Costa Rica is quickly becoming a very popular diving destination for scuba divers around the world. Costa Rica in general has become a much more popular tourist destination for several reasons. The relative stability and security which you enjoy in this country in comparison to other countries in the area, upgrades to its major airports including San Jose and Liberia International, as well as some great marketing efforts and campaigns have brought visitors to the region in masses.
While people have of course been diving in Costa Rica for decades, it hasn’t been until the last 10-15 years that it has really gotten developed with some reliable and safe operators. Operators such as Rocket Frog Divers in Costa Rica have shops in both Playas del Coco and Playa Flamingo offering excellent service to the entire Gulf de Papagayo.
You can break down the Gulf de Papagayo into three areas for diving. There are the Catalina Islands, the Bat Islands (Islas Murcielagos) and the local diving which you can do in the deep of the Gulf near Playa Hermosa and Playas del Coco. Each of these areas shares similarities but offers slightly different diving.
The Bat Islands
You can find the Bat Islands off the coast of Santa Rosa National Park in a marine protected area. This shields the marine life found here from fishermen. It is also where you are likely to encounter the beautiful bull sharks. You will find them naturally with no baiting or feeding done by any dive center in the area. Be sure when you book your trip that you check with your dive operator to find out what type of boat they operate and the amount of time it takes to arrive to the islands.
With shops such as Rocket Frog who operate inflatable ribbed boats you can get to the destination in under 1 hour. Some other shops in the region have much slower boats which will take you well over 2 hours. You should be aware that these are generally regarded as advanced dive sites due to their depth. It is possible that you encounter currents and surge, and that on many days you will have to do a negative buoyancy entry.
You can access the Catalinas best from Playa Flamingo. From this small town these are considered the local diving and the price reflects that. Shops in the Coco area do make the trip to the Catalinas. You can expect these trips to take between 30 minutes and 1 hour.
You will see that it’s worth the trip once you arrive. The Catalinas are best known for their encounters with the Giant Pacific Manta Rays. These manta rays can reach huge size with their width exceeding 20 feet (6 meters). They gather in the area generally starting in mid-January and stay for several months. During these months you can frequently find mantas swimming at dive sites such as “The Point”, “The Wall”, or “Cleaning Station.”
Local Diving in the Gulf
You can also do some local diving from Playas del Coco to the heart of the Gulf de Papagayo. Here you can find all sorts of wonderful marine life. There are plenty of white tip reef sharks, several species of rays, moray eels, huge schools of fish, octopus, sea horses, nudibranch and lots of macro life! Also if you are lucky enough to come in the fall months of September and October, you are likely to find some humpback whales who travel to the Gulf to give birth. You will share many surface intervals with these beautiful marine mammals and many divers have enjoyed listening to their songs during their dives.
Your visit to Costa Rica for the Best Diving
There is never a bad time to come and visit. What sort of vacation you are wanting will determine when you should come. From May till mid-November is generally considered the low-season in Costa Rica. You will enjoy better prices at hotels and resorts as there aren’t as many tourists. This also coincides with their rainy season. It is likely to rain every day for a few hours in the afternoon or early evening.
While tourism is low, diving breaks the trend and is actually more popular during these months. During the months of June through October will be your best chance at seeing Bull Sharks in the Bat Islands. It will also offer decent chances at Mantas either in the Catalinas or Bats. Further during this time you will find generally warmer waters with better visibility.
The months of December through April are considered high season and also the dry season in Costa Rica. If you are coming for warmth and sunshine this period is for you. There is almost zero precipitation during these months as the entire coastline goes from lush green to brown. The waters also cool significantly. While you still will get days with 50+ feet of visibility the chances are less and you should probably expect to be in the 20-30 foot range. January through March offers the highest volume of Mantas at the Catalinas.
Diving in Costa Rica at a glance
There is never a bad time to go diving in Costa Rica. Do your homework and plan a trip that matches your goals for diving. If it is strictly a diving trip I would recommend the summer months when you can enjoy diving with bull sharks, mantas, and also the warmer waters. If it is a family vacation you are after, the dry winter months might be your best option!