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Snorkeling in Costa Rica

Snorkeling in Costa Rica is a great way to see the rich and abundant marine life found in Costa Rica's coastal waters, and a logical first step before scuba diving. But not every beach in Costa Rica is good for snorkeling, so read on for some help planning.

I worked as a divemaster out of Playas del Coco in the northwest province of Guanacaste for one year and snorkeling tours were one of our most popular trips.

And I have some incredible underwater memories. Probably one of my greatest experiences snorkeling in Costa Rica was when I was with a baby whale shark - and by baby I'm talking about 14ft/4.5m.Chancho barber fish seen snorkeling I took pictures of the gentle giant that were used by to help identify the shark as a newcomer to the area. You can see my pictures posted on their website.

Another amazing experience was when I went snorkeling with two humpback whales, a mother and its calf. And let me tell you, it is one thing to see a creature like that from the boat, and an entirely different experience to see it underwater. It is quite humbling.

Costa Rica Snorkeling quick tips:

  • Think about buying and bringing your own equipment
  • Make sure your destination town has a dive shop to rent from if you don't have your own
  • Wear socks to prevent blisters from your fins, and if fins are a size to large
  • Wear lots of waterproof sunscreen, I've been burnt too many times to count
  • Wear a rashguard (lycra swim top) that is spf rated -- provides protection from sun, scrapes and jellyfish
  • Spit in your mask, rub it around, and rinse it out to prevent fogging
  • Bring an underwater camera
  • River runoff can disturb visibility, so snorkeling is often poor after it rains making the dry season better for snorkeling in Costa Rica
  • Calmer water usually means better visibility
Before you can begin snorkeling in Costa Rica you need to rent or buy snorkeling equipment.

My recommendation for both convenience and comfort is to buy snorkeling gear. I always bring my own so that I don't have to deal with shoddy, worn-out, or cheap equipment, and so I don't have to worry about returning my mask, fins and snorkel before the rental shop closes.

moray eel seen snorkeling

Most people who love water sports and wildlife will fall in love with snorkeling, and if you go snorkeling in Costa Rica a few times the investment will have paid for itself.

Besides, it is nice to have new equipment that is well maintained and actually fits you properly -- also you can snorkel anywhere you want, this is especially nice when you have a rental car.

Otherwise, snorkeling equipment is almost always available at dive shops or tour boat companies, both of which often run snorkeling tours. The shop where I worked in Playa del Coco, called Summer Salt Dive Center, rents their snorkeling gear for $15 a day and charges around $40 for a snorkeling tour, which is about average.

If you decide to buy equipment for your self I recommend that you don't buy the cheapest thing on the market, as you often find at local sporting goods stores. You can get a high-quality mask with a silicone skirt and tempered glass for a really reasonable price that will fit your face well.

These qualities are essential if you plan to not just go snorkeling in Costa Rica, but also try scuba diving in Costa Rica. Tempered glass is needed to stand up to the water pressure at depth without breaking. There are a number of online retailers from which to choose.

You will also need a snorkel. There are three types to choose from: a regular J snorkel, a purge valve snorkel, and a dry snorkel. Of these I recommend the purge valve, because it makes clearing out a flooded snorkel easier and keeps water out of your mouth better. A dry snorkel has a stopper that doesn't allow water into the snorkel. This is great if you plan on staying up at the surface, but if you do any free diving, or diving deep underwater on a breath-hold this type of snorkel creates an uncomfortable suction in your mouth caused by the difference in pressure inside and outside the barrel as you submerge.angel fish

To complete your ensemble for snorkeling in Costa Rica you need a set of fins. If you have any interest in scuba diving, you might want to buy adjustable heel fins, which allow you to use them with neoprene booties. Otherwise, full foot fins are perfectly reasonable in the warm waters of Costa Rica.

Where to go snorkeling in Costa Rica, you ask?

Here is a list of locations where you can snorkel. In general, the Caribbean side boasts a much larger variety of corals and small, colorful, and beautiful marine life. The Pacific side has less corals but instead offers you the chance to see some larger fishes, and some larger schools of fish.

Get your feet wet at these spots and then be on the look out for new ones on your Costa Rica adventure vacation!

Caribbean Costa Rica Snorkeling

  • Puerto Viejo -- There are a few scuba diving and tour operations that will take you out snorkeling here.
  • Manzanillo -- This beach is a lovely hour long bike ride from Puerto Viejo, to the south.
  • Cahuita National Park -- The offshore reef lies between Punta Cahuita and Puerto Vargas. You have to swim out to the reef from the Punta Vargas side, or you can get a local to take you farther out by boat. Aside from the reef, there are also two wrecks here about 22ft / 7m below the surface. One has two cannons and the other shows 13.
  • Punta Vargas
  • Punta Uva

Pacific Costa Rica Snorkeling

  • Playas del Coco -- This is where I worked, and here you can accompany dive boats out to the Tortugas islands or north around Monkey Head rock where I swam with humpback whales, or south around Punta Gorda where I took pictures of the whale shark.
  • Playa Hermosa -- This is just north of Playa del Coco and you can accompany a dive boat from here to go snorkeling at the places I named above.
  • Playa Ocotal -- This is a nice beach with a dive company that can take you snorkeling, or on a clear day there is some snorkeling along the rocky right hand edge of the bay.
  • Playa Conchal
  • Playa Azucar -- This just north of Portrero, which lies directly north of Playa Flamingo.
  • Playa Sámara
  • Montezuma
  • Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Marino Ballena National Park -- This is a day trip just south of Punta Uvita.
  • Drake Bay
  • Caño Island Biological Reserve -- The water here is quite warm and much clearer than along the mainland. Trips to Caño Island are organized by the Drake Bay lodges and resorts.

Have a great time snorkeling in Costa Rica. I'd love to see some of your photos!

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