Costa Rica translates to “Rich Coast” in Spanish. But it’s not just the palm-lined beaches that offer such biodiverse wildlife. The Pacific Ocean itself is brimming with life and beauty. In this post, we’ll share a fun dolphin watching and snorkel tour that departs from the beach town of Samara.
About the Area
Samara is a smaller beach town on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. It is in the northern part of the country but somewhat south from other Guanacaste destinations. The Guanacaste region is known best for its variety of gorgeous beaches. There are surfing beaches, calm coves, and everything in between.
Samara has a fairly sheltered beach, with medium sized waves and some calmer spots that are good for swimming. Just offshore are coral reefs and ledges as well as a small island (Isla Chora).
Like much of the Guanacaste coastline, you don’t have to go far to get to deeper water. This makes it an excellent spot to see marine life like dolphins (year-round), whales (seasonal), turtles, and all sorts of cool fish.
There is a nice little downtown set just off the main beach in Samara. Behind the sand are a few blocks of shops, hotels, restaurants, and tour offices. You can read more about the town in our Samara destination post.
Dolphin Watching and Snorkeling in Samara
On our most recent visit to Samara, we were excited to take some type of boat tour. Our kids (ages 2 and 6 at the time) love the water and boats. We’ve done catamaran cruises, wetland boat tours, and safari river floats around Costa Rica.
We were looking for something a little different, and the local dolphin watching tour seemed perfect for us. It focuses on finding some sea life offshore, like dolphins and whales, but mixes in time for swimming and snorkeling too.
The Beach Launch
After a short shuttle ride from downtown Samara, our tour started on the very southern end of Playa Samara. Here, we walked out onto the hot sand towards the double-hulled boat near shore. Our captain, Jorge, and two guides, Alex and Nelson, greeted us with smiles.
Alex helped us wade through the shallow water and up onto the back of the boat. At this end of the beach, the waves are small, so we didn’t have much trouble at all.
While we got situated on the boat, Nelson pulled up the anchor and we started to slowly motor away.
Alex did a quick safety talk and showed us where the life jackets, bathroom, and cooler were on the boat.
Today, we were doing a private tour, so we had the boat all to ourselves. We’d definitely recommend this option for a family or group. It offers a really personalized experience. But we’ve heard that the group tour is fun too.
Snorkeling at the Hole
We weren’t but a few minutes into our tour when Alex asked us if we wanted to do some snorkeling. He said that they often do this at the end of the tour, but that the tide was better now. The swimming would be calmer too since the reef was exposed, blocking the waves.
Of course, we couldn’t wait to jump in.
The boat tied up to a mooring, and Nelson quickly got us set up with snorkel gear and life jackets.
For this part of the tour, Jenn and Sam (age 6) decided to go out snorkeling with the guide, while me (Matt) and Evan (age 2) stayed closer to the boat.
Evan wasn’t quite ready for snorkeling yet, but he did enjoy floating and kicking around the big boat. The guides even gave us some pool noodles to help stay afloat.
About a half hour later, Jenn and Sam came back with enthusiastic reports of seeing a pufferfish, jewel eel, sea cucumber, and lots of colorful reef fish around the rocks. The guide even swam down deeper to point out a large starfish.
Once we were dried off from swimming and snorkeling, Jorge fired up the engines and we set off again.
The guides laid out fresh fruits for us and helped us get drinks from the cooler. Before we knew it, we were gaining speed and heading offshore.
The idea behind this part of the tour was to get out into the deeper waters and look for marine life like dolphins. You can sometimes see whales too. The humpback migration seasons are January to March and July to October.
As we got farther from Samara, our views extended up and down the coastline. Our guides pointed out beaches like Playa Barragona, where celebrity Mel Gibson has a private estate.
We also could see far south to the end of the Nicoya Peninsula. The backdrop of mountains set behind the sparkling ocean was beautiful.
The Search for Marine Life
It took us a while to see any signs of life out in the deeper water aside from the occasional flying fish.
At one point, Nelson saw a faraway splash. We headed that direction only to come up with nothing. But Captain Jorge didn’t give up. He continued out, Samara now just a tiny dot along the coastline.
Then, suddenly Jorge stopped the boat. It was a sea turtle!
Jorge kept the boat at a distance but made sure we got a good view. Alex explained that it was an olive ridley sea turtle and that they are often seen near the surface because they need to breath air.
While we watched him gracefully use his flippers to swim, Alex told us about some of the other turtle species that were local to the area.
About 15 minutes after the sea turtle sighting and with a renewed hope, Jorge quickly turned the boat and slowed down again. He had seen something off to the left and was cautiously checking it out.
Alex and Nelson told us there might be some dolphins nearby and that we should get up onto the bow of the boat. Our excitement grew.
We headed to the front and settled on a big space between the two hulls. The four of us could all sit together here and dangle our feet. We had a clear view of the water below.
Suddenly a dolphin appeared right in front of the boat. Then another, this one swimming literally right under our feet! A few other dolphins surfaced nearby.
Alex explained that these were bottlenose dolphins and that they are always very curious about the boat. They like to come play under and around it to ride the waves. Sometimes, he said, smaller spotted dolphins also are seen on the tour.
The dolphins gave us a great show for about 10 minutes while Jorge slowly motored along. Finally, they swam off. We were sad to see them go but the look of joy on our kids’ faces was priceless.
Wrapping Up the Tour
With our mission accomplished, Jorge motored the boat back to Samara at full speed. Along the way, we saw a few more splashes in the distance. One wide-looking fish that leapt out of the water, Alex said, was likely an eagle ray. But we didn’t get a close look.
Nonetheless, our tour was spectacular, the guides were fun, and we had a beautiful day of memories out on the water.
The dolphin and snorkeling tour is on a medium sized boat that holds about 30 people. The boat is double hulled so quite stable on the ocean. It is completely covered so you can find some shade. There are benches along the side to sit on.
The boat has a bathroom with a flushable toilet.
There are steps at the rear of the boat to help you enter and exit the water so it’s best to wear shoes that come off easily like sandals.
Group Tour: $56 per person adults plus tax; $40 per person children ages 5-12 plus tax. Children 4 and under are free.
Private Tour: $600 plus tax (up to 12 people, $50 each additional person).
8:00 a.m. but private tours sometimes can be arranged at other times.
What Is Included?
This tour includes a professional boat captain, bilingual naturalist guides, round-trip transportation from your hotel or vacation rental in Samara or Playa Carrillo, all snorkel and safety equipment, drinks (water, beer, juice), and fruit snacks.
The tour is recommended for children 2 years old and up.
Booking a Tour
If you would like to book this tour, we would be happy to help. Please send us an email at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com with your preferred date, number of adults and children (with ages), and your pickup location. Booking through us costs the same and helps support our website!
*PLEASE NOTE: We can only book for groups of 4 people or more for Group tours. We also can book Private tours (no minimum number of people required).
Have a question about dolphin watching or snorkeling in Samara? Leave us a comment below.
Looking for more information to help you plan your trip? Check out these articles:
Samara: Guanacaste’s Most Overlooked Beach Town – Samara is set off, a little south of many Guanacaste beach destinations, but has everything you need for some fun in the sun.
Playa Carrillo: A Favorite Locals’ Beach in Guanacaste – Just south of Samara is a beautiful crescent-shaped beach which, aside from weekends and holidays, is much less busy.
Rental Car Discount – If you are planning to rent a car for your trip, get a discount plus free extras with one of the best companies in Costa Rica.