Mantas. Sea Turtles. Dolphins. Rays. Huge schools of fish. You can even seek out sharks if you really want to (don’t worry, they don’t bite people!). Costa Rica is an unbelievable place for diving – and when it comes to seeing huge open water animals, few places in mainland Latin America beat Guanacaste’s Pacific Coast.

So what are your options for getting scuba certified in Costa Rica?

PADI versus SSI

In the scuba diving world, there are two organizations that train and certify divers: PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), and SSI (Scuba Schools International). It doesn’t really matter which you choose, as the two are practically interchangeable. Both are accredited by the World Recreational Scuba Training Council, so you’ll learn the same basic stuff through each program. Both are accepted worldwide (and if you forget your card, dive shops can conveniently look up your certification number over the internet.) Both allow students to complete most of the bookwork portion of the text online.

That being said, dive instructors often prefer SSI because the course presentation is a bit more flexible, and students can borrow rather than purchase their materials.

Before You Start – The Medical Exam

Almost anyone can become a scuba diver, even the physically disabled. You just need a relatively clean bill of health. The dive shop will make you fill out a form detailing your medical history. If you check “yes” to having any of these conditions, you’ll have to get a doctor’s exam and note giving you permission to dive. Few health issues completely prohibit diving, and they are mostly related to detrimental problems with ears, lungs, blood clotting and epilepsy. Also, you can’t dive if you’re pregnant or if you have a crippling fear of the ocean.


How Long Does it Take To Get Dive Certified, and How Much Does it Cost?

How long it takes to receive your “cert” depends on how much bookwork you do in advance, but it typically takes 3-4 days. The course consists of four basic parts: bookwork, written tests, pool immersions and open water training out in the sea. In Costa Rica, a course typically costs between $450 and $550 USD – which is really not that bad if you break it down by day (it comes out to about $110- to $140 per full day). When you’re finished, they send a fancy certification card with your photo on it to your home address.

What Happens if You Chicken Out?

If you start the course and chicken out, most dive shops will prorate and refund part or most of your money depending on how much of the course you’ve completed. Don’t chicken out. Diving is awesome.

How Much Does a Day of Scuba Diving Cost?

After your dive certification, a regular two-tank local dive costs about $100-150 – which seems pricey, but considering the cost of gas for the boat, the captain, the knowledgeable divemasters, tanks, gear rental, boat and scuba gear maintenance, hauling all that equipment on and off the boat and CLEANING the gear afterward…it’s well worth it. Don’t forget to tip your dive master. They work hard.

Where to get your dive certification:



Agua Rica

Tamarindo Diving



Brindisi Group Diving

Playas del Coco:

Summer Salt Dive Center

Deep Blue Dive Center

Rich Coast Diving

Sirenas Diving

Freelance Instructor Ernst Van der Poll:

Ernst gets his own paragraph. He is a travelling freelance dive instructor (he’s not based out of any one particular dive shop), so you’ll have to call him up and make an appointment. His diving knowledge is out of this world and he makes you feel like you’re diving with a young, South African Jaque Cousteau. He is amazing. Highly recommend. He also specializes in certifying people with disabilities. Visit his website at