You know you want to go fishing in Costa Rica but you aren’t sure where to go. Which city, which marina, oh no – which coast?! This Costa Rica fishing guide will explain the differences between fishing on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast versus the Caribbean Coast.
When people in the fishing world refer to Costa Rica as the “billfish capital of the world” they are referring to the phenomenal marlin and sailfish action found on our Pacific Coast. World famous hot spots like the Los Suenos Resort and the Marina Pez Vela in Quepos are home to some of the best captains and most in-demand boats in Central America, not to mention major international billfish tournaments. It doesn’t end there however as prolific sport fishing can be enjoyed from the northern Pacific region of Guanacaste in places like Tamarindo, Flamingo, and the Gulf of Papagayo all the way to the exotic Osa Peninsula in the south Pacific where you’ll find Golfito and Drake Bay. While offshore fishing for triple-digit sized billfish may dominate magazine covers and advertisements, it goes without saying that the mighty roosterfish is one of the most targeted and asked about species by Central America Fishing anglers.
Weather: The weather on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast is about as predictable as weather can get. From December through April it’s the dry season, or summer, where you will all but be guaranteed hot and sunny weather. During these months the Guanacaste region in the north can (and usually does) get very strong winds so the fishing is better in the central and southern regions of the country like Los Suenos and Manuel Antonio. During the months of May-November we experience our green season where afternoon rain showers are common. The wettest month of the year is October, but even then all day rain is extremely rare and the fishing still productive.
Fishing Seasons: The peak billfish season in Costa Rica is December through April. During this time we see the largest numbers of striped marlin, blue marlin, and of course sailfish. These five months are when you’ll find all the major billfish tournaments being hosted in Costa Rica and days with double digit sailfish bites are quite common. During the months of May through November we still catch billfish every day, but they won’t be as concentrated and the numbers won’t be as high. The trade off is that this time of year is when we see the most yellow-fin tuna, dorado, and wahoo offshore so it’s a great time of year for meat fishermen or a variety bag.
The inshore fishing along the Pacific Coast is always quite good and no where near as seasonal as the offshore fishing. October tends to be the slowest month for inshore fishing as many rivers can get completely blown out with the rain that falls in the mountains miles from the coast, but those same blowouts can also bring a lot of bait with them so it’s always quite good. We do tend to see more snook in the months of January through April, but the snapper, jacks, and roosterfish action is good all year.
Boat Selection: Along Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast you’ll find a seemingly infinite number of boats to fit any size and any budget. You’ll also find several state-of-the-art, first class international marinas like the Los Sueons Marina, the Marina Pez Vela in Quepos, Papagayo Marina, and the new marina in Golfito. Most inshore boats are 26′-28′ pangas or center consoles while the most common offshore boat is a 28′-32′ sport fisher with a cabin and tower. For the more hardcore or discerning angler, our tournament-class boats in the 38′-45′ range are as good as they get in Central America. For large groups of 6-10 anglers we also have 50′-60′ yachts with multiple state rooms and air conditioned salons with kitchens and TVs. With multiple marinas and fishing towns dotted along the coast you’ll find any make of boat you’ve ever heard of – Bertram, Hatteras, Topaz, Contender, Mako, Cabo, Viking, and of course Costa Rica’s own Maverick Yachts.
Hotel Selection: Without any discussion Costa Rica’s best beach hotels, all inclusive resorts, and fishing lodges are located on the Pacific Coast. From boutique, adults only hotels to large family-friendly all inclusive resorts, a private bungalow or a private villas, an eco-lodge or a fishing-lodge, you’ll have no trouble finding the perfect accommodation for your fishing trip to Costa Rica.
Beaches & Towns: Costa Rica’s most popular and well-known beach towns are also located along the Pacific Coast. The party & surf town of Jaco is just 75 minutes outside of San Jose while the international hot spot of Manuel Antonio is just 2.5 hrs away. If you are in Guanacaste you’ll find Tamarindo, Flamingo, Playa Hermosa, and Carillo as major hubs for entertainment and accommodations. These beaches are also the most picturesque and swimmable in Costa Rica, so it’s certainly no coincidence that the biggest and best hotels were developed here.
Other Tours: At just about any major beach town along Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast you’ll have a menagerie of eco and adventure tours to choose from. Eco tours can include guided tours of national parks, kayaking or boating through complex mangrove systems, whale watching, turtle watching, or sunset catamaran cruise. If it wasn’t for sport fishing in Costa Rica the adventure tours would certainly be the claim to fame as options like the canopy zip-line, white water rafting, ATVs, horseback riding, surfing, golf snorkeling & diving, and even waterfall rappelling can be found in most destinations. Whether you need a day off from fishing or are vacationing with family, you’ll find plenty to do here on your non-fishing days.
When most people envision the Caribbean Coast of a Central American country they picture something from a Corona commercial with sugar-white sand beaches, clear turquoise water, and calm waves lapping at the shoreline. While this can be true in some parts of Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast, it’s not what you should expect on your fishing trip. Then again, CAF anglers don’t come to the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica for pina colados and sun tans, they come for the giant tarpon and snook. Costa Rica’s Atlantic Coast offers some of the best snook and tarpon fishing in the entire world – as is evidence by the various IGFA world records set here. While you are cruising the coastline or fishing the river mouths you can also come across jacks, snapper, grouper, mackerel, barracuda and yes even the occasional shark. If you want a day of light tackle adventure you can head into the freshwater lagoons and rivers and fish for a variety of local species like rainbow bass (guapote), machaca, mojarra (blue gill), and the prehistoric tropical gar. Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast is as beautiful as it gets, but it’s not a spot for beach-bums as the combination of strong currents, waves, sharks, and crocodiles make this an exotic fishing destination rather than a Caribbean beach vacay.
Weather: As with anywhere in the Caribbean, the weather on Costa Rica’s Atlantic Coast is about as unpredictable as it gets. Despite being just 180 miles wide at it’s widest, the weather on the Caribbean Coast in Costa Rica is vastly different from the Pacific Coast. The drier summer months on the Caribbean are January through mid-May when showers are least common and seas conditions are optimal for fishing. They also experience a two month dry season in September and October, which are the wettest months of the year on the Pacific Coast. The months of mid-May to August and then November through early January tend to be very stormy and rainy so fishing isn’t advised for these period.
Fishing Seasons: The fishing season on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast is essentially a mirror of the weather seasons – when the weather is good the fishing is good. The tarpon and snook in Costa Rica are not migratory and the resident population is healthy so the fish are here year round, the question is whether or not you can get to them. All the lodges and hotels in the Caribbean Coast are located inside on fresh water canals, so to get out to the ocean where the best tarpon and snook fishing is you need to run out of the river mouth – which can be harrowing on the wrong day. The best months to fish the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica are therefore when the seas are calm, which happens to be mid-January-May and then again in September and October.
Boat Selection: Along Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast you won’t find marinas or a bay full of moorings, this is the land of the panga. The panga, or super panga, rose to fame as a top inshore fishing boat in the Caribbean for it’s ability to punch through waves, run into shallow water, and flat out for it’s affordability. If you aren’t fishing in a panga you’ll be fishing in something close to it as all of the top tarpon guides and tarpon lodges here use 26′ deep-V center consoles to be able to get through the river mouth safely and offer 360-degree fishability. If you spend a day fishing the fresh water canals or rivers you can also use a small skiff or Jon-boat that can take you deep into the jungle.
Hotel Selection: Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast does not offer anywhere near the amount of beach towns or hotel selections as the Pacific Coast. By far the least developed of the two coasts, your options here are eco-lodges, tarpon fishing lodges, and a handful of luxury hotels. Many people incorrectly assume that Costa Rica features a white sand and turquoise blue Caribbean scene like Belize or Mexico, but here it’s not like that so all the major developments and hotels will be found on the Pacific.
Beaches & Towns: The southern Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica does feature some gorgeous, postcard-esque beaches like Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, and Cocles. Often more of a draw for backpackers or Europeans, if you love the Caribbean vibe of rastas, Bob Marley music playing at every bar, and eating ‘rice and beans’ you’ll love it here. The northern Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica takes on a much different, eco-friendly vibe than it’s more libation-friendly southern region. Much of this can be attributed to the 400,000 acre Barra de Colorado Wildlife Refuge. Without doubt the largest tourist town here, consisting of about 900 locals, is the world famous sea turtle nesting site of Tortuguero. The major port town on this coast, Limon, is where the cruise ships and container ships dock but due to safety issues and lack of quality beaches we highly recommend you don’t spend any time here.
Other Tours: Along the Caribbean Coast you won’t find the laundry list of tours available to you that you would on the Pacific, but if you love nature this may be paradise. Eco tours available are guided tours of national parks, kayaking, snorkeling, bird watching, animal sanctuaries, and of course turtle viewing. Depending on the month you visit you can see four different species of turtles either laying their eggs or hatching here – but you MUST go with a guide as this is a national park and very protected.
We hope this guide helps you figure out where to fishing in Costa Rica on your next trip, but if you can’t decide don’t worry – you can try our Coast-to-Coast package and fish both coasts in the same week!