Less than a decade ago, Costa Rica was virtually unknown as a destination for diving. Suddenly it is being applauded for its variety and abundance of marine life. New facilities along the Pacific coastline are now offering first-class dive boats and fully stocked dive shops. And best of all, divers enjoy the excitement of truly virgin diving in areas never before explored.
Costa Rica’s bid to become a player in the arena of the world’s leading dive destinations didn’t happen overnight. It has taken time and determination. In the 1960’s bananas were the number one industry, coffee production was second, and tourism didn’t exist.
When Bill Beard, widely recognized as the true pioneer of scuba diving in Costa Rica and one of the key players in bringing Costa Rica to the forefront as a dive destination made his first trek in 1970, there were no scuba tanks in the country. But on his second visit he changed that by bringing tanks in his bags, something you probably couldn’t get away with today. He got his tanks filled with compressed air at the local gas company and found someone to take him out in a dug-out canoe. It wasn’t difficult to see the potential for diving in Costa Rica, but it certainly wasn’t easy for Bill to fulfill his dream.
To bring this vision to life meant that Bill Beard had to carve an industry where none existed. He is responsible for many firsts in Costa Rica scuba diving: the first working instructor, the first dive shop, and the first beach-based dive center to run daily scuba diving excursions.
Training of the first divers in Costa Rica came in the back of his barbeque restaurant in San Jose, where students attended classes after hours. Word spread and classes filled. It was in these first few sessions that most of the dive masters now working on Costa Rica’s live aboard boats and in land-based dive operations throughout the country got their training.
It wasn’t long before Bill opened Costa Rica’s first professional, full-service dive shop, Mundo Acuatico, in San Pedro, which is still in operation today. In the early 1980’s, Diving Safaris, owned by Bill Beard became the first beach-based dive center, getting its start in Playa del Coco, moving to Ocotal, and eventually settling in Playa Hermosa. When Bill Beard and his wife Nadine were running the day-to-day operation in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s they were the recipient of many awards from the scuba diving community, including No. 1 in Rodale’s Scuba Diving’s Top 10 Dive Operator in the Indo-Pacific and SSI’s Platinum Pro 5000.
This was a period of great growth for Costa Rica’s adventure tourism industry, and Bill wasn’t the only one paving the way. It was during this same time that another pioneer was forming his own niche within the country. California-native, Michael Kaye, led the way in another water-based activity by opening Costa Rica’s first white water river rafting company — Costa Rica Expeditions — in 1978.
Many rafting companies soon followed in Michael’s footsteps, and Costa Rica’s whitewater river rafting industry was suddenly booming. The Class 4 rapids and pristine beauty of the Pacuare and Reventazon rivers quickly garnered worldwide attention. Today the Pacuare is widely considered one of the top five rivers in the world for white water rafting. There are a number of rivers being used for rafting today and the Sarapiqui and Tenorio have also become very popular.