The 4 Best Places for Scuba Diving in Costa Rica

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Scuba diving in Costa Rica is among our top dive sites in the world

It’s no surprise that with one coast in the Caribbean and one in the Pacific Ocean, scuba diving in Costa Rica is some of the best in the world. Costa Rica is home to one of the best destinations in the world to dive with hammerhead sharks, Cocos Island.

Meaning the “Rich Coast”, the waters off Costa Rica are rich with a wide range of marine life. Whether you want to see pristine corals or manta rays, bull sharks and hammerhead sharks, there is something for every diver in the waters off Costa Rica.

You can scuba dive in Costa Rica all year round. Although the calmest conditions are between August and December, when there is little rain, conditions are at their calmest. At the same time, most of the big stuff is missing during this time, a host of other creatures replace it, and the calmer conditions make it a great time to visit for relatively inexperienced divers.

From May to November, it can rain and large, nutrient-rich swells bring large pelagics to the waters off Costa Rica. During this window, experienced divers who don’t mind the harsher conditions can spot bull sharks and other pelagics across Costa Rica, including hammerhead sharks on Cocos Island.

Location

Cano Island

Although lesser known than the jewel in the crown of Costa Rican diving, Cocos IslandCano Island offers world-class diving in its own right and is worth adding to any Costa Rica scuba diving itinerary.

The small island measuring around 740 acres is just 16 km from the Osa Peninsula. The reefs of Cano Island are beautiful and home to a wide range of marine life and large pelagics. Sharks are abundant in Cano’s waters and divers can regularly encounter whale sharks, bull sharks and even white tip sharks. Also, whales are found in Cano’s waters, with Pilot, Sei, Humpback and false killer whales being regularly seen. If all that isn’t enough, there’s more! The canoe dive sites are teeming with huge schools of fish, trevallies, rays and, if you’re lucky, dive a dolphin or two.

There are several ways to dive on Cano Island and all the dive sites it offers. While some day trips to dive the island, most divers choose to dive Cano Island via liveaboard. The season is relatively short and lasts six months, from January to June. During this time, conditions are warmer, drier and ideal for diving. During the summer diving season, the water temperature is mild, ranging from 72F/22C to 82F/28°C.

Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

While most of the best diving in Costa Rican waters can be found off the Pacific coast, scuba diving in Costa Rica wouldn’t be complete without a dive on the Caribbean coast at the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.

The wildlife refuge is much more than diving and offers an exceptional experience with flora and fauna both above and below the water. The reserve’s reefs are in pristine condition and home to some of the best coral reefs in Costa Rica. While diving in the reefs of Gandoca Manzanillo, there are plenty of shrimps, sponges, lobsters and thousands of reef fish covering the reefs. The mangroves in this area are home to crocodiles and manatees, and if you’re a very lucky diver, you might be lucky enough to see a manatee in the water.

On land, there are even more wild animals to see and discover. The animals and birds are amazing, with tapirs, sloths, monkeys, cougars and jaguars, as well as kingfishers, trogons and keeled toucans. The reserve is home to an impressive number of birds with over 360 species. If you’re lucky, you might spot the critically endangered Harpy Eagle.

The beaches at the Gandoca Manzanillo Refuge are also action-packed as they are an active nesting site for leatherback turtles. From March to July each year, thousands of these majestic creatures can be seen emerging from the sea at night to lay their eggs on the beach. If you want to catch the nesting season, the best time to visit is from April to May, when leatherback turtles are busiest. Hatchlings begin to emerge in May each year.

bat island

Diving on Bat Island is famous for large sharks, especially bull sharks; If you want to see bulls while scuba diving in Costa Rica, then Bat Island is an absolute must! Conditions on Bat Island are harsh, with strong currents bringing nutrient-rich waters with fish and large sharks in tow. This makes diving on Bat Island only possible for experienced divers.

Generally, the best time to visit Bat Island is between May and November. During this period, the air temperature is pleasant and warm, regularly above 85F/29C. Visibility on Bat Island can be variable and range from 30ft/9m to 100ft/30m. visibility tends to be reduced due to plankton in the water. This brings with it a majestic new visitor. Apart from bull sharks, Bat Island is also known for visits by giant Pacific mantas, the largest manta species in the world. Seeing these incredible giants with a wingspan that reaches 29ft / 8.8m in diameter is a truly breathtaking experience.

Bat Island’s best known dive site is known as “the great fear” for the conditions and the big bulls that visit. While some local legends tend to exaggerate the size of the bull sharks that can be found in the region, they are nevertheless huge specimens. The bulls you’ll see on Bat Island tend to be at the upper limits of the species, making for an impressive sight underwater.

Scuba Diving with Hammerhead Shark in Costa Rica: Cocos Island

Cocos Island and hammerhead sharks are almost synonymous with scuba diving in Costa Rica. A quick search for diving in Costa Rica and much of the results will focus on the Cocos Islands, arguably one of the best places in the world to dive with sharks, although one of the best places in the world to encounter hammerhead sharks.

Schooling hammerhead sharks off Cocos Island while scuba diving in Costa Rica

The small island measures 8 km by 3 km and is located at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, about 550 km southwest of the mainland of Costa Rica. Generally, the diving depth ranges from 30ft/10m to 131ft/40m. visibility varies but is generally between 30ft/10m and 50ft/15m.

The stars of the show at Cocos Island are the huge schools of hammerhead sharks. A typical dive in Cocos involves descending and finding a rock to hide behind. At this location, divers try to find a hammerhead shark cleaning station to observe sharks approaching for repair. One thing to remember is that if you try to approach the sharks, they will quickly retreat. The best strategy for close passes is to hover, control your breathing, and time your bubbles so you don’t scare off the hammerheads. This strategy will eventually produce close encounters and passing bees.

Although the coral on Cocos Island is not pretty, the marine life is outstanding. Besides hammerhead sharks, you can encounter great wildlife including dolphins, manta rays, tiger sharks and even killer whales. Needless to say, the water is also rich in trevally, tuna, wahoo and turtles. Lucky divers may also see whale sharks, which have been known to pass.

Due to the conditions and travel involved, travel to Cocos Island ideal for experienced divers comfortable in strong currents and blue water. A typical day includes three dives, making Nitrox your gas of choice when scuba diving Cocos Island.

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