Situated between Panama and Nicaragua, the small country of Costa Rica is known for its unique beauty, with lush rainforests, active volcanoes, and some of the rarest wildlife on Earth. Costa Rica is one of the best ecotourism destinations with more than 25 percent of its landmass registered as a protected park or wildlife area.
Wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Costa Rica is a world-renowned scuba diving destination. The dive sites found along the Pacific coast offer crystal-clear waters and rich and diverse marine life. It’s a great destination for those interested in diving with sharks, whether we’re talking hammerhead sharks at Cocos Island or bull sharks at Bat Islands.
Hammerhead shark at Cocos Island. Photo by Kris Mikael Krister
The dry seasons that runs December through April, is the best time to experience diving in Costa Rica. During these months, there’s hardly any rain on the Pacific coast and the visibility is better than in the rainy season. It’s also the perfect time for beginner divers to visit because of the calm seas.
May through November is the rainy season in Costa Rica. It’s still a good time to dive here, but the harsher conditions call for more advanced divers who want to see pelagic species. On the plus side, prices usually drop during this period.
The water temperature ranges from 70° F/21° C to 85° F/29° C. Water temperatures drop to 68° F/19°C from December through March because of the cooler currents.
Depending on the region you’re diving in, you can expect calmer seas or very strong currents. Some of the best destinations for diving include Cocos Island, Catalina Island, and Bat Islands, which are all regions best suited for advanced divers because of the strong currents. The Caribbean coast is more suitable for beginners.
June through September is when divers will enjoy the best visibility in Costa Rica, but December through April is also a good time to enjoy visibility of up to 100 feet (30 meters). Depending on the region, visibility usually ranges from 50 to 100 feet (15 to 30 meters).
The remote Cocos Island – described by Jacques Cousteau as “the most beautiful island in the world” – is home to one of the largest populations of scalloped hammerhead sharks. Other species of sharks one can find here include Galapagos, silky, silver, tiger, white-tip, black-tip sharks.
The more accessible Bat Islands, or Islas Murciélago, attract large populations of bull sharks, along with tiger and whale sharks. The extreme conditions that manifest through strong currents make this destination suitable for experienced divers. Big Scare is a popular dive site for observing large bull sharks that can grow up to 11 feet (3 meters).
Costa Rica is a great place to admire a variety of marine animals, not just sharks. Groupers, snappers, moray eels, eagle rays, parrotfish, angelfish, octopi, manta rays, and sea turtles are just some of the marine creatures divers can encounter here. Punta Gorda is a great dive site for spotting large groups of eagle rays and cow nose rays. Most of the best diving in Costa Rica occurs on the Pacific side rather than the Caribbean side.
The waters surrounding Costa Rica are home to a number of impressive sunken pirate ships and merchant boats. The wrecks of Tortuga Islands - Franklin Chang, Colonel Alfonso Monge, and Caroline Star - are probably the most renowned. Not far from Playa del Coco there are also two wrecks attracting a variety of fish and sharks - the Meros and the Tortuga. Finally, the Cahuita Reef on the east coast offers two spectacular wrecks, one being a 16th-century Spanish galleon lying in shallow depth.