Diving in Costa Rica but not at Cocos Islands

I had long wanted to discover Latin America and dive in the ocean waters along its wild coast.

Diving on this continent was like a dream for me.

Choose destination

Because it was considered peaceful, beautiful and developing an ecological tourism policy, my choice was Costa Rica as the first diving destination in Latin America (and because my Costa Rican friends had sold me well the welcome and the sympathy of the inhabitants of the country ;-))

Costa Rica, excluding the Cocos Islands, are kilometers of coastline bordered on one hand by the Caribbean Sea (very little developed for the diving tourism) and on the other by the Pacific Ocean and its rich and wild flora and fauna.

If you often hear about fabulous dives in the Cocos Islands, only accessible when booking a liveabord diving cruise, little information is available on dives along the coast of Costa Rica, where there are some diving centers and probably interesting spots scattered in the waters of Guanacaste. I wanted to go and see for myself what the dives were in Costa Rica.

So I decide to take the plane at the end of March in Amsterdam to Costa Rica for this journey almost like backpackers.

Indeed, we had nothing reserved, nothing planned, just a rental car and a single area to explore: the Guanacaste from Tamarindo to the Nicaraguan border. The guanacaste seemed to be the only interesting area to dive in the Pacific Ocean in Costa Rica.

Arrived on the tarmac of the Liberia airport it is the heat that surprises us, almost 113°F

It rises from the ground and the wind is just as hot. Didier presses me to reach the airport hall hoping to find a little freshness and to recover the car with air-conditioning 😉

Not knowing the country and having no idea on the different places of Guanacaste, we decide from the start to head north to the border with Nicaragua because I really want to explore the region of La Cruz and the bay of Salinas where I saw some diving spots on the map.

We drive up the Guanacaste along Highway 1, the famous Transamerican, and meet the first huge trucks that travel in both directions continuously. All around us the nature is burned by the sun.

About our steps …

Northern Guanacaste

Our first stop at the Cabanas Canas Castilla is a revelation : the Costa Rican nature is fabulous. We can definitely say that the place is incredible: hectares of preserved nature, maintained and marked out allowing long walks to discover congo monkeys and capuchin monkeys evolving all around us. Lost in the multitude of songs of birds, lizards, butterflies, … the crocodile, tirelessly, arrives in the morning on its stone to bask until sunset.

The place, run by a couple of Swiss people who have been in Costa Rica for over 20 years, is so nice that we decide, incredibly but truly, to give us a second day of break in this wonderful dryforest instead of going to a place where Diving is possible.

We go as far as Salinas Bay, which is a hotspot for kitesurfers. This place is definitely worth a visit but is not the best place for diving. No matter, we take advantage of the exceptional environment of this area of the parks and admire, in the bays, the surfers who devote themselves to their passion and the pelicans who have fun poking heads in the water synchronously.

© DifferentDive | DDIVE

In the distance the volcano is eyeing us and as we still do not feel the need to dive (but what effect does this country have ???), we decide to make our next stop in the mountains.

Relax in the mountains

The next day we head towards the Orosi volcano in Rincon de la Vieja. We find a room in the Buena Vista Lodge, a kind of hotel offering a whole host of activities. We had decided to test the dives in Costa Rica and now we start rather surprising activities. If the monkey bridges in the middle of nature squeak under our feet, the hot springs (very hot !) are a real treat after the mud baths 😀

I think it must be at this moment, looking at the beautiful sunset that the urge to soak our flippers did catch us.

You should know that usually all our holidays are dedicated to diving. Here we decide to let ourselves be surprised by the very different atmosphere of Costa Rica … before we catch up with our love of diving.

 

The Tamarindo area in Playa del Coco

The next day, after a hearty breakfast (the famous Gallo Pinto), we drive to Playa Grande (because we do not want to go into Tamarindo itself) and find refuge in an absolutely atypical cottage.

The El Oasis Hotel, as the name suggests, is a true haven of peace. Here, everything is neat and arranged in a concern for harmony. The decoration is fabulous and invites relaxation and tranquility. On the other side of the fence, monkeys congos come screaming to welcome us.

Titi and Camille, the young French couple who greet us with their two children are generous with words and smiles. We will spend two beautiful evenings chatting with them and a couple of their friends on the meaning of life and the paths that each one borrows … still beautiful moments.

We organize our future half day dive but nothing presses and the place is beautiful. We decide to get lost a little more on the huge beaches of the surroundings (including Playa Grande which welcomes the leatherback turtles, the largest in the world, during the spawning season) before landing in a small bar in the middle of nowhere for an aperitif and a stroll in the mangroves.

In the evening, we carefully prepare our diving equipment and feel the urge to go diving more and more.

Diving, here we are

It is only the fifth day that we will finally discover the dives in Costa Rica.

Our choice of dive structure was based on the diving center Seahorse Diving … because we did not know any particular, that the prices were almost the same everywhere, because it is the only one that responded when we contacted all the centers in English or Spanish, because this center is run by Bruno, a French (easier for me who does not master Spanish) and that he seemed to have a great new boat 😉

We have an appointment at 9 am for a morning of two dives on the Catalinas Islands at half an hour by boat. We are welcomed very sympathetically by Yann the instructor who will serve us as a guide to us and to another couple of French divers. The policy of Seahorse Diving is: few divers on the boat to enjoy a great dive : exactly what I like !

The boat keeps its promises. It is comfortable and fast, I love it.

We go straight to the Catalinas islands accompanied by school of tunas. I feel the warm wind on my skin … What a lovely feeling.

First dive, first surprises

First impression by going to the water: it is hot. My computer tells me that it is around 27 ° C. With my five millimeters wetsuit, I feel warm 🙂

We jump in a water with relatively good visibility and once everything is ready, we follow our dive guide by staying behind as planned during the briefing.

Suddenly, it is the thermal shock: the water becomes cloudy, the visibility is reduced, the current is strong and the temperature falls around 19 ° C.

It is a peculiarity of the Pacific coast of this part of the world: cold currents (sometimes very cold) come to surprise the divers during their immersions.

Moments later, the water becomes warmer and clearer.

During this first dive I will attend a surprising event: a fight of stingrays! I believed that the rays were rather calm and peaceful, the attack of an enormous stingray on another really surprised me. A little further on, an eagle ray passes peacefully.

We continue diving and spot one or other reef shark lurking around us in the middle of the typical Pacific Ocean fauna and fish of all colors.

It’s already time to surface. We all meet around 5 meters to perform our safety stop when my gaze is drawn down.

A magnificent eagle ray evolves just below us.

© DifferentDive | DDIVE

While I give a few shots to it, I feel a presence on my right side: 6 rays (mantas or mobulas?) swim two meters away from me.

I had hardly enough time to realize what happens, and beep Didier with my Buddy Watcher that it is almost too late to take a picture.

Wonderful ! 6 rays in a rows that seem to fly by my side so peacefully and yet disappear so quickly that Didier did not have time to see them. A moment of grace for an unforgettable memory.

Second dive: the wall

The second dive in Costa Rica will mark a very special event for me, because for the first time in my life as a diver, I will encounter a wall of fish.

I was already amazed by the fauna present on the site, schools of surgeon fish, sharks, trunk fish and rays seen from from a distance this time but this one, at the very end of the dive was magical.

For a moment, all my landmarks go away I do not know where the top, bottom, left and right are , … I feel pleasantly disoriented, carried away by this huge school of fish.

I get out of this dive with the feeling once again of having this immense opportunity to share a small slice of life with the extraordinary underwater life.

Finally, is the Guanacaste in Costa Rica worth it ?

Very sincerely the answer is YES, but not to make an exclusive dive trip because the seabed seems too uncertain (visibility, temperature, meetings, …) according to some testimonies we have collected and our experiences.

Our favorites in Guanacaste are most definitely the with Nicaragua border, the volcanoes, Playa Grande and Playa Conchal (very nice atmosphere). On the other hand, the well-known Playa del Coco offers to my mind very little interest and we left as soon as possible.

The Guanacaste is a wonderful destination, dry and sunny. This region combines on one side the discovery of the Costa Rican nature and a rich terrestrial flora and fauna and on the other the exploration of wild sea bottoms reserving very beautiful surprises.

Most definitely a nice destination if you are traveling with non-divers.

Beware, however, as in the rest of Latin America, the atmosphere of Costa Rica is special: the houses are surrounded by barbed wire, each protects the little that he possesses without perceiving insecurity. Unaccustomed to these practices, however, it was a cultural shock, as far as I was concerned, because I am used to talk to others and trust them.

My scuba diving in Costa Rica, Guanacaste, in short :

The negative points :

  • The dives are expensive (very expensive) without one really understand why because the sites are relatively close to the shore
  • The dive conditions are not always ideal: quite a lot of times when the visibility is average or mediocre
  • Cold Currents
  • The alternation of moments: it is important to know what you want to see in diving because each period offers its specials. The manta rays, bulldog sharks, turtles, … are not present at all times => importance to know well the best time to dive in Costa Rica before going there

The positive points :

  • A diving center on a human scale as I like
  • Great wealth of underwater life typical of the ocean coast
  • Impression of being in a wild and preserved environment
  • Hot water (most of the time and definitely in the first meters to make the safety stop)
  • Nearby diving sites
  • Opportunity to see big fish

… Of course this is my point of view on two dives. I loved them but I have preferred to continue my exploration of the country which offers so many wonders to discover.

Was I wrong ? It seems that we meet Bulldog sharks on some sites … but at other times 😉

Will I go back to Costa Rica ?

Yes if the opportunity presents itself to me however  this is not my favorite diving destination.

I was happy to discover the Guanacaste in Costa Rica and enjoy these two beautiful dives. Yet I did not want to dive the next day, which is rather rare for me 😉

However, there are still so many destinations and diving spots to discover that I will go more spontaneously to other parts of the world. Why not try Asia ? 👌🏻

Want to share your experiences, comments and questions about diving in Costa Rica ?

Post a comment below … it will be my pleasure to exchange with you live 😉

Good bubbles and do not forget to be happy 🙂

Helene

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    1. We came to dive in Costa Rica but we didn’t know we would have such an excellent service from you and your team of SIXT Liberia.
      Thank you very much Paul
      PURA VIDA 🙂

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