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Diving in Costa Rica

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Costa Rica obviously is going to have amazing diving. Its name literally means “rich coast” in Spanish. It was so named by the first Europeans when they set foot on this beautiful, lush paradise.

A landscape full of dense jungle, unique wildlife and tropical fruit, Costa Rica’s scuba diving is sometimes overlooked. Framed by the Caribbean Sea on the North and the Pacific Ocean on its South there’s much to experience under the water. It is one of the richest biodiversity hotspots in the world.

With unique islands, like Cocos–Jacques Cousteau declared it the world’s most beautiful–there’s no surprise some consider it some of the best scuba diving in the world.

There are dolphins, rays, sharks, whales and everything in between. The Galapagos Shark is also a frequent visitor on the Pacific side. Expect visibility between 30-100 ft, and dive sites ranging from beginner to advanced. This place should be high on your list of dive destinations!

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Punta Maria, Cocos Island

Of course, the number one diving area to mention in Costa Rica must be Cocos Island. A remote volcanic island, 342 from Costa Rica, there are several sites worth their weight in gold (Cocos is also known by some as Treasure Island). You need a great Liveaboard for this. Off the west coast of Cocos, Punta Maria is really the tip of an underwater mountain. Beginning at 82ft (25m), this seamount is joined on either side by two pinnacles. The remote Cocos Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is famous for its depths and strong currents bringing nutrient-rich water up to the surface, along with many wandering pelagics!

Things to See:

The Galapagos Shark is by far the star of the show at this dive site. They come to the various cleaning stations found on these towering mountains. Stay near the walls but be sure to look out into the deep blue to see Manta Rays, Spotted Eagle Rays, Silkie Sharks, Black Tip Reef Sharks, Horse Eye Jacks, Tunas and schooling Hammerhead Sharks.

Bajo Alcyone, Cocos Island

We’ve all seen that picture of hundreds, if not thousands of the great Scalloped Hammerheads. We’ve never quite managed to get it out of our heads. Well, this is the spot for you. Bajo Alcyone is known worldwide for its gigantic schools of Scalloped Hammerheads during the great plankton blooms from June to November.

Things to See:

Like all dive sites around Cocos Island, you must reach it by liveaboard as they are a long journey from the mainland. At Bajo Alcyone, descend to 82ft(25m) and enter your schooling Scalloped Hammerheads. Dolphins, Turtles, Sailfish, Jacks and Tuna will often show up in large schools for a passing visit also. In addition to these incredible pelagics, you may also catch a glimpse of a Whale Shark or two!

Dos Amigos, Cocos Islands

Really two dive sites, “two friends” can be explored one after the other. When the conditions allow, dive down beside these two large rocks and meet the underwater archway which begins around 30ft (15m) from the sandy bottom.

Things to See:

Beginning at a depth of 60ft (18m), and maximizing at 120ft (36m) follow your guide as they take you on a journey through this magnificent archway. Hammerheads, Tigers, Reef and Oceanic Blacktip Sharks navigate between and below this arch, making for a spectacular diving adventure. Marble Rays, Spotted Eagle Rays and schools of Yellow-tail Snappers and Rainbow Runners swim all around as you make your way back to the surface.

Buttonhole, Catalina Islands

Moving to the Catalina Islands, off the North West Coast of Costa Rica, Buttonhole is a well-loved site by tourists and locals alike. Located much closer to home than the remote Cocos Islands, the Catalina Islands offer shallower dives on reefs and are much better for the beginner diver looking to gain experience or the experienced diver who loves to explore colorful reefs!

Things to See:

Just north of Potrero Bay, Buttonhole is a whimsical dive site that is named after the large hole found in the cliff face above it. Descend into the warm shallow waters and reach the reef at 30ft (10m). Explore along to a sandy bottom at a maximum of 60ft (18m). You can see Olive Ridley, Green and Hawksbill Turtles swimming alongside a peaceful Nurse Shark. Look between the colorful reefs to see your regulars like Goatfish, Porcupine Fish, Lobsters, Octopus, and varieties of Eels. This is a great place to look for the small and camouflaging Nudibranchs!

Guacamaya, Catalina Islands

Guacamaya is yet another stunning coastal dive site found near Potrero Bay in the Catalina Islands. Perfect for beginners and advanced divers, this dive site has many interesting rock formations and, while the average depth is 40ft (12m), you can get down to 80ft (22m) very quickly!

Things to See:

Look through the cracks and crevices between these rock formations to find colorful critters such as Coral Crabs, Lobsters, Eels and maybe even a sleepy Nurse Shark catching some shut-eye. All the species of Turtle are often seen swimming about here, sometimes even alongside a Whitetip Shark or two! If you or your guide have a trained and keen eye, you can even find colorful Seahorses and Nudibranchs in abundance. Often cruising along the sandy bottom, you can find a Round Ray.

The Wall, Catalina Islands

This wall dive site can be found on the west side of the Catalina Island. Ranging from 30ft (10m) to 100ft (30m), this dive site is one for the list. Did you know that around Catalina Island you can find Eagle Rays, Giant Manta Rays, Devil Rays, Bullseye Rays, Bat Rays, Mobley Rays and more?!

Things to See:

The varieties and abundance of Rays really steal the show at this dive site. Descend along the wall and find the depth suitable for you. Follow your guide along and after around 10 minutes you can find a sandy channel also locally called “Shark Channel” where you have the awesome opportunity to witness some baby Nurse Sharks or White Tip Reef Sharks lazily resting on the sand. Be sure to keep your eye out in the blue, as some divers have reported seeing Pilot Whales and even Whale Sharks cruising by!

Big Scare, Isla De Los Murcielagos

Calling all adventurous divers! Only for those with a brave soul and years of experience, this dive site is for you. Take a boat ride out to Isla De Los Murcielagos, unofficially known as the Bat Islands, specifically to visit the Santa Rosa National Park. On the boat ride over you will most likely see a pod of dolphins riding in the wake or during September and October Humpback whales casually lounging by the boat.

Things to See:

The greatest highlight of this dive site, however, is the massive Bull Sharks that congregate here at the 3 cleaning stations. Descend without a line to a maximum depth of 100ft (30m) and wait for the majestic Bull Sharks to arrive. They are known to be curious and will approach divers for a closer look. If you are not so interested in these attention-demanding Sharks, you can look around for the Chromodoris Magnificent Nudibranch. If it suddenly gets dark overhead during the dive, look up and you may see a Giant Manta Ray gliding by.

Black Rock, Isla De Los Murcielagos

Black Rock is a pinnacle that rises from the 80ft (24m) bottom to the surface of the ocean, sometimes revealing itself during the high tide. Circle this pinnacle from the bottom to the top and encounter a reef absolutely teeming with life.

Things to See:

Swimming near the bottom and the mid water you can find more of those impressive Bull Sharks as they seemingly glide without effort into and out of the prevailing currents. They are attracted to the Santa Rosa National Park due to the endless schools of Snappers and Jacks that they hunt at night. This dive site is also excellent for seeing the soaring Giant Manta Rays and Spotted Eagle Rays. You may also get the chance to spot some Hawksbill or Olive Ridley Turtles who enjoy meeting at this colourful and towering pinnacle.

Bajo del Diablo, Caño Island

Caño Island is a small and mysterious island located off the very southern coast of Costa Rica in the Pacific Ocean. This is another marine park teeming with fish, both big and small. Caño island and its waters are protected under the Caño Island Biological Reserve Park. This benefits everyone as the land and the ocean have stunning features that should be explored by divers and adventure enthusiasts while being respected and protected!

Things to See:

Bajo del Diablo, the “Devil’s Pinnacle” consists of really 3 dive sites found in one place. Tour this pinnacle anywhere from 20ft (6m) to 150ft (45m) and you will find yourself completely immersed in an aquarium-like experience. Explore the interesting rock formations that create peaks and channels for small and large critters to hide out. Massive schools of Barracuda tour the tops of the reefs, alongside huge Yellow-tail Snappers, Amberjacks, Wahoo and maybe even Marlin. This site has been known to have visitors from White Tip Reef Sharks, Oceanic Manta Rays, Dolphins, and Pilot Whales!

Paraiso, Caño Island

At the very edge of the Marine Park you can find the Paraiso reef at depths of 60-72ft (18-22m). Expect stronger currents here which bring an abundance of life. Nutrient for the smaller colorful reef fish, which in turn attract the larger pelagics.

Things to See:

Blue-stripped Snapper, schooling Horse-eye Jacks, Amberjacks and Barracudas patrol these reefs. Among the reef itself look for colorful Damsel Fish, Goat Fish, Soldierfish, Moray Eels, Green and Hawksbill Turtles. Due to the access of depth and proximity to the open ocean, during the season you may be serenaded by the sweet sounds of Humpback Whales.

El Barco Hundido, Caño Island

El Barco Hundido literally translates to ‘sunken boat. However, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a wreck dive. Where there was once a shipwreck, it has long since been removed. In its place you can find deep rock formations from 40-72ft (12-22m).

Things to See:

As most underwater features do, many large schools of fish are attracted here. Look around at the stunning hard and soft corals protruding from these rocky substrates. You can see large Groupers and schools of Snappers. Scorpionfish and other camouflaging fish can be found here. Like most, if not all, sites in Costa Rica, you can find large numbers of Sharks cruising by, alongside Giant Mata Rays and Olive Ridley, Leatherback and Hawksbill Turtles.

Coronel Lafonso Monge Wreck, Tortuga Island

Finally, this list would not be complete without at least one mention of a wreck. For those who target dive sites specifically for wreck diving, Tortuga Island is the place for you. Tortuga Island is known as Costa Rica’s wreck diving center. Here you can dive the Coronel Lafonso Monge wreck which is perfect for beginners to advanced divers. Sitting on the sandy bottom at 52ft (16m), and 82ft (24m) long, this sunken Coast Guard Ship is in perfect condition for underwater exploration.

Things to See:

An attraction of the greatest colour-show on earth: Brain and Boulder Corals encrusted on the sides of this wreck, along with Purple and Orange Tube Sponges. Brightly coloured Sea-anemones and Feather-Duster Worms. Trumpet fish, Wrasse, Sergeant Majors, Surgeon Fish and Snappers have made homes around this stunning wreck. Bonus alert! On your way to and from Tortuga Islands, you may see Mobula Rays in great numbers, Spinner Dolphins or even Pilot Whales from the bow of the boat.

Where is Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is a beautiful country located in Central America. It neighbors Panama to the south and Nicaragua to the north. With a bio-diverse landscape and coastlines on the Caribbean and the Pacific, it’s an increasingly more popular destination for Europeans and North Americans.

The best diving in Costa Rica is in the Pacific. There are many marine parks around some really unique islands that constantly have big fish and whales visiting. Among them, the Cocos, Catalina and Tortuga islands hare some the world’s best dive spots.

To get to here, it’s mostly only possible by Liveaboard. Fortunately, there are several reputable ships of varying sizes plying these waters. Check out this guide to Costa Rica’s liveaboards and get out there.

Good Diving!

FAQ

Frequently asked questions about Diving in Costa Rica

How do you get to the Cocos Islands?

To get to the Cocos Islands, you need to take a boat from mainland Costa Rica. For scuba diving, there are several liveaboard options. The Cocos Islands are a protected marine park, the main island a treasure that Jacques Cousteau dubbed, “the most beautiful island in the world”.

What is the best diving in Costa Rica?

The best diving in Costa Rica is around 4 main island parks. Cocos Island, Tortuga, Catalina and Caño. Located in the Pacific Ocean, this is one of the best collection of dive spots for seeing hammerhead sharks, rays and other big fish like groupers and swordfish.

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