Chances are you are sure you want to visit, you just don’t know where to go. Which beach town, which marina, or even which coast! These are all critical questions to ask when planning a fishing vacation to Costa Rica as the weather, fishing seasons, and even available species varies greatly from one region to the next and certainly from one ocean to the other. Simply put, the question of ‘Where is the best fishing in Costa Rica?‘ isn’t always an easy answer. This Costa Rica fishing guide will help answer the common question anglers have regarding where to go, when, and review the Top 6 Fishing Destinations in Costa Rica.
Fishing on Costa Rica’s Pacific 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 Sueños Resort & Marina and the Marina Pez Vela in Quepos are home to some of the best captains and fishing 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 our anglers. So the majority of the time when people ask, ‘Where is the best fishing in Costa Rica?‘, the answer is the Pacific Coast due to predictable weather patterns and sea conditions, modern marinas, fantastic beach towns with tons hotels & private rentalsto choose from, and of course amazing inshore and offshore fishing.
Weather on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast
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 the fishing still productive and most days are hot and sunny until 2-3 PM.
Available Species on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast
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 Sueños Marina, the Marina Pez Vela in Quepos, Papagayo Marina, and the new marinas in Golfito and Playa Flamingo. 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.
Without any question, the best beach hotels, all-inclusive resorts, and fishing lodges are located on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. From boutique adults-only hotels to large family-friendly all-inclusive resorts, a private bungalow or a private villa, 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. All of these beach towns offer a great selection of local restaurants, bars, grocery stores, banks, ATMS and hospitals or clinics.
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.
Fishing on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast
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 beaches along Costa Rica’s Southern Caribbean Coast, it’s not what you should expect on your fishing trip. When trying to decide where to fish in Costa Rica: Pacific vs Caribbean, you need to consider what you’ll want to do on any non-fishing days or if members of your group don’t fish because the Northern Caribbean is not a ‘beach’ destination. Unlike other destinations like Belize or the Yucatan Peninsula that are protected by the Mesoamerican Reef, Costa Rica’s Northern Caribbean Coast is open water so it can be very rough and generally has a lot of currents. The beaches in this part of the country tend to be black sand and are part of the massive conservation area, so there isn’t a lot of infrastructure out here.
That said, if you are coming to fish 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 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 on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast
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 its widest point, 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 periods.
Available Species on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica
Along Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast, you won’t find marinas or a bay full of moorings, this is the land of pangas and center consoles. 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 its 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 freshwater canals or rivers you can also use a small skiff or Jon-boat that can take you deep into the jungle.
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 beachgoers, 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.
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.
The Top 6 Fishing Destinations in Costa Rica
#1 – 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.
#2 – 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.
#3 – 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.
#4 – 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.
#5 – Lake Arenal
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.
# 6 – Osa Peninsula
Last but not least on our list of the Top 6 Fishing Destinations in Costa Rica 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 Costa Rica’s 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 in the Central Pacific, so picking the right month to visit 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.