Watersports in Costa Rica

Find out about some of the most popular watersports including surfing, diving, snorkeling, rafting and kayaking...

Beaches

Costa Rica is renowned for its beaches (playas), and there are over 300 beaches along its coast. Most of this land is minimally populated, making beaches fairly private and tranquil.

With Costa Rica being quite narrow, the Pacific and Caribbean coast beaches are just a few hours apart. Beaches along the Guanacaste coast tend to be more developed, whereas the beaches of the southern Pacific Coast are more secluded. Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast has white or black sand beaches and a strong Afro-Caribbean cultural influence.

Riptides (rip currents) are commonly found in the water off the Costa Rican coast so visitors are advised to seek out established swimming areas and to swim with caution. If caught in a riptide, swim parallel to the shore to escape to calmer water.

  • For information from the Costa Rican Tourism Institute about the beaches in Costa Rica: Click here

Snorkeling

Because of heavy runoff from rivers, coastal waters can be quite cloudy, making visibility less than optimal for snorkeling. Conditions vary depending on season, weather and wave intensity. In the early autumn, Manzanillo Beach, on the Caribbean coast, tends to have the best conditions for snorkeling. For those wishing to snorkel, snorkeling gear can be bought or rented at many beach shops.

Scuba Diving

The warm waters off the Costa Rican coast make scuba diving a popular activity; however, coastal waters can have low visibility due to river runoff. Many coral reefs on the Caribbean side have been killed due to agricultural runoff, but some still exist at Gandoca-Manzanilla (Caribbean), Cahuita (Caribbean), Playa Manuel Antonio (Pacific), Parque Nacional Ballena Marina (Pacific) and Isla del Caño (Pacific). Isla del Caño is home to many species of coral, dolphin and crustaceans.

Some other popular scuba diving locations, all on the Pacific coast, include:

  • Playas del Coco
  • Playa Hermosa
  • Playa Ocotal
  • Bahia Drake

Surfing

The beaches of Costa Rica on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts are popular with surfers. Optimal surf season is from December through April, but beaches along the Pacific Coast can have good surf through October.

Popular surfing destinations (all on the Pacific coast unless indicated) include:

  • Playa Hermosa
  • Playa Grande
  • Pavones
  • Tamarindo
  • Puerto Viejo (specifically the Salsa Brava wave; on the Caribbean coast)
  • Dominical
  • Guanacaste (specifically the Playa Negra beach)

Note that some beaches are hard to reach due to poor road conditions.

Surf boards can be rented at surf shops near most beaches.

Canoeing, Kayaking and Whitewater Rafting

Costa Rica’s high annual rainfall makes whitewater rafting and kayaking (both freshwater and sea) popular activities throughout the year. Rafting excursions can be booked through specialized companies, with most packages including transportation, equipment and meals. Rivers (rios) offer Class II to Class V rapids and rafting opportunities can be found throughout the country.

Some of the more popular rivers for whitewater rafting include:

  • Pacuare River: Runs from the Cordillera de Talamanca to the Caribbean
  • Peñas Blancas River: In the Tilaran mountain range in north central Costa Rica
  • Reventazón River: From central Costa Rica to the Caribbean
  • Sarapiqui River: In the east
  • Savegre River: In the Talamanca mountain range on the central Pacific coast

The town of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí in north east Costa Rica has a large number of launches for river kayaking and whitewater rafting.