Diving in Costa Rica
There are more than 25 dive sites around the Gulf of Papagayo within a half-hour boat ride of dive centers. Many of these sites feature shallow to mid-range profiles sites and are suitable for divers of all skill levels, as strong currents or surge are rare. At Mirador, white tip sharks can be found resting on ledges and in a shadowy cave. Nearby waters teem with schools of grunts, snapper, king angelfish, and sergeant majors. The rock spire known as Monkey Head drops sharply into the water to create steep cliffs frequented by passing schools of eagle rays and stingrays. The submerged pinnacle at Meros was named for its resident goliath grouper but more often holds small creatures. The rocky fingers of Punta Argentina are also home to a variety of small finds such as nudibranchs and frogfish, while the waters overhead are clouded by swarms of schooling tropical fish. The big ticket dives in the area take place on two island groups located to the south and north. The Catalina archipelago includes 20 small volcanic islands are famous for giant Pacific mantas with wingspans of up to 20 feet. The months from January to March are considered prime time for schooling mantas, but they may be present throughout the year. These same waters hold an impressive array of the manta's smaller cousins. Cow-nose rays show up in schools of 100 or more, along with groups of spotted eagle rays and mobula rays, plus turtles and shoals of horse-eye jacks. Seasonal upwellings of nutrient-rich waters also bring in spinner dolphins, pilot whales and the occasional whale shark. During surface intervals, it's common to see rays leaping from the water in what is thought to be an attempt to rid themselves of parasites. Because water conditions and currents in the Catalinas can change quickly, it is recommended that divers have some experience in open-water boat diving. Also within range of dive operators in the Gulf of Papagayo are the Bat Islands. Located offshore of Santa Rosa National Park, these islands are a protected marine reserve that holds dense populations of fish, along with many of the same big animals as the Catalinas—plus one. The site known as Big Scare is one of the best places in the world to find gatherings of mature bull sharks, which can reach lengths of up to 10 feet. Trips to the Bat islands can be weather dependent, and are most often scheduled in the months from May to November when there is less likelihood of westerly winds. Far to the west, more than 300 miles from the Costa Rican mainland, the Cocos Islands rise from the deep Pacific to provide a gathering point for pelagic animals. Most famous are the vast schools of hammerhead sharks that gather around the seamount of Bajo Alcyone. Other common sightings include mobula rays, dolphin and reef white tip and silky sharks. And there is always the possibility of mantas and whale sharks. The Cocos Islands can be reached by liveaboard, with travel to the site usually taking around 36 hours. Divers who have made the trip agree that the experience is definitely worth the long boat ride.
Passport and/or Visa Requirements
A valid passport is required for entry that must be valid for length of stay. No visa is required for stays less than 90 days. The passport must have at least one blank page for the Costa Rica entry stamp. There is a departure tax of approximately $29 U.S. which should be included in your international ticket. Check the entry/exit requirements here.
There are no immunizations required for entry into Costa Rica, although you should check with your doctor and with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for other recommendations.
Culture and Customs
Costa Rica is known as the safest and most prosperous country in Central America. It is home to a large community of North American ex-pats, but also retains its distinctly Latin culture, which includes a relaxed attitude to schedules that is known as “Tico time.” Laid back is not the same as uncaring, however, and Costa Ricans are known for taking pride in their appearances and their work. A well-developed road system connects major destinations, but much of the country's central highlands remain wild and protected within national parks. Within a day's drive of beach resorts at Guanacaste lie the slopes of Arenal Volcano, the Monteverde Cloud Forest and Palo Verde National Park. Costa Rica is the eco-adventure capital of the Caribbean. Surfers come from around the world to ride famous breaks from Witch's Rock to Pavones. Coastal lodges are filled with fishermen seeking light tackle challenges with roosterfish or tugs of war with marlin. Forests draw birders, hikers and naturalists, and there are more than a dozen rivers offering whitewater rafting thrills. More relaxing experiences await at hot springs, where spa treatments and soaks in mineral-rich volcanic water provides a soothing end to an active day.
Electricity, Telephone and Internet Access
The standard in Costa Rica is the same as in the United States: 110 volts AC (60 cycles). Some electric outlets only have 2 prong sockets, so an adapter may be needed for 3 prong plugs.
Costa Rica has an excellent phone system, and the counry code for dialing is 506. Check with your cell phone provider for international data and voice plans and costs.
Many resorts and restaurants offer WiFi.
Although the water in Costa Rica is generally safe to drink, water quality varies in some cities. It would be best to use bottled water and avoid ice.
Language & Currency
Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica, but English is widely spoken. The Costa Rican currency is called the “colon”. Check the current exchange rate here. Many businesses will accept U.S. Dollars and major credit cards are widely accepted.
Costa Rica is on Central Standard Time, 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (-6 GMT). Costa Rica does not use daylight saving time, so the time difference is an additional hour April through October.
Location, Size and Popuation
Costa Rica is located in Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Nicaragua (to the north) and Panama (to the south). Costa Rica encompasses a total of 19,700 square miles (51,100 square kilometers).
The population of Costa Rica is 4.9 Million (2015) with approximately 350,000 living in the province of Guanacaste.