Costa Rica has long been known as an amazing spot for jungle trekking and animal sightings. Underwater though is equally as good . The country offers amazing reefs and a variety of aquatic life on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.
If you haven’t already been there, you should definitely add diving in Costa Rica to your list of diving goals.
Let’s take a look at the best sites for diving so you can get a good idea of where you want to go on your next trip.
Best Locations for Diving in Costa Rica
#1 Isla del Coco
This is the premier location for diving in all of Costa Rica. Jacques Cousteau was once quoted as saying that Isla del Coco was “the most beautiful Island in the world”. And who are we to argue with the godfather of diving.
The island is on Costa Rica’s Pacific side and is about 350 miles from the mainland. This is a world heritage site which means you won’t be finding any hotels or resorts on the island. Instead, this is one site you will have to get to via liveaboard.
This spot isn’t going to be cheap. Because you have to rent a liveaboard to get there, the expenses are going to add up fast. But, if you can make it, the rewards are great. This area has some amazing dive sites. Let’s take a look at the top three as well as information on the best time to go.
- When to Dive: Due to its remoteness, conditions around the island can change quickly. This area is notorious for rain so even during the dry season you should expect some overcast.June to December is considered the best time to dive this location. This is during the rainy season. The nutrient rich waters bring larger fish species. If you are prone to seasickness know that the waters are going to be much more choppy during this time of the year.
- Where to Dive: There are about 20 dive sites around the island. Most liveaboard trips last a little over a week, so you should have time to see the best of what the island has to offer. Let’s take a look at the two best sites which should give you an idea of what you can see at the rest.
- Bajo Alcyone- this is one of the best sites to dive around the island. You can find an abundance of large marine species at this site. But, you will probably spend your time marveling at the scalloped hammerhead sharks.Aside from the sharks you can see octopi, eagle and manta rays, and other larger aquatic animals. This is a site for confident and advanced divers only. It is a deep dive past 25m (82ft) and the currents in this area can be strong. This video will do a great job of tempting you with what this site has to offer.
- Dirty Rock- many divers consider dirty rock to be the best site to dive around the island. With good reason too. This is one of the best sites to see swarms of scalloped hammerhead sharks and blacktip reef sharks.That’s not the end of it though. If you can pry your eyes away from the sharks you can see a variety of life including rays, tuna, and sea turtles. Many divers are even lucky enough to spot bottlenose dolphins during safety stops. Here is a video showing off some of the reefs and sharks around the site.
Remember that this is a liveaboard dive. It is not going to be cheap. If you are traveling on a shoestring budget you may want to skip this one. The average liveaboard can run between three and four thousand dollars per trip.
You will also need to do this dive when you have plenty of time. It takes around 36 hours to get to the island and most trips last around 8 days.This location is for advanced divers only. The currents here can be strong as there is no protection from the open sea.
Also, the waters here are going to be choppy so you need to have experience diving in rougher conditions. Make sure you pack a wetsuit as thermoclines can drop the water temperature.
#2 Caño Island
This is another amazing island on the Pacific side of the country. Thankfully, this island is quite a bit closer to the mainland. The island is about 10 miles off the west coast of Costa Rica.
You can access the island via boat from Drake Bay or other nearby areas. If you have a larger budget you can consider renting a liveaboard and exploring the area in-depth.
Like Cocos Island, Caño Island is a protected area and thus uninhabited. You will need to find accommodations around Drake Bay.
- When to Dive: December to June is the dry season for Costa Rica and, if you are a lower level diver, the better time to dive. The waters will be less choppy during this time of year and the visibility better.If you are a more advanced diver though you can consider the rainy season between July and November. Same as Cocos Island, this is when larger fish species tend to gather as food sources are more plentiful.
- Where to Dive: There are quite a few sites around this island that are amazing. Since this island is closer to the mainland you can spend more time around the island to see everything. If you don’t have tons of time, though, you should prioritize the following two sites.
- Bajo del Diablo- many people consider this to be the premier dive site around Caño Island. This isn’t a spot for beginners though as it can go quite deep. Also, you will most likely encounter strong currents at this site.This is a great spot for everything from schools of barracuda and jackfish to large pacific rays. Here is an awesome video showing off some of the ocean life around the dive site.
- Devil’s Rock- this is another deep dive ranging between 18m and 35m (60ft to 115ft). You can see everything from giant manta rays to larger fish such as tuna and wahoo.This is also another great spot for you to see sharks. Be on the lookout for white tip sharks and groups of nurse sharks. Here is a video showing manta rays swimming around the site.
If you don’t have the time or the budget to make a trip out to Cocos Island, this is a fantastic alternative.
Caño Island provides everything from sharks and giant rays to some amazing coral.Remember that the rainy season can be one of the best times to dive this area due to the larger fish. So, even though there will be less sun, don’t discount this time of the year for diving.
#3 Islas Murciélagos (Bat Islands)
These are a group of islands off the north west coast of Costa Rica near the border with Nicaragua. You can find some spectacular sites around these small rocky islands that make it worth the trip.
You can do these islands either as a day trip or via liveaboard if you have the budget for it. If you choose to go as a daytrip you will be launching from Playa del Coco.
The highlight of this location is the various shark species cruising the ocean floor. Especially, bull sharks. This is one of the few places in the world where you can safely swim with bull sharks outside of a cage.
- When to Dive: this site is at the mercy of winds in the area. Boats may not launch here everyday if conditions are too rough. You will need to check in early with your chosen dive shop so you can better plan your day.May to November can be a great time to dive this area as the water temperatures will generally be warmer. This location has thermoclines which can make the dive quite cold. It is recommended that you bring along a wetsuit.
- Where to Dive: As mentioned above, the highlight of this site is the opportunity to swim with bull sharks. It is still unknown why the bull sharks come around this area. Regardless of the reason, this is something you shouldn’t miss if you are into diving with sharks.
- Big Scare- the name for this site is quite fitting. This is where you will go to see bull sharks. The sharks can get quite large and this is one of the few places you can get up close with these sharks without a cage. The sharks aren’t the only thing to watch out for here. You can find huge schools of devil rays and, if your lucky, might even see a few dolphins during your safety stop. This fantastic video shows an example of both rays and sharks at the site.
The Bat Islands are one of the most famous spots outside of Cocos Island in Costa Rica. Divers around the world know about the bull sharks in this area. Marine biologists have been coming to this spot for years to study the migratory habits of the sharks.
Make sure you don’t miss this awesome opportunity to see these sharks outside of the cage.Be aware though that this is a site for advanced divers only. The currents here can be a bit strong and the diving quite deep.
#4 Catalina Island
Our final location is also on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. This is a volcanic formation that protrudes from the water off Costa Rica’s north west coast. Catalina Island is a bit south of the Bat Islands discussed above.
You can see amazing aquatic life at this spot including white tip reef sharks, rays, octopi, and more. As with other islands, this will end up being a half day trip from the mainland.
If you want to dive this location you will need to find a dive shop in Playa Flamingo.
- When to Dive: The rainy season for the pacific side lasts from late May to early December. You may want to dive outside of these times, during the dry season, due to the better weather and calmer waters.But, don’t completely discount diving during the rainy season. The rainy season provides a chance to see the large aquatic life the Pacific side is famous for.
- What to See: You can find a wide variety of larger aquatic life around this island. Expect to see white tip reef sharks, moray eels, octopi, giant grouper, tuna, and tons more. As with other sites you will dive on the Pacific side, you will find that Catalina Island is teeming with life. The fish aren’t the only thing for you to see here, though. This is a great site to see some unique underwater formations such as arches and tunnels. You can get some great shots through these arches and also see some awesome ocean life hiding out. This video does an amazing job of showing off some bait balls and other life around the island.
This is going to be one of the easier dive locations to get to as it is the closest to the mainland. It can be a great spot for diving if you don’t have the time to commit to one of the longer dives such as Cocos or Cano Islands. Bring the camera for this one for the stunning shots of sharks and giant schools of fish you will come across.
How To Dive In Costa Rica
You may have noticed that all the locations we listed are on the west coast of Costa Rica in the Pacific. This is because the east coast of the country is less developed as far as scuba diving goes. This is changing. As time goes on you will find there will be a large number of new sites discovered on the Caribbean side.
Make sure you bring your wetsuit. The waters around Costa Rica are warm, but many of the sites are deep and get cold below the thermocline. Especially around Cocos Island, as this is where the hammerheads often linger.
Finally, make sure to budget your trip appropriately. Many of the sites around Costa Rica can be expensive for diving due to how far you have to travel to get to them. If you want to dive Cocos Island be aware you are going to be dropping a few thousand dollars at least for the trip.
This will be all inclusive and the total trip will usually be for a little over a week. So, the expenses may be about the same as if you were staying on the mainland. However, this is a pricey dive and may be outside the budget of many divers.
Wrapping It All Up…
Want to go diving in Costa Rica now? The country is known around the world as one of the best places for seeing larger aquatic life. We love diving the Pacific because you can see something amazing each time you dive.
Do you have any experience diving in Costa Rica? We would love to hear from you. Let us know in the comments what your experiences have been or if this article has inspired you to make a trip.