East of the Oso Peninsula and Drake Bay, the snorkeling off Isla del Caño is considered the best in Costa Rica. It is known for plentiful marine life, colorful coral and turquoise blue water with exceptional visibility up to 80 feet. The large brain coral formations and waving sea fans provide a diverse habitat. While snorkeling Cano Island, you may encounter jacks, sergeant majors, puffer-fish, surgeon fish, angelfish, moorish idols, moray eels, olive ridley turtles, hawksbill turtles, green sea turtles, manta rays, barracuda, nurse sharks and white-tipped reef sharks.
The 300 hectare island is within the Reserva Biologica Isla del Caño, which is owned and managed by the Costa Rican government. The daily number of visitors and divers is limited for conservation and reservations are required. While presently uninhabited, the island was previously occupied by pre-Columbian indigenous tribes, and then frequented by pirates. Since the island was purchased in 1976, there had been some hiking trails open to the public, but these are now restricted. Visitors must stay on the beach near the ranger station, which is probably good to avoid the boa constrictors hanging out in the rubber trees.
Cano Island is only accessible by a dive boat charter from the mainland. Since some charters carry both snorkelers and scuba divers, make sure to select a dive charter with only snorkelers since the scuba dive charter boats go to different dive sites. The best access point is from Drake Bay, which is about 20km to the east and takes about 30 minutes. The next most popular access is via a charter from Uvita within the Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, which is about 50km to the north and takes about 90 minutes. Lastly, there a couple dive charters out of the Quepos/Dominical area 65km away, but the 2 hour boat ride is know to be quite rough with pounding surf in a very small boat.
While there are numerous idyllic coves surrounding the island, there are only a handful of permitted dive sites. The best place to start is located on the northcoast just off the Ranger Station. From there, there are a few other popular snorkeling spots including Jardines to the east and El Arco to the west.
To reach the Drake Bay access for Isla del Caño snorkeling tours, the best approach is to fly into Palomar Sur airport. There are inter-country flights from San Jose on Sansa Airlines. From the Palomar Sur airport, you’ll need to head to the coast and then take a short boat ride over to the roadless Drake Bay area where there are numerous coastal lodges.
Overall, Isla Del Cano is the 13th most popular snorkel dive spot of all 21 snorkeling dives in Costa Rica.