Costa Rica Scuba Diving
Interested in Costa Rica scuba diving?
Known for its abundant marine life and warm waters, it's no wonder Costa Rica means "Rich Coast." Keep reading for conditions and other diving info. By the way, that's me about to hug a Costa Rican manta ray below! ;-)
While in Costa Rica scuba diving I was able to see giant manta rays, reef sharks, huge stingrays, a multitude of moray eels, enormous schools of fish, sea turtles, and even a nine foot bull shark ? that?ll make your heart race! In between dives I?ve snorkeled with a whale shark, a mother and baby humpback whale, I?ve seen turtles mating, watched schools of jumping devil rays, seen pods of playful dolphins, and even caught a few fish, like an Amberjack and a Dorado, both of which make for a fantastic dinner. There?s rarely a dull moment when you?re diving Costa Rica?s rich waters.
The specifics of Costa Rica scuba diving conditions are as follows: visibility ranges from 20-75ft or 6-24m and the water temperatures are generally from 75-85F or 24-29C (one thing to note on the Pacific side are the thermoclines which are layers of much colder water that you often
encounter at depth, for this reason we always dove with 3mm wetsuits, with some guides opting for 5mm). br> br>While the visibility may seem to be a little low compared to other dive destinations, the abundance of large pelagic species and the shear quantity of life really make the diving in Costa Rica special. Often when the visibility got worse, I found that the likelihood of seeing multiple sharks and rays went up because the cloudier water brought more nutrients and as a result more prey fish.
Costa Rica scuba diving is conducted from boats as most of the dive sites are around rock formations and small rocky islands. Shore diving is not very good, and often suffers low visibility from river runoff.
You have two options for your Costa Rica scuba diving adventure, and they are the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.
Pacific Costa Rica Scuba DivingThe Pacific coast is where most of the Costa Rica scuba diving
operations are located. There is little coral and few reefs, but the variety of fish is remarkable as are the number of fish, as well as some soft corals and invertebrates, which are all drawn to the area by the abundance of plankton and other marine organisms which thrive in the warm waters of the Pacific.
Most of the dive sites on the Pacific side are based around rock formations, or little islets, where fish tend to congregate.
What time of year should you go? Your two options are wet or dry season, but opinions vary and locations differ. I've had luck in both seasons. Visibility is often low during the wet season due to river runoff, but if you are going to a dive site away from river mouths, visibility can be enhanced.
As for the dry season, this time can be marked by strong winds making it more difficult to reach some of the most popular sites which are often require and hour or more boat ride. Calm days can be amazing though, often resulting in quantities of marine life much denser than anywhere in the Caribbean.
After diving in the Caribbean at the Bay Islands off of Honduras, I can attest to this. I saw lots of pretty coral, but very few fish, and if you love big fish and lots of them, then Costa Rica scuba diving will not disappoint you. For more precise info on visibility, email one of the local diving outfits and they should give you a more accurate account.
Some of the most popular dive destinations in the Pacific Northwest region include the Murcielagos (or Bats Islands in English) and the Catalinas. Both sites are filled with jacks, snapper, grouper, sharks, dozens of moray eels, octopi, huge schools of grunts, eagle rays, angelfish, hogfish, parrot fish, and often you have the opportunity to see giant manta rays. Turtles are also often out, and during mating season you can frequently see them procreating at the surface before you get into the water for your Costa Rica scuba diving experience.
The Bats, in particular, are known for bull sharks, which can get up to 11.5ft (3.59m) and weigh up to 700lbs (318kg). Bull sharks tend to congregate at a dive site called Big Scare. I had my first experience with a bull shark there, which swam underneath me when I was on the surface with a client who had run out of air. I don?t think my heart has ever beat so hard in the entirety of my scuba diving experiences, especially when she looked up at me and passed back underneath only to disappear into the depths.
Both the Bat Islands and the Catalinas are challenging dive areas due to strong currents and some pretty deep individual dive sites.
At the Punta Gorda dive site 6km southwest of Playa Ocotal, where I?ve dove dozens of times, thousands of eagle rays have been known to glide by in enormous groups, along with the less frequent cow-nose rays.
A dive site called El Jardin in the Bahia Herradura area is known for its sea fans and soft coral structures.
Even more south there is good diving of of Cano Island, which is serviced by dive boats out of Bahia Drake. There?s a wide variety of marine life here, and about 2km south of Cano is a wall dive where you have a great chance of seeing a giant manta ray or other large oceanic species, definitely a bonus for anyone considering Costa Rica scuba diving for their itinerary.
Along the Pacific coast many hotels have dive shops or are at least associated with one. Also it?s very easy and economical to get your dive certification, normally only taking four days. Also, many shops offer a Discover Scuba package, which will get you diving in one day.
Caribbean Costa Rica Scuba DivingOn the Caribbean side, Costa Rica scuba diving is not as developed. The best location is around Cahuita where Costa Rica?s most beautiful reef, covering 593 hectares, extends 500m out from Cahuita point. The reef features 35 different varieties of coral, including the dramatic giant elkhorn coral. What?s more, the remains of two shipwrecks can be found here with many cannons still intact. The wrecks are quite accessible at only 22ft / 7m deep. They also offer refuge to the 500+ species of fish that call this area home. Unfortunately, much of the reef is damaged do to human activity and silting from the local rivers as it is located very close to shore.
The Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge provides protection to the southern portion of the Cahuita reef, and as a result this area is in much better shape and a better bet for your Costa Rica scuba diving excursion.
Those divers interested in undersea caverns should look into diving around Puerto Viejo, located about 20km south of Cahuita, which has a great Caribbean vibe and offers some great surfing.
To the north of Cahuita around Limon is Isla Uvita, which lies just offshore and has a wonderful variety of Caribbean fishes, coral reefs, and sea fans to name just a few things. In addition is the shipwrecked Fenix, a cargo ship that went down about a mile off the coast of the island.
For best visibility, you should plan your Caribbean Costa Rica scuba diving trip in the dry season, which is from February to April.
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