Costa Rica is quickly becoming one of the more popular scuba diving destinations in Central America. There is an incredible amount of marine life, both big and small which is certain to impress divers.
We will focus on the scuba diving on the northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica for this article as this area is home to the Bat Islands, the Catalinas, as well as the Gulf de Papagayo.
When visiting this area of Costa Rica you can fly into either San Jose (SJO) or Liberia (LIR) airports. Both are modern, international airports. The big difference is that Liberia is actually only a 30 minute transfer to the beach towns such as Flamingo, Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa, where most of the diving takes place. San Jose is a much larger city with more flights arriving, however, you are looking at 3-4 hours to reach these beach towns.
Seasons For Diving in Costa Rica
There are two main seasons in this area of Costa Rica. Dry season tends to run from early December until mid April. Wet season, or as the Costa Rican tourism board has branded it “Green Season,” runs from mid May until mid-November with the time in between being anyone’s guess.
Dry season is as advertised. Perfectly dry. The area does not generally experience a single drop of rain for several months during this period. The sides of the hills and mountains turn from lush green, to yellow to brown. Wet season really isn’t as bad as you would think. With most days still starting with sunshine. There is generally a downpour in the late afternoon which will last for an hour or two before clearing off again for the evening. The temperatures are actually generally lower during these months, however, the humidity much higher.
The best diving in Costa Rica tends to align with the wet season in Costa Rica. During the wet season, on most days, visibility will be in the 50-80 foot range and temperatures in the mid-80s with most divers either diving in shorties or no wetsuits at all.
In the dry season, visibility is highly variable. There still are days when you will get 50-80 foot visibility but they are much less frequent. Normal visibility in these months will be in the 20-40 foot range. With someday’s even having less. Temperatures are also wildly variable during the dry season. The temperature is generally much cooler with most people choosing to wear a full 3mm or 5mm suit to stay comfortable. Thermoclines can also be experienced on many dives. Water on the surface may well be in the mid 70’s while at depth you will be feeling low 60’s.
Diving The Bat Islands
The wet season also offers much calmer seas for crossing to the Bat Islands (Islas Murcielagos as they are known locally). The crossing from Flamingo or Playas del Coco will be between 45 minutes and 2 hours depending on which dive operator and boat you choose to dive with. The Bat Islands is the location where you can experience diving with the often feared bull sharks in a completely natural setting. In some parts of the world bull sharks are baited at dive sites to ensure that they are there for divers. In Costa Rica, the bull sharks are in a protected marine park where this is completely banned. This certainly does introduce the risk that you may not see the bull sharks on every trip, however, there is enough marine life on these dive sites that you certainly won’t be disappointed regardless.
Apart from the bull sharks you have a very good chance of seeing mantas, eagle rays, cow nosed rays, moray eels, turtles, nurse sharks, huge schools of fish, and possibly even marlin or sailfish.
Scuba Diving the Catalinas
The Catalinas are another set of islands in Costa Rica which are great for diving. Located much closer, these islands are accessible to divers year round. Here is where you have a great chance of seeing giant pacific mantas. When these majestic animals are in the area they will often congregate at these islands near a few dive sites. There is one dive site known as “The Cleaning Station” which offers quite regular sightings.
If you haven’t ever had the experience of diving with the Giant Pacific Mantas, this really is a must do. These gentle giants are very curious about divers and not at all intimidated. They will frequently do swim throughs among the group of divers and perform acrobatic maneuvers when they get close. Unfortunately, at the Catalina’s, the manta visits are much more frequent in the dry season when the waters are cooler and the visibility less. If you are lucky enough to catch them on a day when the visibility is good during the dry season, or if they are present during the wet seasons better diving conditions, you really could be in for a treat!
We will follow this post up shortly with an article about more marine life in Costa Rica including some of the smaller, macro creatures that you may have the fortune of finding while diving in Costa Rica.