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Scuba Diving in Caño Island

Diving in Costa Rica's Reserva Biológica

...Good for: Underwater photography, large animals, reef life and health, non-diving activities...
...Not so good for: Small animals, wrecks...

Much has been written about the most renowned scuba diving destination in Costa Rica, Cocos Island, however liveaboard divers visiting 'the rich coast' can also dive El Caño Island. The diving here is very different from Cocos, but is of such quality as to be considered world-class in its own right.

Scuba diving at Caño Island - photo courtesy of WayneWorks Marine
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This amazing marine biological reserve of Isla del Caño lies a mere 10 miles (16 km) offshore from the Osa Peninsula. The reserve’s waters showcase gorgeous coral reefs with good visibility. On any given day scuba divers are treated to large schools of tropical fish, octopus, barracuda, amberjacks, wahoo, various rays, sea turtles, and maybe even marlin and dolphins. Shark species commonly seen here include white tipped reef sharks, bull sharks, whale sharks, and occasionally hammerheads. Even whales are regularly spotted around Caño Island, including humpback, pilot, sei and false killer whales.

The 740 acre (300 hectare) island is of archaeological importance to Costa Rica as a burial ground dating to the pre-Columbian era. Fauna is somewhat scarce on the island, nonetheless it is on the migratory passage for birds that fly to warmer climates from the northern hemisphere during the winter. Bird watchers will not be disappointed. The island does hold a mystery…. There are perfectly round stone, hand carved spheres found on the island; no one knows who created them or what their purpose was.

Dive Site Descriptions

Bajo del Diablo – The site considered by many to be the best in this area of Costa Rica. Also known as Devil’s Pinnacle, this is a versatile spot, offering up to 3 completely different dives. Show more

This incredible site covers a vast area and has rock formations creating peaks and channels, with depths between 20 - 150 ft (6 - 45m). Diving Bajo del Diablo means immersing yourself among schools of barracuda, huge snappers, oceanic manta rays, white tips and even pilot whales.

Bajo del Diablo Deep is the furthest into the ocean from Caño Island, at depths of 6 - 115 ft (20 - 35m), this is where the ‘big boys’ play. Blacktip sharks, hammerhead sharks, white tips and huge nurse sharks frequent this site that is considered among the finest for lovers of big animal encounters.

Devil's Rock is an extension of Bajo del Diablo, on the north west of the same platform, lies Devil's Rock. This site is known for its bountiful tropical fish life as well as sharks and rays. Sightings include whitetip sharks, nurse sharks, moray eels, mobula rays and manta rays, as well as game fish such as tuna and wahoo. Dive depths range from 60 - 115 ft (18 - 35m).

Coral Garden - With a shallow depth of 13 - 40 ft (5 - 12m), Coral Garden is often chosen as the last dive of the day (including night dives). Depicting its name, this site features a beautiful, colorful coral garden with a profusion of hard coral. Here you can enjoy relaxed dives among a variety of tropical fish and whitetip sharks.

El Barco Hundido - Don’t be misled into believing that this is a wreck dive (El Barco Hundido means 'sunken boat' in Spanish, which has since been removed, and the site is sometimes called ‘Shipwreck’). It is a 40 - 72 ft (12 - 22m) deep rock formation, frequented by large schools of fish. Large groupers, big schools of grunts, scorpionfish, manta rays and sea turtles are among the highlights, as well as large numbers of sharks.

Shark Cave - The closest dive site to El Caño Island, Shark Cave (locally known as 'Cueva del Tiburon') is a relaxed, shallow dive of 33 - 55 ft (10 - 15m) in calm waters. A beautiful reef abounds with tropical fish such as butterfly fish, small snappers, moorish idols, surgeonfish, with the occasional manta or ray passing by. As the name suggests, the site also includes a cave with approximately 10 resident whitetip sharks.

El Faro - Expect to see a combination of tropical fish and big fish, like amberjacks and snappers typical of Costa Rica, on this comfortable 66 - 82 ft (20 - 25m) dive. The interesting rock formation is complemented by many colorful soft corals and gorgonian sea fans.

Paraiso - On the outskirts of the national park, stronger currents and large schools of fish are synonymous with this 60 to 72 ft (18 - 22m) site. An impressive cast of tropical reef fish, blue-stripped snapper, meaty amberjacks, schools of horse-eye jacks and barracuda comprise the likely encounters on this site. Special appearances of patrolling wahoo are not uncommon here. You may depart this site with the sweet memory of the singing of humpback whales.

Los Arcos - Slightly north-west of Shark Cave is an interesting rock formation that looks like arches, giving the site its name. At an easy depth of 33 - 55 ft (10 - 17m), marine sightings include colorful reef fish such as damsels, butterflyfish and parrotfish. There are plenty of eels on show lurking in the crevices and you should also look out for manta rays and sting rays.

Queque - Located the furthest away from Caño Island, just outside of the protected marine reserve area ‘The Garden’ dive is at 82 to 108 ft (25 - 33m). The dominant feature is the large rock, covered with varieties of soft corals, creating a kaleidoscope of yellows, oranges, greens and purples. Abundant with fish life, it is a marine photographer’s dream site.

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Diving Season

Costa Rica is located between 8-12 degrees north of the Equator and has a tropical climate year round. The liveaboard diving season at El Caño Island is relatively short, lasting only 6 months (from January through June) each year. This occurs during the ‘summer’ period which is considered to be more dry than the rest of the year.

The tropical water temperatures range between 72 to 82°F (22-28°C), and you may experience cooler thermoclines. For a comfortable dive, 3-5 mm wetsuits are recommended.

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How to Dive Caño Island

Caño Island diving is best done from reputable Costa Rica liveaboards to maximize dive opportunities at a variety of sites in the national park as well as those on the periphery.

Our recommended liveaboards to dive El Caño Island are the sister liveaboards operated by the well-established Aggressor fleet. They visit between January and June. Okeanos Aggressor I and Okeanos Aggressor II offer 7 night liveaboard diving tours that include 6 days of diving. All dives are made from tenders. Aggressor provide all scuba divers with personal EPIRBs and have an onboard defibrillator. These added safety measures give you an additional sense of security when you dive remote Caño with Aggressor liveaboards.

In addition to the 20 dives offered during the cruise (including 3 night dives), one of the following land tours are included in the itinerary: Corcovado National Park (San Pedrillo Station or Sirena Station), Sierpe River Mangroves, Caño Island or Drake's Bay Hiking Tour.

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Where is Caño and How Do I Get There?

Okeanos I and Okeanos II depart from Punta Arenas (about a 2 hour journey from San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica). You will spend the night prior to departure in San Jose (preferably at one of the operator recommended hotels) in order to make the complimentary, air-conditioned bus transfer to Punta Arenas. Once you have boarded your liveaboard, the cruise the island will take approximately 12 hours.

Review our map below of Caño Island's host country, Costa Rica:

Map of Costa Rica (click to enlarge in a new window)

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Reef Summary

Depth: 16 - 100ft (5 - 30m)
Visibility: 50 - 100ft (15 - 30m)
Currents: Gentle to moderate
Surface conditions: Generally calm but can be choppy
Water temperature: 72 - 82°F (22 - 28°C)
Experience level: Beginner - intermediate
Number of dive sites: ~11
Distance: 108 miles (175 km) from Punta Arenas, 10 miles (16 km) offshore from the Osa Peninsula
Recommended length of stay: 8 days

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Useful References

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