Costa Rica hosts one of the world's top dive destinations - Cocos Island - plus four other Pacific coast spots worth exploring.
Whether you want to go diving on a liveaboard or backpacking along the pacific coast, Costa Rica has options suited to your budget and way of traveling.
Located 500 km (340 miles) west of Costa Rica, Cocos Island is a world famous dive spot. Its marine life is so rich as it is often called "the little Galapagos". Cocos Island is a lush volcanic island. Underwater, the pinnacles, steep reef walls and the nutrient-rich upwellings attract many pelagic species - huge schools of scalloped hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, bull sharks, tiger sharks, but also oceanic manta rays, whale sharks, dolphins, huge schools of jacks and tunas and some endemic species such as the red-lipped Batfish.
The currents can be really strong in Cocos Islands, the dive sites are usually deep and it is very remote. This explains why the destination is only suited for experienced divers.
Due to its remote location, you can only access Cocos Island with a liveaboard
Bajo Alcyone: the most famous dive site of Cocos Island is a seamount with its summit at 27 meters depth (90 feet). The marine life is countless: scalloped hammerheads, white and black tip sharks, many types of rays - marble, eagle, mobula, and manta rays, some whale sharks, turtles, sailfish, dolphins. This dive site is one of the most incredible dive sites on earth!
Dirty Rock: a Cocos favorite, this rock formation between 6 to 20 meters depth (20 to 130 feet) attracts very diverse marine life. You'll see hammerheads among other sharks, plus marble and eagle rays, mantas, schooling jacks, dolphins, and turtles.
Manuelita Coral Garden: this protected dive site is awesome for macro divers. With depths varying between 6 to 21 meters (20 to 70 feet), you'll see many critters, lobsters, eels, but also some bigger schools of fish and sharks again!
Submerged Rock: a pinnacle with beautiful arch you can swim through at around 15 to 20 meters (50 to 70 feet). It is a nursery for white tip sharks and you might see pregnant females.
You can dive on Cocos Island at any time of year:
the rainy season - June to November - offers less visibility due to the blooms of plankton, but it is a peak time for hammerheads, manta rays and whale sharks.
in the dry season - December to May- the sea is calmer but there are slightly less pelagic species.
Fly to San Jose (SJC), the capital of Costa Rica at least one day before your cruise departs
The next day, you'll take a mini bus to Puntarenas, on the Pacific Coast, where your liveaboard will depart from. These transfers are arranged by the dive operator
Remember that you can only access the dive sites after a 36-hour journey on the sea. Be sure to check out our liveaboard trip to Cocos Island!
Bat Island or Isla Murcielago is located in the Guanacaste region in northwestern Costa Rica. Accessible from Playas del Coco after an hour boat ride, the dive site most often visited is called "the Big Scare". A place that often sees heavy currents and bull sharks - we recommend this for experienced divers only.
Catalina Islands is a sprinkling of 20 rocky islands, famous for giant manta rays that can be seen year-round, even though you'll have most chances to see them between November to May. The sites have strong currents, and often attract some sharks, some spotted eagle rays, mobula rays some turtles and plenty of fish.
The Big Scare: off Bat island, divers will jump in the water to rapidly descend at 30 meters depth (100 feet). There, you'll cruise the area looking for bull sharks. The sharks come without any bait or feeding practices. You may also see some manta rays, sailfish, and sometimes even some dolphins and whales.
Bajo Negro: the site of Bat Island hosts a steep pinnacle with many schools of fish, and also some sharks, eagle rays and sometimes, manta rays.
Catalina Grande: off Catalina Island, a dive between 13 to 36 m (43 to 118 ft) which is challenging but rewarding - you'll have the best chances to spot there oceanic mantas and white tips.
La Pared or The Wall: another beautiful dive site in Catalina Island, more shallow than the previous one, where you'll have chances to see sharks and many rays again.
Roca Sucia or Dirty Rock: another favorite in Catalina Island, with plenty of colorful fish - king angelfish, surgeon fish and barber fish to name a few.
Bat Island: May to November is the best time of year for diving.
Catalina Island: November to May is the best time to spot manta rays.
Bat Island: water temperature ranges from 24° to 26°C (75° to 79°F)
Catalina Island: water temperature ranges from 18° to 27°C (64° to 81°F)
Fly to Liberia international airport (LIR) North of Costa Rica.
Take a bus or a taxi to Playas del Coco, it is only half an hour drive from the airport
From Playas Cocos, go with a diveshop on a day trip to Bat Island or Catalina Island. The journey there takes an hour.
Tortuga Island lies further South on the Gulf of Nicoya. It's a great place for beginner divers since the diving is mostly shallow and protected. It's also an amazing place to dive on some wrecks - there are three sunken ships to explore!
The Coronel Lafonso Monje: a very shallow dive, this 82-foot long retired coast guard ship lies at only 15 meters (50 ft).
The Franklin Chang Diaz: another former Coast Guard ship where you can usually see big schools of jacks and snappers.
The Caroline Star: the deepest wreck (30 meters (98 ft)) is where you can see some white-tip reef sharks and lots of tropical fish.
Caño Island is part of a protected reserve famous for its beautiful coral reefs and rich marine life. The island lies 16 km (10 miles) off Costa Rica southerly Osa Peninsula. The topography is beautiful with pinnacles, swim throughs, plates and drop-offs. There's a limit number of visitors there so try to book in advance. Some of the marine life you may see are oceanic manta rays, dolphins, turtles, white tip sharks, plus the seasonal humpback and pilot whales. Caño Island is the next-best dive area if you can't go diving on Cocos Island
You can fly to the nearest airport, Quepos Airport (XPQ). Or you can make the four hour drive from San Jose by bus or car.
Arrange a boat from the resort town of Manuel Antonio or the lesser-visited Bahía Drake (Drake Bay).
For safety reasons, always bring a surface marker buoy, and know how to use it. We also recommend you to have a Nautilus Lifeline, a GPS that could save your life if you're swept away by currents. They can be really strong in Cocos Island and some other sites of the Pacific.
We always recommend to have your own dive gear, well maintained, you'll be safer and more comfortable. Light and compact dive gear is particularly well-suited for travel.
Finally, remember to always use a reef-safe sunscreen.
Costa Rica is the country to go trekking. From an easy couple hours walk in Manuel Antonio to a longer trek in the Monteverde Cloud Forest - or the most remote Corcovado National Park - there's plenty to discover on the Pacific side. On the Caribbean coast, Tortuguero National Park beaches are nesting grounds for sea turtles. Don't forget to dedicate a day to the volcanoes: either Arenal or Poás.
Monteverde has fantastic ziplining options for those who seek to match thrilling challenges with awe-inspiring scenery. Zip your way across distances of 40 to 750 m (131 to 2461 ft). You could spend either a half-day or a full day here.
Costa Rica's Pacific coast has some surfing spots that will please both beginner and very experienced surfers. If you're just starting out, we recommend Tamarindo Beach on the Nicoya Peninsula or go further south to Manuel Antonio Beach. If you're on the Caribbean side, there's Playa Cocles. Experienced surfers will want to catch the surf at the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula at Santa Teresa or Playa Grande around Montezuma.