Superb Sailing, Snorkeling, & Dolphin Watching in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
NOTE: The content on this page was last updated on May 29th, 2017.
Want to know our pick for the BEST COASTAL TOUR in Costa Rica?
It is featured on DIY Costa Rica!
From as early on as I can remember and until my teenage years, my mom and dad had to drag me kicking and screaming out of our backyard pool on a nightly basis. Being in the water was my absolute favourite pastime. I spent the better part of my childhood playing marco polo, rings, and colours, not to mention perfecting what I thought was an awesome underwater handstand. I have always loved being in and around water (despite a painful brush with poisonous coral while scuba diving in the Dominican Republic), so it is no wonder that my waterbaby upbringing has led me on some of Costa Rica’s great aquatic adventures. With so many activity options to choose from (including scuba diving, surfing, stand-up paddling, rafting, kayaking, and canoeing), one of the best experiences had thus far has to be Planet Dolphin’s Sailing, Snorkeling, and Dolphin Watching Tour run to/from Manuel Antonio.
First things first. You do not need to have an interest in sailing to enjoy the tour. I couldn’t tell you which side was port and which was starboard (enter elementary school gym class flashback when ‘ship captain’ was the best game ever played), yet my lack of nautical knowledge did not hinder the experience in one bit. The activity is essentially a coastal tour via catamaran (not an educational sailing excursion), so as long as your interest is to sit back, relax, and take in the surrounding sites, you’ll get exactly what you are looking for.
The day starts off at the port in Quepos (the town nearby the Manuel Antonio beach and national park). Transportation to and from the port and Manuel Antonio hotels is included for those travellers without a rental vehicle. Once at the port, visitors will find the boat in all its glory – complete with a ridiculously fun waterslide attached at the back. Once aboard you will find a variety of seating options (the majority of seats are located in shaded areas although you can opt to sit along the boat’s edge if you wish to bask in the sun) as well as large containers with lids that you are welcome to store you belongings in (great for keeping cameras and other items dry and away from sticky sunscreen). The front of the boat offers a mesh-like platform which travellers are free to lay out on – perfect for watching the waves splash beneath you while you keep a look out for dolphins en route. Near the back you’ll find the bar, where guides serve tropical concoctions of non-alcoholic and alcoholic cocktails among other beverage options (depending on what you are in the mood for).
As you sail from the pier in Quepos along the Manuel Antonio coastline, watch the dolphin’s play catch-up alongside the boat. Warning: every one of our attempts to photograph a dolphin jumping out of the water failed miserably. The good news? Although we ended up with 100 shots of the ocean with no dolphin in sight (each photo taken two seconds too late), the guides spotted enough of the playful mammals during our tour that we were given memories to last a lifetime. Kodak moment – 0. Mental snapshot – 1.
Halfway through the tour the boat will make a stop nearby the ever-popular Punto Catedral. For those of you who are familiar with the Manuel Antonio National Park, Cathedral Point marks the protected land area’s most southern tip. If you’ve researched the park online, read about it in a guidebook, or even purchased a Costa Rican postcard showcasing Manuel Antonio on the front, then you’ve likely laid your eyes on it. It is the lush, green, island-meets-mainland section of coastline that protrudes out from the shore and stretches into the Pacific. If you have toured the national park before, you may or may not have opted to take one of the side trails out to the Point (note: the side trail leading to Punto Catedral is a more challenging hike than the park’s primary trail and should only be visited by travellers who are looking for an intermediate hiking experience). Given that Punto Catedral is most often captured from a bird’s eye view via photographs taken from helicopters overhead, or else experienced from the inside of the forest via the park’s hiking trail, the sailing tour paints another picturesque scene of the Point – from the ocean looking in.
After a brief stop and discussion about the park and its importance, the guides lead the group towards Playa Biesanz – Manuel Antonio’s most popular locale for snorkeling. Included with the tour is all applicable snorkel gear, so those wanting to swim and/or explore the area have a chance to do so. Suit up, strap up, and get snorkeling – there are plenty of fish to see, including schools of Angel fish and Parrot fish larger than we have ever seen on past snorkeling and diving excursions. The real thrill? As daunting as the size of some of the Parrot fish were, Ricky and I were more intimidated by the boat’s waterslide – its height, steepness, and speed included. Sure, if a few children young enough to be our own could muster up the courage to take the plunge, we could too. It was a lot faster than it looked, but also ten times more fun, a wonderful surprise, and another way we found incredible adventure during an otherwise relaxing tour. Followed up by an incredible lunchtime feast featuring grilled fish brochettes, pasta salad with vegetables, fresh tropical fruits, and beverages, we couldn’t be happier.
The best part? It’s hard for us to choose. The sailing tour was fantastic. Unless you’re not a ‘boat person’, it is hard not to appreciate the open water, the crashing waves, the endless sunshine, and the beautiful breeze. Lunch was filling and delicious, and the open bar with its variety of beverages available for the taking throughout the entire tour was a plus. But when it comes down to it, we all know that service can make or break any tour, and in our experience, the Planet Dolphin staff completely made our day. They regularly asked us if we needed anything, were stern when they needed to be (safety first!), and managed to turn an otherwise well-organized tour into a vacation experience that we would not only recommend to travellers, but would also go so far as calling it one of Manuel Antonio’s ‘not-to-miss’ activities.
There’s not much we would change about this tour, nor is there much more I can say about it without overtly gushing. Since Ricky and I have travelled throughout Costa Rica at length and have participated in more tours and activities than we could ever count, I can only think of a few tour experiences that have actually forced me to relax. So many activities evoke adrenaline-inducing adventure or constantly require something from travellers (such as mobility, intricate focus, or attention), and although we see the benefits and learning opportunities in each, sometimes its good to be able to incorporate a little relaxation into an otherwise exciting trip.
If you’re more of a visual learner, take a moment to view our gallery photos below from our most recent visit aboard Planet Dolphin’s boat.
*Discounts for the Sailing, Snorkeling, & Dolphin Watching Tour are available through Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated at: http://www.puravidaeh.ca
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you been sailing, snorkeling, or dolphin watching in Costa Rica (either separately or together)? What did you think?