Best Places for Diving in Costa Rica
Costa Rica hosts one of the world’s top dive destinations, Cocos Island, and four other sites on its Pacific coast worth exploring
- Swim with hammerheads at Cocos Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site
- Dive with bull sharks in Bat Island and giant manta rays at Catalina Island
- Discover the wrecks of Tortuga Island
- Explore Caño island’s healthy reefs and rich marine life
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
Scuba Diving in Cocos Island
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
The Best Dive Sites of Cocos Island
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 site on earth!
Dirty Rock: again one of Cocos Islands favorite. This rock formation between 6 to 20 meters depth (20 to 130 feet) attracts very diverse marine life: you’ll see some hammerheads among other sharks, some rays (marble, eagle, manta some schools of jacks, dolphins, and turtles.
Manuelita Coral Garden: this protected dive site is a favorite of macro divers. With a depth 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.
Practical Information on Cocos Island
Cocos Island diving season: year round. In the dry season, December to May, the sea is calmer sea but there are slightly less pelagic species. The rainy season (June to November) offers less visibility due to the boom of plankton but it is a peak time for hammerheads, manta rays and whalesharks
Water temperature in Cocos Island: 26° to 29°C (79° to 84°F) with occasional thermoclines
How to get to Cocos Island:
- 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 hours journey on the sea, so check out SeaCrush liveaboard trip to Cocos Island! (10 nights starting from USD$4145)
Scuba Diving in Bat Islands and Catalina Island
Bat Island or Isla Murcielago is located in the Guanacaste region in Northwest Costa Rica. Accessible from Playas del Coco after one hour boat ride, the dive site most often visited is called “the Big Scare”. A site that often sees currents and bull sharks. It is for experienced divers only.
Catalina Islands is a sprinkling of 20 rocking islands, famous for giant manta rays that you 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 Best Dive Sites of Bat Islands and Catalina Island
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 meters (45 to 120 feet) 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.
Practical Information on Bat Islands and Catalina Island
Bat Islands and Catalina Island diving seasons: May to November for Bat Island and November to May for Catalina Island, the best time to spot mantas
Water temperature in Bat Islands and Catalina Island: 24 to 26°C (75 to 80°F) in Bat Island and 18 to 27°C (64 to 80°F) in Catalina Island
How to get to Bat Islands and Catalina Island:
- 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.
Scuba Diving in Tortuga Island
Tortuga Island lies further South on the Gulf of Nicoya. Its dive sites are accessible to beginner divers as they are mostly shallow and protected. It is the area to go to if you’re looking forward to dive on wrecks, with not less than three ships to explore.
The Best Dive Sites of Tortuga Island
The Coronel Lafonso Monge: a very shallow dive - the wreck of the 65 tons coast guard ship lies at only 16 meters depth (52 feet).
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 of the area (30 meters or hundred feet) where you can see some white-tip reef sharks and lots of tropical fish.
Practical Information on Tortuga Island
Tortuga Island diving season: all year round
Water temperature in Tortuga Island: 21 to 26°C (70 to 79°F)
How to get to Tortuga Island:
- Go with a dive shop or a tour from Montezuma, Jaco or Puntarenas
Scuba Diving on Caño Island
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, and in season, some humpbacks and pilot whales. Caño island is the best dive area if you can’t go dive to Cocos Island
The Best Dives Sites of Caño Island
- Bajo del Diablo or Devil’s Pinnacle: expect peaks and channels created by the rock formations and a depth varying from 6 to 45 meters (20 to 150 feet). You’ll get to see sea turtles, stingrays, manta rays, moray eels, barracuda, tuna, snappers, sometimes some oceanic manta rays and white tips. With luck you may even see some migrating humpback and pilot whales.
Practical Information on Caño Island
Caño Island diving season: January to June
Water temperature in Caño Island: 22 to 28°C (72° to 82°F)
How to get to Caño Island:
- Fly to Quepos Airport (XPQ), or take a bus or drive from San Jose - it’s a four hour drive
- Go on a day trip from Manuel Antonio or Drake Bay
Diving Safety Recommendations
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 suited for travels. For safety reasons, always bring with you 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 taken by currents. They can be really strong in Cocos Island and some other sites of the Pacific. Finally, remember to always use a reef-safe sunscreen
Trek in the Forest and on Volcanoes
Costa Rica is the country to go trekking. From an easy couple hours trek in Manuel Antonio to a longer walk 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, for instance, the Arenal or Poás.
Enjoy the Zipline in Monteverde
Monteverde has fantastic ziplining options for the ones seeking thrill and beautiful scenery. Ziplines you can go to range in distance from 40 meters (131 feet) to 750 meters (2,461 feet). Plan half a day to a full day for it.
Ride Some Waves in Nicoya Peninsula!
Along the Pacific Coast, and especially the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica has some surfing spots that will please both beginner and very experienced surfers. Beginners will focus on Tamarindo in Nicoya Peninsula, Playa Cocles in the Caribbean or Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Coast while more experienced divers can go to Santa Teresa or Playa Grande in Montezuma.