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Your Guide to Diving in Cocos Island

Costa Rica Scuba Diving at its Best!

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...Highlights: whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, shark action, dolphins, manta rays, schooling fish & big pelagics...
...Diving environment: advanced divers, off the beaten track...

Situated in the Golden Triangle, 342 miles (550 km) off the mainland of Costa Rica, the converging nutrient-rich currents from nearby deep water attract multitudes of pelagic action to Cocos. Once considered a destination for hardcore divers, Cocos Island now attracts all sorts of scuba divers to Costa Rica from all over the world, lured by its remote beauty and seas teeming with life. The island has around 20 sites all in a compact location, from shallow but steep vertical walls, drift diving, to deep pinnacles down to over 130ft (40m), and blue water dives. All sites are close to the island and one another, making Cocos Island an ideal liveaboard diver's playground.

Scuba diving at Cocos Island - photo courtesy of Thomas Reich, www.scubavision.de, Undersea Hunter
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Declared a marine national park by the Costa Rican government in 1978, the Isla del Coco is a large uprising of volcanic seamounts covered with untamed and uninhabited tropical rainforest featured in breathtaking scenes in the movie 'Jurassic Park'. The eco-system has been largely untouched by humans, offering us a rare glimpse into a world where nature reigns supreme, allowing the marine and island creatures to interact undisturbed and thrive in the process.

The main attraction of Cocos Island diving is scalloped hammerhead sharks. You will witness wave after wave of huge groups of hammerheads, some numbering in their hundreds! But there are other regular shark species encounters too, most notably whitetip reef sharks and Galapagos, silky, tiger, blacktip, silvertip and guitar sharks. They are joined by many different species of rays: mobula, marble, manta and eagle rays swirling around you in search of cleaning stations.

Bajo Alcyone is the number one Costa Rica diving spot to see hundreds of hammerhead sharks and large fish action. Descending to the submerged mountain will give you the best seat in the house to see manta and mobula rays swirling into the cleaning stations and legions of hammerhead sharks on all sides of you as they descend to below the thermocline.

Dirty Rock is another spot for intense pelagic action; this site being more suitable to lesser skilled divers as the channel between the boulders and pinnacles forms a sheltered refuge. Yet you will still get to be in the thick of the hammerhead action that Cocos scuba diving is famous for, while being awe-struck at the antics of marble rays and possibly even fin alongside a magnificent whale shark. Moray eels are very visible as they weave and sway from every available crevice in the sheer volcanic wall. Fissures in the wall are filled with smaller fish hiding from the shoals of jacks, who in turn attract a bevy of whitetip reef sharks.

Dive Site Descriptions

Bajo Alcyone

This is unparalleled as the place to see hammerhead sharks. After a quick descent to the seamount top at 82ft (25m), find a crevice to wedge into and the hammerheads will gently glide into the picture until they fill your entire field of vision! From viewing their distinct hammerhead silhouettes at the surface to watching them descend below you, you will be spoilt for choice with photo ops. The hammerhead sharks prefer swimming below the thermocline which often tempts divers to descend below 98ft (30m). The depth of the site, coupled with the exposure to rough seas and often strong currents, makes it advisable for you to be an advanced diver to enjoy the many advantages of this site.

Due to its offshore location about a mile (1½ km) from the island, you will find incredible pelagic action at this spot promising you numerous fulfilling interactions with mobula, manta and eagle rays. Shark cleaning stations abound with many satisfied customers among the silky sharks and Galapagos sharks. Majestic whale sharks are also frequent visitors. At Bajo Alcyone you will be spoiled, not only with shark numbers but also variety.
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How to Dive Cocos Island

The only way to get to the island is aboard one of the comfortable and professional Costa Rican liveaboard dive boats that operate in the area from the Pacific town of Puntarenas. For more information on the cruises and all the other travel information you might need to visit Costa Rica and the island, visit our Cocos liveaboard section.

Since Cocos is a popular diving spot with a low number of liveaboard operators, availability can be an issue. We recommend you book 12 months in advance to avoid disappointment.

Depending on conditions at sea, the boat trip from the Costa Rican mainland usually takes about 36 hours cruise time. So you will have more than enough time to get to know your fellow passengers and prepare your equipment as well as catch up on any R&R you may need before the fun begins. This makes for a unique situation where the tourists are almost exclusively divers.

The Diving Season

Being so far from the Costa Rican mainland, the climate are quite different here. The island is situated near the Equator where 2 weather patterns converge, which results in changeable weather, relatively cool equatorial air temperatures averaging 78°F (25.5°C), and average annual precipitation of over 23ft (7m). Rainfall alternates with sunny skies all year round. This however, does not affect the scuba action.

If you prefer calmer seas and higher visibility then book your trip between December and May - the dry season. Dry season typically sees calmer seas and visibility of over 89 ft (30m). In fact, for many, the best time to dive at Cocos Island is in the 'rainy' season from June through December, when the nutrient upswells attract manta rays and whale sharks. The surface is rougher during this period and visibility drops to within the range of 33 to 82ft (10 - 25m). Plankton rather than rainfall is more likely to be the factor that reduces visibility. The long open ocean crossing is likely to be less comfortable during this time. The rainy season is also said to attract the most hammerhead sharks as well, although they are seen in huge numbers during most of the year.

Water temperatures hover between 75 and 86°F (24-30°C) (average 82°F 27.8°C) and there is a seasonal variation of only a few degrees. However, temperatures can vary dramatically, dropping up to 43°F (6°C) due to thermoclines. This can be an arresting sensation if you are inadequately suited. We recommend a 5 mm full length wet suit, hood, gloves and boots to be prepared for all eventualities.

So it is all a matter of preference when is the 'best' time of year for a visit to scuba dive this Costa Rican island. August and September are the 2 most popular months. June and July are said to hold the promise of both calm seas and a good chance to see the big creatures.

Visit the Climates To Travel websiteOpens in a new window for more details on the climate and sea conditions at the island. There are fewer liveaboard trips during January through early June because some liveaboards alternate their cruises between Cocos Island and Caño Island.

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Where is Cocos and How Do I Get There?

Review our maps below of the island, its host country Costa Rica, and their location in the world. Here, you will find information on how to get to Cocos.

Map of Cocos Island, Costa Rica (click to enlarge in a new window) Map of Costa Rica (click to enlarge in a new window) Map of the world (click to enlarge in a new window)

Reef Summary

Depth: 33 - >130ft (10 - >40m)
Visibility: 40 - 98ft (12 - 30m)
Currents: Moderate to very strong
Surface conditions: Can be rough and choppy further from shore
Water temperature: 75 - 86°F (24 - 30°C)
Experience level: Advanced, mandatory surface marker buoy
Number of dive sites: ~20
Distance: 342 miles (550 km) west of Costa Rica
Recommended length of stay: 10 days

Useful References

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Operator websites:  Deep Blue Diving


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