Costa Rica is known to have some of the best sport fishing in the entire world, and it’s a reputation that is well deserved. The tiny Central American country is home to world class tarpon & snook fishing on it’s Caribbean Coast, numerous freshwater species in exotic locales, and of course world class inshore & offshore fishing on the Pacific Coast. The diversity of species available here, fishing venues that include two oceans along with freshwater lakes and rivers, and a 12-month fishing season make Costa Rica a fishing destination unlike any other place in the world. Below is a list of Costa Rica’s Best Fishing Destinations so you know where to go, and when, on your next fishing vacation to Costa Rica.
Los Sueños Resort & Marina
First on our list of Costa Rica’s Best Fishing Destinations has to be the famous Los Sueños Resort & Marina. Los Sueños opened in 2001 and is the crown jewel when it comes to sport fishing in Costa Rica. Nestled in Herradura Bay along Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast, it is located just over one hour from the SJO International Airport. This 1,100 acre property features an 18-hole golf course, a 600-acre nature reserve, a beautiful beach club, a marina village with boutique shops, a spa, and grocery & liquor stores, six restaurants, and finally over 500 private residences and luxury condos. These privately owned 1, 2, and 3 bedroom condos and the luxury vacation villas make Los Sueños the ideal location for your next fishing vacation to Costa Rica.
The calling card of the Los Sueños Resort is their 201-slip marina which is home to some of the finest fishing boats and captains in Central America. The fleet ranges from 26′ center consoles to 60′ luxury yachts, many of which are tournament winning boats and feature tenured and tested crews. The sport fishing out of Los Sueños is some of the best in the world as offshore charters commonly reach double digit sailfish releases in addition to endless catches of dorado and yellow-fin tuna. Blue, black, and striped marlin are caught all year round with Nov-Feb and May-July being the top months. For the hardcore anglers targeting marlin, overnight trips to the FADS, or offshore sea mounts, are becoming more and more popular in recent years due to fishing reports of boats returning with 20-30 marlin bites just a couple days of fishing. If offshore fishing doesn’t interest you or if you simply want to switch it up, a few highly skilled captains at Los Suenos specialize in inshore fishing for mackerel, snapper, jacks, sea bass, and roosterfish or you can also go bottom fishing for grouper, snapper, and amberjack at the various offshore reefs.
If you need more convincing of how amazing the fishing at Los Suenos is then just use their Los Suenos Triple Crown Tournament as a guide. This annual three leg, three day tournament is hosted every January, February and March and features 40-45 of the best boats in the region. In the 2014 edition of the tournament the January leg saw an astonishing 2,171 billfish released in three days while the February leg followed with another 1,060 and March closed with 1,847 billfish released.
Quepos / Manuel Antonio
An hour south of the Los Sueños Resort you’ll find one of the most prolific fishing destinations in Costa Rica, Quepos. Traditionally known as the ‘fishing capital of Costa Rica’, Quepos was the place to go in the 80’s and 90’s before the modern Los Sueños Resort & Marina was opened in 2001. Not to be left behind, in 2012 Quepos finally opened it’s brand new Marina Pez Vela and instantly proved stiff competition to the Los Sueños Marina. The gorgeous new marina offers 195 wet slips, restaurants, bars, boutique shops and a more family-friendly approach with movies shown outdoor at night in their amphitheater. Also home to the famous Manuel Antonio National Park, this area is the quintessential destination for first time visitors to Costa Rica as it offers beaches, rain forest, wildlife, luxury hotels, and of course great sport fishing.
Intrepid anglers have been sport fishing in Quepos since tourism first started to gain traction in Costa Rica decades ago. In fact, it was these calm waters and prolific billfish numbers helped put Costa Rica on the map in the 70’s and 80’s. During the peak season it is a common occurrence to raise 10-20 (or more!) sailfish a day and there are always marlin around. The billfishing is so good that Quepos hosted an annual billfish fly fishing tournament for 15 years in the early 2000’s. The popular “Veintisies” pinnacle is a known hot spot for wahoo and big snapper, as well as the occasional black marlin. Thanks to numerous islands and three big river mouths, Quepos also offers some of the country’s best inshore fishing for a variety of species including snook, seabass, jacks, and roosterfish. Last but not least, the jungle rivers near Manuel Antonio provide the perfect setting for river float trips for a variety of freshwater species. The fly fishing trips are as scenic as they are fun, and if you aren’t a fly angler you can always use super light tackle and fish the same way.
As with Los Suenos, one needs to look no further than the international fishing tournaments held here to realize that the sport fishing really is first class. The Marina Pez Vela hosts several billfish tournaments throughout the year like the Quepos Cup and the new Pelagic Rock Star Tournament. Most importantly, Quepos has been host to the Offshore World Championship since 2012. Arguably the largest sport fishing tournament of the year in the entire world, this “invite-only” tournament draws 50-60 teams from around the world to compete for marlin, sailfish, yellow-fin tuna, and dorado every April.
Guanacaste (Tamarindo, Flamingo, Gulf of Papagayo)
Guanacaste is one of seven Costa Rican provinces and comprises the entire northwest corner of the country. This is the “gold coast” of Costa Rica and is home to beautiful beaches, the biggest resorts, and classic fishing towns like Tamarindo, Flamingo, and the Gulf of Papagayo. With talk of all the state of the art marinas in Costa Rica, fishing in Tamarindo is a refreshing take on the way it used to be. There is no marina in Tamarindo so the sport fishing boats are all moored behind the island in the south side of the bay. To get to your boat you simply walk from your hotel along the beach, board a panga in the surf, and ferry out to your waiting private charter. In other beaches like Flamingo, Ocotal, and Playas del Coco it works the same way. On the exclusive Peninsula Papagayo however you’ll find the new Marina Papagayo, which opened in 2009. This is home to 180 slips with an end goal of having over 300, one day making it Costa Rica’s biggest and most advanced marina.
Guanacaste is one of Costa Rica’s oldest fishing destinations thanks in part to favorable geography and weather. This section of the country is the western most point in Costa Rica so the run time to the continental shelf is often less than 30 minutes. Guanacatse is also the hottest and driest region of Costa Rica so it receives very little rainfall all year. Due to strong winds during the dry season months, it actually experiences it’s best fishing during the green season months of May-November. When other parts of the country start receiving daily afternoon showers and the fishing slows down, the action heats up in Guanacaste as the fish tend to more north into better water conditions. Thanks to these clear waters and several large islands just offshore, like the Catalina Islands and Isla Murciealago, Guanacaste offers great inshore fishing and it is home to terrific diving as well.
Northeast Caribbean Coast (Rio Colorado, Rio Parismina, Tortuguero)
Switching coasts and fisheries, one has to mention the Caribbean Coast when they talk about sport fishing in Costa Rica. The tarpon fishing is some of the best in the world as these are all big, mature fish we find here. Here 80-100 lb tarpon are the norm and every year we jump (and sometimes land) 150-200 lb behemoths. Most of the tarpon fishing is done in river mouths and within a mile or two of the shore as giant rivers like the Rio Colorado, Rio Parismina, and Rio Tortuguero create the perfect environment for tarpon to chase their prey in the saltwater of the ocean, the brackish water of the river mouths, or the freshwater in the canals and lagoons. We mainly fish for tarpon with bucktail jigs and sardines in the ocean, but in the river mouths rapalas elicit plenty of bites but the treble hooks don’t always survive.
The snook fishing along this stretch of coastline is literally world class as there are four different IGFA world records set in these waters. Often times the best way to catch snook is to walk on the beach and wade into the river mouths where you will cast stick baits or bucktail jigs into the surf. It’s not easy, but 40-50 lb trophies make it worth it.
Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast has an entirely different weather pattern than the Pacific Coast so knowing when to come fish is important. The tarpon in Costa Rica are not highly migratory like they are throughout much of the rest of the Caribbean, they are always here, but some months the weather can be miserable and the river mouths can simply be too dangerous to cross so you’ll be stick fishing the freshwater canals all day. There are two tarpon seasons on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast, mid-Jan to mid-May and then again in September & October.
This is one of Costa Rica’s most isolated and exotic locales so there are no roads here, the only way in is by boat or plane. This corner of the country almost entirely consists of the Tortuguero Conservation Area, which protects over 200,000 acres of lush rainforest and waterways. For this reason it’s been nicknamed the “Amazon of Costa Rica” because you won’t find any cities or resorts here, just eco-lodges and all inclusive fishing lodges. Fishing with local English speaking guides and no other boats in site make tarpon & snook fishing in Costa Rica an experience anglers come back for year after year.
For the fishing savants out there, fear not, Costa Rica isn’t all about big game fishing for billfish, tuna, and tarpon. The mountains and lush rain forest provide several freshwater fishing opportunities on our various lakes and rivers. The biggest of them all is the 33-acre Lake Arenal, which provides a gorgeous setting for exciting fresh water fishing for species like machaca, tilapia, and the prized rainbow bass. This man-made lake, formed in 1979 to produce cheap hydroelectric power for the region, contains endless pockets, fingers, and river mouths that provide habitat for these fresh water species. Machaca have earned the nickname “mini tarpon” for their acrobatic jumps while rainbow bass are one of the hardest fighting freshwater species you can find. Whether you are casting plugs and crank baits, fly fishing, or trolling deeper water for the big rainbow bass it’s hard to beat the bite and the beautiful scenery. Few things will compare to an early morning on a glass-flat lake in front of the imposing Arenal Volcano with the sound of howler monkeys waking up.
Besides bass fishing on the lake, Costa Rica also offers float trips down some of her pristine jungle rivers. This is available in various parts of the country, so depending on where your vacation takes you or what time of year you visit will determine which river is best for you. The float trips are a unique and memorable way to spend the day since it’s just you and your guide in the raft as you float through the Costa Rican rainforest – often times with no one else in site. This essentially combines two tours into one as you’ll fish and get to enjoy some incredible wildlife viewing of birds, monkeys, sloths, and yes even crocodiles (don’t worry, they are friendly here!). Whether fly fishing or light tackle spin fishing, you’ll make countless casts towards the river banks as you slowly float down the Class I-II rapids trying to elicit a strike from the ever-aggressive machaca. You can also catch small snook, snapper, rainbow bass, and a few other exotic freshwater species on the river trips.
Last but not least on our list of Costa Rica’s Best Fishing Destinations is the final frontier, the Osa Peninsula. Comprised almost entirely by the 164 sq mile Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica’s most prized national park, National Geographic has referred to the Osa Peninsula as ‘the most biologically intense place on Earth.‘ The wildlife here is almost unparalleled anywhere else on the planet as you’ll find 5% of the entire world’s biodiversity right here including hundreds of species of birds, some of the most venomous snakes in the world, crocodiles, and mammals big and small including tapir, jaguars, pumas, ocelots, four species of monkeys and sloths. The best way to get to the Osa Peninsula is to take a 50-minute domestic flight from San Jose or to take an hour long boat ride from the town of Sierpe if you find yourself already in southern Costa Rica.
There are two main fishing destinations in the Osa Peninsula, Drake Bay on the west side (Pacific Ocean) and Puerto Jimenez on the east side (Gulfo Dulce) side. Depending on which one you visit you’ll fish different waters, but the experience will be similar as the fishing is phenomenal but there are very few people around. In Drake Bay you’ll find eco-luxury lodges that typically have less than 15 rooms so the experience is very authentic and personalized. In the Gulfo Dulce you’ll find some of Costa Rica’s more popular all inclusive fishing lodges like Crocodile Bay and Zancudo Lodge. The weather in the Southern Pacific region of Costa Rica varies from that of Guanacaste or even Los Suenos/Quepos, so picking the right month to fish is very important. This area tends to receive the most rainfall of anywhere else on the Pacific, so don’t visit in the wrong month or you could be in for a very soggy experience.
The combination of little human influence, abundant marine life, and fewer sport fishing boats than any other spot on this list of Costa Rica’s Best Fishing Destinations make fishing in the Osa Peninsula an exciting venture. Over 40 IGFA records have been set within 80 nautical miles and it could probably be even more if there were more boats fishing these waters. Marlin and sailfish are found offshore as well as great numbers of yellow-fin tuna. The numerous reefs and pinnacles make for some of the best dive sites in the country, as well as what is arguably the best fishing for giant cubera snapper. If you want nightlife and luxury resorts you can look elsewhere, but if you are looking for incredible nature and plenty of fish that can bend your rod then try the Osa Peninsula out on your next fishing trip to Costa Rica.