There are many different ways of exploring Costa Rica; by land, by air and by sea.
And after having “unofficially” been living in Costa Rica for a month, we have had the chance to explore this country in all those different ways. Of all the different exploration activities, it should come as no surprise that our favorite always remains exploring by sea.
The small town of Playa del Coco is one of the oldest beach communities in Costa Rica’s province of Guanacaste. The region is also one of the fastest growing areas of tourism in Costa Rica, as is evident by its many travel condo buildings and vacation homes.
Playa del Coco’s coastal nature and proximity to the ocean was one of the main reasons we ended up here.
As avid scuba divers, Joey and I never miss an opportunity to dive into the watery world.
We did a couple of scuba diving adventures at Bat Islands and Catalina Islands during our stay in Playa del Coco, but wanted to spend more time in the water so we got in the habit of heading out to nearby beaches and snorkeling a few times a week.
Thinking about donning a mask and snorkeling but not sure where to start? Snorkeling is one of the most loved watersports around the world. It is a water activity that involves swimming along the surface of the water with your face submerged underwater enjoying the world below. Read more through our beginners guide to snorkeling blog post.
The snorkeling scene around Playa del Coco was not nearly as great as the diving, but we still saw some pretty neat things and had a heap of fun on those balmy 30°C days.
Any seasoned snorkeler or scuba diver will know that some of the best places to find an abundance of aquatic wildlife are along rocky formations and outcroppings. Ideally along dramatic drop-offs where the cold productive waters from the deeper parts of the ocean are forced upwards by current and wave action.
For the most part, Playa del Coco had a sandy beach on an open bay – not ideal for snorkeling. It took some asking around at the local dive shop and even more driving around to find some of the recommended sights but in the end, we managed to find a handful around this region to fill our snorkeling craving.
Not sure where to start? Here’s a list of the snorkeling spots worth checking out around Playa del Coco.
When your first looking for a spot to go snorkeling, Playa Hermosa is a good place to start.
But do not get confused by the fact that there are two beaches in Costa Rica that are called Playa Hermosa. The 2-kilometer snorkeling beach that you are looking for is in the province of Guanacaste.
Wedged in the middle of Playa del Coco and Playa Panama, the long grey sandy beach of Playa Hermosa is seldom as busy as its neighbors. Surrounded by two scenic mountains, this fabulous snorkeling getaway has relatively calm water and some good rock formations on the bays right side.
On top of snorkeling, this area also offers activities such as; sport fishing, swimming, diving, windsurfing, and sailing.
Known as one of the cleanest and quietest beaches in the area, the waters of Playa Ocotal are the best place to strap on your mask and snorkel for a swim.
The small town of Playa Ocotal is located about 3 kilometers outside of Playa del Coco and can be accessed via golf cart for those with limited means of transportation. The calm bay and rocky surroundings of this pocket beach make it a spot worth snorkeling, to hunt for little sea critters.
Keep an eye on the tide tables as sometimes the incoming tide can affect visibility. While some people recommend snorkeling the left side of the bay from our experience both sides have lots of great sea life to see. If you keep your eyes open you may even see some of the locals out spearfishing.
The good news about Playa Ocotal is if diving underwater is not for you, the salt and pepper sand tones of this beach and the shaded area offered by the tree’s making it a great spot for relaxing and working on that tan.
Though we are still not 100% certain, we think the secret beach we found for snorkeling is called La Penca.
Perched on the uninhabited peninsula between Playa del Coco and Playa Hermosa, we discovered Secret Beach with my Mom and Dad.
Getting to Secret Beach involved tactical driving, dirt roads and a short hike down to the beach. When we arrived an oasis of white sand and blue water was waiting for us. At this completely natural snorkeling site which is slightly off the grid, don’t expect to find restaurants or washrooms in the vicinity. It is very isolated. Luckily we brought a nice picnic lunch with us for our beach day.
In terms of snorkeling, we only explored underwater on the left side of the bay, although after having visited the beach, I can tell that the snorkeling would have been similar on either side. The visibility at this spot was by far the best we had seen.
We had a little bit of a hard time making our way from Playa del Coco to Playa Panama.
We accessed the Playa Panama snorkeling site via our rental car, but what should have been a 20-minute trip turned into a good 45-minute trip. The road signs in Costa Rica are not very good and we got a little lost trying to figure out which dirt road turnoff to take.
Because we had timed our snorkel with the outgoing tide, arriving late meant that we got there an hour or so before sunset. The smooth sand made for a nice beach walk to the snorkeling spot, which was situated on the right-hand side. We made use of the many low hanging trees close to the snorkeling site to hang our clothes.
It was a short but sweet snorkel before dark and we made it out in time to enjoy the brilliant sunset.
If you are a snorkeling fanatic and have your equipment on hand you can look into tour companies for your fill of vitamin sea, or you can check out some of these great spots for FREE.
Although I would not think of the northern part of Costa Rica as a snorkeling destination per se, we did have tonnes of fun in the water.
Having mainly a volcanic rocky landscape both above and below the water, the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica is open to the rough waters of the Pacific meaning that visibility can be poor. To maximize your chances of good visibility this region is best visited in the countries dry season from December to April. It is important to note that Joey and I snorkeled all of these sites in the months right after the rainy season and at times the visibility was not ideal so our overall snorkel experience may have been affected.
Happy exploration fellow snorkelers!!
Have you been to the province of Guanacaste in Costa Rica? What was your favorite snorkeling sites and where were they located?
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Slipping into the Pacific waters off Costa Rica for a snorkel is a relaxing way to spend the day. Here are the best places around Playa del Coco.
Thanks for the tips!
I’m staying in Playa del Coco in late Oct and really appreciate this article.
Any preferences for a brand or type of new snorkel & mask? It’s been ages since I went out and have no idea what the latest best brands/types are.
Could you send us an email [email protected] and I would be happy to provide you with a list of our favourite masks and snorkels ranging from first-timer to experienced.