It pays to do your homework if you are thinking of doing a large amount of snorkeling in Costa Rica. The activity is not nearly as popular in Costa Rica as it is in the Caribbean islands or other parts of Central America mostly due to the additional effort required to find a good spot. This additional effort is sometimes ignored by less scrupulous tour operators in their eagerness to secure their business so it is vital that you accept recommendations from reputable sources only.
Often, divers are forced well offshore to find the very best spots. The muddy runoff from swollen rainy season rivers clouds the more traditional coastal and shallow-water dive spots. Also, strong waves and rip tides can make it next to impossible to enjoy the sights below.
There is always competition between the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Costa Rica for the best beaches and sea creatures and both sides claim to have the best locations in the country. Sadly, many of the reefs on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica have been destroyed by the runoff from banana plantations but there are still some just off the coast of Limón and Manzanillo near the Panamanian border. The water is the most calm during the months of September and October.
The Pacific coast has the weather on its side with more sun and fewer rivers greatly increasing visibility and resulting in more favourable conditions on a regular basis. The shoreline is largely volcanic in nature so snorkeling amongst the islands that dot the coast is very rewarding. The reefs are small and are scattered throughout the sandy-floored sea. Caño Island, Bat Island, and the Catalina Islands are all excellent spots for snorkeling in Costa Rica. You can expect to see moray eels, white tipped sharks, manta rays and many other fish and coral species.
Those who have snorkeled before and wish to add a little spice to their next outing may wish to try night diving. Visibility in the areas around the islands is excellent and averages between 20 and 80 feet.
The very best place to explore underwater life, la crème de la crème of snorkeling in Costa Rica, is off the coast of Cocos Island. After you explore this area a little, it is quite likely that you will want to stay under the water for longer and dive deeper than a snorkel will allow. It is possible to charter a boat for a week and become a certified open water diver. Alternatively, you can take a diving course at a resort hotel. A PADI certification takes four days to complete and means that you are licensed to dive up to 60 feet on your own. The shorter two day course will allow you to dive to 40 feet with the assistance of a certified instruction.