimming overhead on almost every dive.

Dive SummarySwarm of Sting Rays

Depth: 13 – 34 metres/40- 110 feet.

Visibility: Ranges from 15 - 30 metres/45 - 90 feet, but averages 12 metres/36 feet. June through September generally brings the best visibility.

Currents: Current can be strong off the north Pacific coast while current is normally milder along the southern Pacific coast.

Water Temperature: Generally ranges from 26 - 29º C/78 - 84º F. From December through March, cooler currents bring water temperatures as low as 19º C/68º F along with large animals such as humpback whales, pilot whales, giant manta rays, whale sharks, and more.

Dive Season: The rainy season runs from May to November but you can dive all year. 

PADI Dive Shops and Resorts

Find contact information for PADI Dive Shops and Resorts in Costa Rica

Recommended Courses:Nudibranch on a dive in Costa Rica

Scuba Gear: 

Temperate Scuba Equipment is typically all you’ll need in Costa Rica. If you’re diving in winter you may want to opt for cold water scuba equipment. 

Length of Stay:

One to three weeks.

Featured CreaturesSchool of Grunts

You’ll find eagle rays, turtles, manta rays, white-tipped reef sharks, bull sharks, enormous schools of both grunts and jacks, parrotfish, moray eels, dolphin and more.

During whale season (January, February and March) you can hear the haunting calls of humpback and pilot whales underwater. You can also see humpbacks in June and July as they migrate from the southern hemisphere.

Most Famous Dive Site

The Big Scare (Advanced)

What better way to get your heart racing then by diving with bull sharks? The Big Scare means two hours on a boat, but this is your best opportunity to see the bulls. You’ll also have the chance to spot other large pelagics like manta rays, sailfish and the occasional whale or dolphin. This dive site drops to more than 34 metres/100 feet and can have a strong current. It is best suited for advanced divers.

Virador (Novice)
This volcanic island acts like a magnet to sea life. You can – and will – see just about everything. There’s a shark cave at 10 metres/33 feet and frequently there are large stingrays and white-tipped reef sharks at 22 metres/70 feet. You’ll also see huge schools of grunts, snapper, king angelfish and sergeant majors. This is considered a novice dive, although there is sometimes current.

Topside Treasures:

There are numerous topside adventures in Costa Rica. Here are just a few: 

  • Canopy Tours
    Canopy tours are the ideal way to get a bird’s-eye view of the forest and a fantastic way to explore without disturbing wildlife.
  • Eco Tours
    You can volunteer for one of the numerous conservation projects and stay at one of the eco-friendly hotels. Preservation programs including marine turtle projects and jaguar conservation programs let you take an active part in protecting the region’s ecosystems.
  • Natural Hot Springs
    With so many volcanoes, Costa Rica has exquisite hot spring experiences. The luxurious five star resort of el Tabacon is a highlight as it is built amidst healing springs.
  • Surfing
    Costa Rica has more than 50 famous surf spots. Some of the beaches are difficult to reach, but they are well worth the trip as the waves are good all year. The surf at Playa Naranjo or Witches Rock is also very good and was the backdrop for many scenes in the classic surf film Endless Summer II.
  • Sport fishing
    The sport fishing in Costa Rica is world class and, because Costa Ricans have a firmly established sense of sustainable tourism and conservation, most companies follow a strict catch and release policy.
  • Whitewater rafting
    From families to adventure junkies, there is something for whitewater rafters of all levels in Costa Rica as the rivers range from Class II to Class V rapids.
  • Tamarindo Beach
    Voted Costa Rica’s most popular beach by Forbes magazine, Tamarindo is the perfect spot to go horseback riding on the beach or just lay back and catch some rays.
  • Manuel Antonio National Park Nature Tour
    Take a two and a half hour guided tour to see monkeys, anteaters, sloths, iguanas and much more. At the end, enjoy some local fresh fruits and refreshments.
  • Study Spanish in the Rainforest 
    Class sessions are complemented by activities that give you the chance to improve your Spanish while having fun. Teaching methods connect language learning to real life so you master and retain your new vocabulary skills. Plus, various schedules are available to fit your holiday schedule. 

Fast Facts:

Language:         Spanish

Currency:         Colón 


Related Costa Rica Resources:

Special thanks to these sites for information used in this article:

PADI Gold Palm Resort Deep Blue Diving Adventures

And a special thank you to PADI Five Star IDC Resort Rich Coast Diving for providing the pictures for this Vacation Spotlight.

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