Diving in Costa Rica

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Bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea in the heart of Central America, Costa Rica is a prime ecotourism destination and boasts some of the world’s most biologically diverse habitats – including rainforest, volcano and mangrove ecosystems.

No matter what dive adventure you are looking for, you’ll find it in Costa Rica. Try surfing the swells or diving with bull sharks. But, it isn’t just about topside activities or diving along the mainland. Cocos Island lies about 550 kilometres/340 miles off the Pacific coast and is well known for its hammerhead shark schools, whale sharks and manta rays. You’ll find eagle rays, turtles, manta rays, white-tipped reef sharks, bull sharks, and enormous schools of both grunts and jacks, parrotfish, moray eels, dolphin and more.

Costa Rica has recently become known as a dive destination. The underwater volcanic rock formations and pinnacles are home to small hard corals, sponges and gorgonians. Plus large pelagic animals are also frequently spotted.

During whale season (January, February and March) you can hear the haunting calls of humpback and pilot whales underwater. You can also see humpbacks in June and July as they migrate from the southern hemisphere.

While the Caribbean coast has yet to develop a serious sport diving infrastructure, diving off the Pacific Coast is nothing short of spectacular. The southern area is a protected biological reserve and offers the chance to see rays, turtles, and whitetip reef sharks. Plus, you’ll see large schools – so bit that they occasionally block out the sunlight – of fish swimming overhead on almost every dive.

Dive Summary

Depth: 13 – 34 metres/40- 110 feet.

Visibility: Ranges from 15 – 30 metres/45 – 90 feet, but averages 12 metres/36 feet. June through September generally brings the best visibility.

Currents: Current can be strong off the north Pacific coast while current is normally milder along the southern Pacific coast.

Water Temperature: Generally ranges from 26 – 29º C/78 – 84º F. From December through March, cooler currents bring water temperatures as low as 19º C/68º F along with large animals such as humpback whales, pilot whales, giant manta rays, whale sharks, and more.

Dive Season: The rainy season runs from May to November but you can dive all year.

PADI Dive Shops and Resorts

Find contact information for PADI Dive Shops and Resorts in Costa Rica

Temperate Scuba Equipment is typically all you’ll need in Costa Rica. If you’re diving in winter you may want to opt for cold water scuba equipment. 

One dive shop, located at the Hotel Jinetes De Osa in Drake Bay, is beautifully isolated on the pacific coast of the Osa Peninsula in southern Costa Rica, explores several sites around world famous Caño Island. Voted best dive location in mainland Costa Rica, Caño Island is home to an amazing variety of marine life. As the original PADI dive facility in the area,Costa Rica Adventure Divers-Drake Bay has the experience and the staff to take care of your every dive need.

Snorkeling & Scuba Diving

Many islands, reefs, caves, and rocks lie off the coast of Costa Rica, providing excellent spots for underwater exploration. Visibility varies with season and location. Generally, heavy rainfall tends to swell the rivers and muddy the waters, even well offshore. Rates run from $70 to $150 per person for a two-tank dive, including equipment, and $35 to $75 per person for snorkelers. Most of the dedicated dive operators listed throughout this guide also offer certification classes.

Banana plantations and their runoff have destroyed most of the Caribbean reefs, although Isla Uvita, just off the coast of Limón, and Manzanillo, down near the Panamanian border, still have good diving. Most divers choose Pacific dive spots such as Isla del Caño, Bat Island, and the Catalina Islands, where you’re likely to spot manta rays, moray eels, white-tipped sharks, and plenty of smaller fish and coral species. But the ultimate in Costa Rican dive experiences is 7 to 10 days on a chartered boat, diving off the coast of Isla del Coco.

Snorkeling is not incredibly common or rewarding in Costa Rica. The rain, runoff, and wave conditions that drive scuba divers well offshore tend to make coastal and shallow-water conditions less than optimal. If the weather is calm and the water is clear, you might just get lucky. The best snorkeling experience to be had in Costa Rica is on the reefs off Manzanillo Beach in the southern Caribbean coast, particularly in the calm months of September and October.

Diving Outfitters & Operators

Aggressor Fleet Limited (tel. 800/348-2628 in the U.S. and Canada; www.aggressor.com) runs the 36m (118-ft.) Okeanos Aggressor on regular trips out to Isla del Coco.

Diving Safaris de Costa Rica (tel. 2672-1260; www.costaricadiving.net) is perhaps the largest, most professional, and best-established dive operation in the country. Based out of Playa Hermosa, this outfitter is also a local pioneer in Nitrox diving.

Undersea Hunter (tel. 800/203-2120 in the U.S., or 2228-6613; www.underseahunter.com) offers the Undersea Hunter and its sister ship, the Sea Hunter, two pioneers of the live-aboard diving excursions to Isla del Coco.

Temperate Scuba Equipment is typically all you’ll need in Costa Rica. If you’re diving in winter you may want to opt for cold water scuba equipment. 

One dive shop, located at the Hotel Jinetes De Osa in Drake Bay, is beautifully isolated on the pacific coast of the Osa Peninsula in southern Costa Rica, explores several sites around world famous Caño Island. Voted best dive location in mainland Costa Rica, Caño Island is home to an amazing variety of marine life. As the original PADI dive facility in the area,Costa Rica Adventure Divers-Drake Bay has the experience and the staff to take care of your every dive need.

Snorkeling & Scuba Diving

Many islands, reefs, caves, and rocks lie off the coast of Costa Rica, providing excellent spots for underwater exploration. Visibility varies with season and location. Generally, heavy rainfall tends to swell the rivers and muddy the waters, even well offshore. Rates run from $70 to $150 per person for a two-tank dive, including equipment, and $35 to $75 per person for snorkelers. Most of the dedicated dive operators listed throughout this guide also offer certification classes.

Banana plantations and their runoff have destroyed most of the Caribbean reefs, although Isla Uvita, just off the coast of Limón, and Manzanillo, down near the Panamanian border, still have good diving. Most divers choose Pacific dive spots such as Isla del Caño, Bat Island, and the Catalina Islands, where you’re likely to spot manta rays, moray eels, white-tipped sharks, and plenty of smaller fish and coral species. But the ultimate in Costa Rican dive experiences is 7 to 10 days on a chartered boat, diving off the coast of Isla del Coco.

Snorkeling is not incredibly common or rewarding in Costa Rica. The rain, runoff, and wave conditions that drive scuba divers well offshore tend to make coastal and shallow-water conditions less than optimal. If the weather is calm and the water is clear, you might just get lucky. The best snorkeling experience to be had in Costa Rica is on the reefs off Manzanillo Beach in the southern Caribbean coast, particularly in the calm months of September and October.

If you think the mesmerizing biodiversity of Costa Rica stops at its shoreline, wait until you dive into the aquatic world beneath its coastal waters. Wedged between two oceans, Costa Rica is a top scuba divingdestination, especially along the Pacific coast, where crystal clear waters are home to a variety of marine life. There are an assortment of exhilarating places to explore fish, sharks and sting rays, to name a few, but the crowd favorites are: Drake Bay, Playa Hermosa and Manuel Antonio.

Caño Island in Drake Bay

Boasting the most unexplored dives and the country’s best visibility, Drake Bay is in a league of its own.On this trip, you’ll branch out to explore the world famous Caño Island, which lies approximately 20 kilometers off the mainland on the Pacific Coast of the Osa Peninsula. The fish-filled waters are far enough away from the coast that the seasonal rains do not affect visibility as in other scuba diving sites around the country. You can expect to see eels, reef sharks, sting rays and plenty of bright coral. Plus, explorers don’t have to submerge your body more than 18 meters underwater, making it a hotspot for intermediate divers. Since the area is remote, you may want to look at a resort near the island that features lessons and scuba excursions.

Manuel Antonio

White sands, turquoise waters and endless wildlife sums up Manuel Antonio National Park. Despite being one of the smallest parks in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is the most visited and packs in a wide diversity of animals – both on land and in water. You can spot sea turtles, octopus, white tip and reef sharks, lobsters and more tropical fish than you’ll know what to do with. Whether you’re a certified pro or a beginner, there are several companies that will take you on an underwater adventure of a lifetime. The average depth is anywhere from 6 to 12 meters. In the shallower waters, divers often set their eyes on jack, grunts, angels, nudie branch and trumpets. You can also take advantage of one, two or three tanks scuba diving trips, both day and night when conditions permit.

Playas del Coco & Playa Hermosa

Located roughly 25 kilometers from Liberia International Airport, Playas del Coco and Playa Hermosa are great place to learn the ropes. Not certified? No worries, a number of companies will help learn all you need to know to earn your certification. Although underwater visibility is quite low, these beaches offer rewarding scuba diving for those not looking to venture out to remote islands. Here you’ll have the opportunity to see giant manta rays, swimming alongside brightly colored tropical fish and sharks.

Southern Caribbean Coast

While the southern Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica may not tout the diving prowess of the Pacific side, scuba diving here can still be a real treat. Unfortunately, this area has not been properly developed and the facilities for scuba diving are not quite as good. If you do get the chance, make your way on the eastern section of Costa Rica, since it’s home to the country’s only coral reef, which lies off the coast of the Cahuita National Park. Despite being seriously damaged by an earthquake in 1991, the reef is home to over 123 species of fish, 140 species of mollusk, and 35 species of coral. There are a few scuba outfitters in the nearby town of Puerto Viejo.

Find Scuba Diving Tours / Boats / Packages in Costa Rica

Excellent sources of places to dive in CR  http://www.costarica-scuba.com/

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Kathy is the owner of Kirk Scuba Gear, a passionate Scuba Diver, Ocean Advocate and Managing Editor of The Scuba News Canada

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