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World | Costa Rica | Diving Cocos Island:

Cocos Island overview


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Cocos Island dive site map

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Scuba Diving Cocos Island, Costa Rica

Water temperature:

29°C (81°F) in September


5mm wetsuit


15 – 30 metres (50 – 100 feet)

Type of diving:

Shark diving! Reefs, cleaning stations and blue water dives

Marine life:

Scalloped hammerheads, humpback whales, whale sharks, tiger sharks, silky sharks, Galapagos sharks, black tip sharks, white tip reef sharks, manta rays, marble rays, eagle rays, devil rays, jacks, trevally, sailfish, wahoo, snooks, rosy lipped batfish plus reef fish found in this area of the Pacific.

When to go:

Any time of year. We chose September because we had been told that this was the best time of year for the hammerheads. However, the dive guides said the hammers are always there and there really isn't a 'best' time to visit. It might be better to go in the dry season however as the crossing over to Cocos will be a more pleasurable experience as it can get a bit rough in the wet season. The wet season runs from May to November.

How to get there:

From the UK – I have been to Costa Rica before and flew via Miami. This time I tried flying with Iberia via Madrid. The flights were cheaper, which is always a bonus and not having to deal with American customs in Miami was a godsend. However, the downside of this route is the Iberia flight from Madrid to San Jose. We were barely provided with any liquid or food for the duration of the flight and over the 12 hour flight there were only 2 films shown. One was dreadful so I didn't watch it and the other was in Spanish without subtitles. I guess if you prepare for this by taking more food with you and buying water once you get to Madrid and have plenty of good books or some means of watching your own films then this is probably a better route!

Once you get to San Jose you will most likely have to stay overnight in a hotel there before catching a bus down to Punta Arenas the following morning. That just leaves the 30-36 hour sail out to the island. Phew!

Click to enlarge:


Rainbow at Manuelita Island, Cocos, Costa Rica

It's hard when talking about Cocos not to overuse words such as 'huge' and 'awesome'. As soon as you keep repeating words like that, readers' of your dive reviews automatic assumption is to re-interpret what’s been written as 'ok' and 'reasonably sized' – obviously the author is prone to exaggeration. All I can say is when it comes to Cocos, believe everything that is written. This really is one of the best locations to dive on the planet, if not the best. I would go as far as to say that it is the best (as I believe it could well be) but as I haven't dived everywhere and someone is bound to claim some remote island that I'll probably never get to is better, I'd better just leave it up there as one of the best.

The main reason for visiting Cocos is to see the scalloped hammerheads that are literally present in their thousands. But that's by far not the only thing to see; there are many other species of shark found in the waters around Cocos (including whale sharks at times, silvertips, black tips and Galapagos sharks). There is also an abundance of game fish such as tuna, sailfish, wahoo and jacks. Humpback whales are also here for a lot of the year, and in September we saw a few mothers with their calves, if only from the surface. And then there are the rays – marble rays in particular but also mantas, mobula or devil rays, and eagle rays. With all this big fish action it is almost possible to ignore the reef fish altogether, which is a real shame as there are some gems here as well. My particular favourite is the rosy-lipped batfish, found only in Cocos (although there's something similar in the Galapagos), which looks like an old hag with a hooked nose, bright red lips and white 'tubble' around its mouth. On top of that it half swims, half walks by using its front fins as legs. If you believe in intelligent design, I ask you to explain away this one! I also loved all the tiny blennies and jawfish which are absolutely everywhere. I could come back to Cocos again and not pay any attention to the blue whatsoever!

Waterfall on Cocos Isand, Costa Rica

So obviously there's a lot to see, but what is the diving like? Is it hard work and difficult conditions? Well, the answer to that is not really. The Sea Hunter liveaboards recommend that divers have at least 50 dives under their belts before visiting the island, and I have to agree that that is a good number. Even if you think you're a good diver with only 20 dives, there are always going to be a few situations that catch you out and it's not fair on other divers on the liveaboard who have spent so much time saving for this trip of a lifetime if their dives keep being cut short. Having said that, the currents weren't excessive, but there was quite a bit of blue water diving. This tended to be towards the end of each dive however and was at an amiable 10-15m for the most part so not too tricky. I've been to other places where you blue water dive at 30m in a 4 knot current, which can get a bit hairy, but the diving at Cocos was not in that league. There tends to be a lot of sitting and waiting in one place, finding a cleaning station and then the sharks come to you so you won't find yourself doing drift dives as such.

So what's the downside to this formidable island? Well firstly there's the cost (the trip was in the region of £3000 in September 2008 by the time we'd paid for flights from the UK). Secondly there's the journey time of 30-36 hours sailing to reach Cocos, another 4 hour drive down to the harbour plus two flights from the UK, taking about 55 hours altogether (not including a nights stop over in San Jose). Lastly there's the long lining. There's a 20 mile radius around Cocos which is designated as a no take zone and the island is permanently manned by park rangers who are out in boats daily, trying to police this boundary. However, with the unending demand for shark fins by the Chinese causing individual fins to be so valuable, there are always those who are going to exploit these rules and try to plunder the amazing resources the island has. You only have to go ashore on Cocos and see the amount of illegal fishing line the rangers have collected in a short space of time to realize the finning must be having an effect. It breaks my heart to think that hammerheads may one day disappear altogether from Cocos's waters. Seeing a wall of hundreds of them swimming alongside you must be right up there with going on safari and seeing lions or elephants as one of the natural wonders of the world. I just hope that as time passes the younger generations of Chinese won't have the same insatiable appetite for the ludicrous shark fin soup and that if this change ever does take place there will be enough sharks left to re-stock the seas. To loose one of the oceans greatest animals forever would be beyond a tragedy.

One last point to make is I really love mainland Costa Rica as a holiday destination and would thoroughly recommend everyone who goes to Cocos spends at least a few days ashore experiencing this fantastic country. The longer holiday you can take the better!

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