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Costa Rica Diving: How to Scuba Dive Two Oceans on One Trip

Costa Rica Diving
by Samantha Pearson Aug 5, 2023

The words “Costa Rica” literally translate to “Rich Coast.” So it’s no surprise that this Central American country is a haven for experienced and beginner scuba divers alike. Though it boasts a diversity of dive sites across two coastlines that enchant with dramatic topography, luscious coral reefs, and a swarm of pelagic action, most visitors don’t realize that some of the most epic adventures are underwater. And another cool perk of Costa Rica diving? You can dive in two different oceans on the same vacation.

When to go diving in Costa Rica

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There’s never a bad time to do a little Costa Rica diving. While the country is well known for having two distinct seasons – the dry season and the green season – the diving remains exceptional, rain or shine.

Green Season: May to November

While Costa Rica’s terrain is known to have reliable rain during the green season, its oceans are known during this time for pelagic action, especially on the Pacific Coast. In summer, large swells of nutrients in the water welcome in small- and medium-sized fish, which draw schools of hammerhead sharks, migrating humpback whales, big pods of dolphins, and giant manta rays. The surface may occasionally be rainy or a bit choppy, but the underwater world is as epic as ever.

Don’t let the promise of rain fool you into thinking you still won’t have any sunshine during your surface intervals on the dive boats. The chance of rain doesn’t mean it rains all day long, just that it may rain in spurts throughout the day. It also means that you’ll likely enjoy the lowest prices of the year on hotels and lodging, saving more money in the budget for diving.

Dry Season: December to April

Less rainfall during this season means minimal wind and calmer sea conditions, producing visibility underwater that can reach up to 100 feet at many sites. These factors make for near-perfect conditions for new divers or visitors hoping to get certified.

While many of the larger species start migrating away from both coastlines during this time, other species start to come closer to the shores. This includes a huge variety of fish (pufferfish heaven!) and numerous macro species, like nudibranchs and octopus. That said, sharks and rays reside in Costa Rica’s waters all year long. So a magical Costa Rica diving encounter with these species is still possible in the dry season, too.

Diving in the Pacific vs. the Atlantic

Costa Rica diving offers the chance to explore two completely different worlds, depending on what coastline your visit. Opt to be enchanted by the coral reefs of the Caribbean Sea (part of the Atlantic Ocean), or be excited by the active marine life of the Pacific Ocean. Both options are winners.

Because of how small and narrow Costa Rica is, you can also tick off diving in two oceans during one trip – something you can’t do in many other locations. But you’ll have to plan out the adventure correctly, as many Costa Rica diving shops on the Caribbean Coast turn into surfing and kayaking shops in the summer.

The Pacific Ocean: chances for epic animal encounters

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To encounter some of the ocean’s most majestic marine life, head to the west coast of Costa Rica. Not only is it part of the humpback whale migration route, but the underwater topography invites sharks and manta rays in abundance for a large majority of the year.

  • Guanacaste Region: Playas del Coco offers accessible dive sites for all levels. Advanced divers will likely visit this area as it’s the launch point for trips to some of the country’s most famous dive sites, such as Bat Island.
  • Puntarenas Region: This region has an abundance of stingrays, eagle rays, white tip reef sharks, schools of trevally, sea turtles, and even the occasional visiting bull shark. If you’ve always dreamed of diving with hammerhead sharks, book a liveaboard departing from Puntaarenas to Cocos Island. The Cocos are an adventure likely to sit near the top of most divers’ bucket lists.
  • Herradura Region: One of the newest diving hot-spots in Costa Rica is in the Herradura region, in the center of the country’s Pacific coastline. Its sites have a mix of arches, caverns and tunnels, and seeing big fish is almost a constant. A perk of basing your Costa Rica diving trip in this area is accessibility, as dive sites are often no more than a 10-minute boat ride from the docks.
  • Quepos Region (Manuel Antonio National Park): While this region is world-renowned for the diversity of wildlife on land, such as sloths, toucans and tree frogs, it offers a similarly diverse underwater scene. White tip reef sharks, eagle rays, pufferfish, and nudibranchs are considered locals here all year long. But it’s not uncommon for migrating manta rays, humpback whales, and dolphins to be spotted at certain times of the year, too.

The Atlantic Ocean: Coral reefs and wrecks in the Caribbean Sea

costa rica diving - east coast


If you want to dive through stunning and colorful hard and soft coral reefs, swim through an abundance of fish life, and explore picture-perfect shipwrecks, basing your Costa Rica diving trip on the country’s Caribbean coast is a must. Many area dive sites are in protected bays with minimal currents, great visibility, and diverse adventures suitable for both beginners and advanced divers.

But keep in mind that diving on this side of the country is only possible in the dry season (December – April), as heavy rains and bigger swells make for poor diving conditions outside of that window. If you find yourself on the country’s east during the rainy season, opt for a surfing or kayaking adventure in the water instead. The Pacific coast is the best side for year-round diving.

Most Caribbean sea diving is in the Limón Region. Most Limón dive sites are in protected national parks, and the underwater environment remains just as pristine as the national parks on land. While this area is a favorite for learning to dive, there are also deeper sites that offer plenty of excitement for advanced divers with multiple certifications.

The best dives sites in Costa Rica

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Whether you’re hoping to get certified or count your dives in the triple digits, there are countless places you won’t want to miss on your Costa Rica dive trip. Some are extremely well-known, while others are still a bit off the radar or newly discovered. Ask your dive shop if they visit the sites below when you’re booking.

Two Sombreros: Islas Santa Catalina, Guancaste Region

A short 30-minute boat ride from Potrero Bay will take you out into the deep blue, where two rocks shaped like sombreros (hence the name) peak out above the water. This dive site is often blessed with glassy conditions, and during the green season, lucky divers will be able to hear the songs of the humpback whales while descending. At Two Sombreros, the underwater paradise is filled with sea turtles, hundreds of pufferfish, and resident black tip reef sharks.

  • Average depth: 50 feet
  • Minimum certification: Open water

The Big Scare: Bat Islands, Guanacaste Region

Known for the bull sharks but equally loved for the manta and devil rays that congregate here, the Big Scare is one of the best dive sites in all of Costa Rica. Reaching the similarly impressive sites near the Cocos Islands takes more than 38 hours, but the Big Scare is less than an hour from Playa Ocotal.

  • Average depth: 90 feet
  • Minimum certification: Advanced open water

Punta Uva Reef: Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Reserve, Limon Region

The protected Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Reserve extends into the Caribbean Sea, so this dive site offers healthy coral reef ecosystems. Punta Uva Reef is not only great for snorkelers, but also an incredible place to learn to dive. It’s also one of the best places for night diving in Costa Rica, where you can witness a bioluminescence phenomenon — glowing organisms in the water that glow when agitated, making you feel like you’re floating through outer space.

  • Average depth: 30 feet
  • Minimum certification: Open water

Dirty Rock: Cocos Island, Puntarenas Region

To get to the Cocos, known for not just the best Costa Rica diving, but potentially some of the best diving in the world, you’ll need at least eight days. That’s because the only way to access Cocos Island is via a liveaboard boat departing from the Puntarenas region. But the journey is worth it. Once you reach dive sites like Dirty Rock, you’ll be filled with excitement and adrenaline-filled happiness as you’re surrounded by whale sharks, manta rays, and thousands of jacks, as schools of hammerhead sharks circle below in the abyss to grab a tasty fish or two. Don’t let the name deceive you – the visibility is brilliant, and the topography is stunning.

  • Average depth: 90 feet
  • Minimum certification: Advanced open water + 50 dives

Caroline Star Wreck: Isla Tortuga, Puntarenas Region

For those interested in Costa Rica wreck diving, the Caroline Star should be a must-see site. The wreck is home to reef sharks and numerous tropical fish, with plenty to see without having to go inside. A fun fact about this dive site is that two other wrecks – the Coronel Alfonso Monge and Franklin Chang Diaz — sit nearby, making it one of the areas in Central America where you can learn to dive while exploring reefs. That’s because the Coronel Alfonso Monge Wreck sits just 52 feet below the surface, within the recreational limit for newly certified divers.

  • Average depth: 90 feet
  • Minimum certification: Advanced

Middle Reef: Playa Herradura, Herradura Region

Middle Reef is one of the best dive sites for beginners, with minimal currents and maximum visibility. This dive site boasts colorful, soft corals, where you’ll find nudibranchs, a variety of tropical fish reef sharks, and octopus. If you get lucky, you may even see a manta ray in the distance (but those are more common at The Island, a nearby dive site).

  • Average depth: 14 feet
  • Minimum certification: Open water

Costa Rica diving budgeting

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Generally, Costa Rica is a destination that caters to all budgets, with both high-end luxury hotels and very budget-friendly bungalows and B&Bs (and Airbnbs). Travelers who prioritize diving above accommodations can save money by looking at budget backpacker options, or going in the opposite direction and springing for a pricey, all-inclusive liveaboard.

Many of the hotels throughout Costa Rica also have on-site dive centers, so you can book packages that often include diving at a discount, especially if you do multiple dives. These may be dive resorts, which cater primarily to divers, or general hotels that just happen to have an activity center nearby.

Another money-saver is that you don’t need to buy any gear in advance of your trip to Costa Rica. All Costa Rica diving companies can rent gear, so you don’t need to buy anything – though having a properly fitting mask can make your dives a bit more comfortable.

In general, budget…

  • $185-$200 for a “Discover Scuba Diving” class. In these sessions, a scuba diving professional will hold your hand (literally) while you try diving. No certification is required, and you’ll stay fairly shallow, with your guide will handle all the work while you focus on marine life.
  • $450-$500 for an open water diving certification (the basic certification). You’ll need three or four days and can do your skills tests among reef sharks, sea turtles, and maybe even a manta ray.
  • $200 for a refresher course, if you haven’t been diving in a while and want to re-familiarize yourself with the skills before heading to more advanced dive sites.
  • $150-$250 for a two-tank boat dive. The easiest way to add some Costa Rica diving into your trip is to do a day or half-day trip. Most dive centers offer two-tank dives, where you’ll do two dives, with a surface interval in between on the boat.
  • $2,000-$6,500 for a liveaboard trip. Access to the best dive sites in Costa Rica (and arguably the world) will come at a heftier price. But you’ll get an all-inclusive vacation where you’ll be wined and dined in between some of the best dives of your life.

Finding ‘pura vida’ underwater

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In Costa Rica, the term “pura vida” means “pure life.” And that’s something you’re likely to find underwater, too.

To help preserve the “pure life” underwater, Costa Rica has 166 protected areas, covering more than half the coastline. Twenty of these are classified as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Many dive centers also run their own conservation projects to study and collect data on vulnerable marine species like sharks and manta rays, which can be used to help further influence marine policies.

Depending on where you dive, there may be a mandatory fee collected by the dive shop for conservation fees. These fees go to the government and are usually small – less than $20. Unless you’re in the Cocos, where it can be several hundred dollars.

Where to stay to dive in Costa Rica

There are numerous dive resorts throughout Costa Rica, many of which have support local communities and coastlines. The majority are on the Pacific side because of the year-long seasonality. However, you’ll find dive centers on the Caribbean Coast, too. Just keep in mind that they’ll mostly cater to surfers and kayakers during the green season.

The hotels below are good places to start for a balance of affordable rates, luxury, and easy access to diving. And if you’re thinking of going the liveaboard route, check out the list of available Costa Rica options on Nearly all go exclusively to the Cocos.

We hope you love the spaces and stays we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.

Bahia del Sol Beach Front Boutique Hotel

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Bahia del Sol Beach Front Boutique Hotel doesn’t cater only to divers, but it has an on-site dive shop and offers packages that include daily dives. However, it also has a full spa and yoga classes, a pretty pool with a swim-up bar, and easy access to other activities in the Guanacaste Region. And it’s on the beach. So it’s a great place to stay for a mixed group where some people want to check out the Costa Rica diving scene and others want to go on jungle hikes. Rooms start around $172/night.

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Occidental Papagayo

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The Occidental Papagayo is a sprawling hotel on the Gulf of Papagayo with one advantage that will appeal to many travelers: it’s adults-only. The all-inclusive resort has several large pools and is on the beach, with an on-site dive center (Rocket Frog Divers). The hotel also partners with shops like Liquid Diving Adventures to offer dive and lodging packages. Rooms start around $218 per night for two people.

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El Nido Jungle Lodge

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El Nido is a lodge on Costa Rica’s eastern coast on the Caribbean Sea. It’s near all the dive shops in Punta Uva and just a short ride from dive sites in the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca-Manzanillo. You can walk to the beach in five minutes, and daily breakfast is included. Rooms start around $160 per night.

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