Scuba Diving in Central America: Top Dive Destinations

Marine life in Bocas Del Toro, Panama
Marine life in Bocas Del Toro, Panama. iStock / Getty Images Plus

Scuba divers, strap on your gear! From Costa Rica's Pacific coast to Belize's Caribbean cayes, Central America is an underwater extravaganza. Central America Scuba diving can be challenging enough for experienced Scuba divers; yet beginning Scuba divers are drawn to the inexpensive PADI Scuba diving courses in Central America, and the chance to behold National Geographic-worthy sights on one's very first dive.

Explore the top destinations for Scuba diving in Central America!

01 of 08

The Bay Islands, Honduras

The Odyssey Wreck
Brandi Mueller / Getty Images

Each of Honduras's Caribbean Bay Islands (Roatan, Utila, and Guanaja) is a world class Scuba diving destination in its own right. The Bay Islands run alongside the second-largest barrier reef in the world, and the diversity of the islands' undersea species is staggering. Besides dolphins, sea turtles, nurse sharks and manta rays, whale sharks are frequent visitors. While Bay Islands Scuba diving is some of the world's best, the prices are some of the world's cheapest: an open water certification at Utila Dive Centeris just $229, and includes accommodations at the Mango Inn.

02 of 08

Isla del Coco, Costa Rica

Costa Rica's Coco Island, the largest uninhabited island in the world, is not for day-trip Scuba divers. Because the Coco National Park is over 300 miles offshore, it takes a day and a half on a live-aboard dive boat just to reach it. But for hardcore divers, the voyage is worth it - Central America scuba diving truly doesn't get any better than this. Undisputed dive expert Jacques Cousteau famously called diving at Isla del Coco the best in the world. As added attraction, Jurassic Parkwas set in Coco National Park (though it was filmed in Hawaii). Venture inland for a truly wild experience - minus the dinosaurs, of course.

03 of 08

The Corn Islands, Nicaragua

Beach with tourist cabins, Little Corn Island, Caribbean Sea, Nicaragua, Central America, America
Wolfgang Diederich / Getty Images

Nicaragua's Little Corn Island is largely unspoiled, absent of cars or high-rise resorts. As a result, Scuba diving at Little Corn Island remains sensational - rated a 9 out of 10 by National Geographic. According to Dive Little Corn, "the island's reef offers a variety of unique diving adventures, from caves and caverns to un-chummed shark encounters … and virtually every reef fish classified as Tropical Caribbean." But don't overlook Scuba diving at Big Corn Island. The Nautilus Dive Center offers Scuba, snorkel, and glass bottom boat trips, in which you can "enjoy the tropical splendor of the Caribbean as it was 30 years ago."

04 of 08

Playas del Coco, Costa Rica

Scenic view of Playas del Coco
 Chris VR / TripSavvy

Not to be confused with Isla del Coco, Playas del Coco is a popular beach in the Guanacaste region of northern Costa Rica. Playas del Coco is a great launch pad to explore the nearby Catalina Islands (manta ray territory) and the Bat Islands (bull sharks galore), while the curvy Coco Bay offers low-key Costa Rica Scuba diving. Because of Playas del Coco's popularity with all types of travelers, accommodations are available for every budget.

Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08

Ambergris Caye, Belize

The Blue Hole Belize Lighthouse Reef Natural Phenomenon Aerial View
Mlenny / Getty Images

Ambergris Caye in Belize shares the same Caribbean coral reef as the Bay Islands in Honduras. The most popular dive site is Hol Chan Marine Reserve, occupying three square miles off Ambergris Caye's southern tip. Intrepid Central America Scuba divers shouldn't miss the experience to visit the Great Blue Hole, a circular sinkhole 1000 feet across and nearly 500 feet deep. Hol Chan, the Blue Hole and beyond can also be accessed through dive operators on nearby Caye Caulker.

06 of 08

Turneffe Atoll, Belize

The largest atoll in the Caribbean, Belize's Turneffe Atoll is comprised of over 200 islands, sheltering innumerable tropical species from rough waves. The atoll is ringed by sixty Belize dive sites, boasting an extraordinary variety of underwater landscapes. According to one of the atoll's top on-site Scuba diving operators, Turneffe Flats, the atoll is home to "all of the Caribbean tropicals, eagle rays, sharks, turtles, dolphins, moray eels, and occasionally whale sharks in addition to large schools of permit, horse eye jacks, and dog snapper." In addition, the Lighthouse Atoll and the Great Blue Hole are about an hour away.

07 of 08

Isla del Caño, Costa Rica

Just 12 miles offshore, Isla del Caño is like Isla del Coco's closer - and cheaper - little sister. Says Caño Divers: "You can see many of the same species at Caño Island [as you would at Coco Island]. You will encounter both pelagic (open ocean) and reef fish … large schools of jacks and barracudas, stingrays and manta rays, and sharks." Caño Divers ventures to Caño every morning from Drake Bay, on the northern side of the Osa Peninsula in southern Costa Rica.

08 of 08

Bocas del Toro, Panama

Clear waters along the Bocas del toro coast

TripSavvy / Anna Haines

For excellent Central America Scuba diving year-round, many divers head to Central America's southernmost nation, Panama. The Bocas del Toro islands in Panama offer some of the country's best diving, from popular dive sites Hospital Point and Coral Cay to the nearby Zapatillas Cays. According to Starfleet Scuba, a PADI Gold Palm 5-Star Resort on Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro boasts some the best-preserved hard and soft coral in the world.