The emerald waters of Costa Rica's Gulf of Papagayo is a fish watcher's delight where anything is possible from funnel clouds of jacks and snapper to flights of mantas and mobula rays

A Very Fishy Place

The emerald waters of Costa Rica's Gulf of Papagayo are a fish watcher's delight. From flights of mantas and mobula rays to funnel clouds of jacks and snapper, the ocean teems with life. The same coastal islands and rock pinnacles that attract pelagics also hide a wealth of invertebrate treasures awaiting discovery by the keen-eyed diver. More adventure awaits offshore on the Cocos Islands, where schooling hammerheads take center stage, with sea lions, mantas, turtles and dolphins adding to the show. Ashore, the Guanacaste region is the starting point for eco-adventures ranging from volcano hikes and rainforest zip-line tours to whitewater rafting.

Highlights

  • Best for: Big marine life encounters, abundant fish life and eco adventures
  • Best season to visit: May through November for best sea conditions, December to March for the greatest number of large animals near coastal islands, June to September for Cocos Islands
  • Weather: There is minimal seasonal variation in air temperatures, with highs reaching near 90 and lows touching 70 at night. The wet season runs from May through November, drier months from December to April bring lower humidity

Things to Do

Costa Rica Information

About Diving in Costa Rica

Don't expect colorful reefs or the proverbial “gin-clear” waters. Costa Rica's northern Pacific coast is washed by nutrient-rich waters that range from emerald to indigo. Visibility can fluctuate between 20 and 80 feet but usually stays in the 40-foot range. Most dive sites feature rock ledges, slopes or pinnacles, often coated in small hard corals, sponges and gorgonians. Big marine life is the primary focus, but the rocks also hold smaller finds such as eels, frogfish and seahorses. A number of coastal islands are accessed by day boats, while the offshore Cocos Islands are the liveaboard territory. Water temperatures range from the mid 70s to low 80s.

Diving in Costa Rica Tips

Choose a fast boat for trips to sites in the Catalina and Bat Islands, which can be 20 miles or more from dive centers. Go with a slightly thicker wetsuit than average water temperatures might suggest, as many sites have thermoclines, with colder water below.

Best Places to Dive in Costa Rica

Sites along the shores of the Gulf of Papagayo offer plentiful marine life and all-weather access. The Catalina and Bat Islands are considered the best Costa Rica has to offer, and the Cocos Islands are famous for shark encounters.

What to Pack for Diving in Costa Rica

A 3mm suit may suffice for near-shore sites but a 5mm wetsuit with full foot fins and boots is a safer bet for the islands. Include gloves and a hood for possible thermoclines, and carry a surface marker on sites that may experience currents. 

Specials

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Arenal Kioro Suites & Spa

COSTA RICA - 7 NIGHT BEACH, DIVE AND VOLCANO ADVENTURE PACKAGE includes 4 nights accommodations at Villa Sol including all meals and beverages including alcohol, 2 nights accommodations at Arenal Manoa including 2 breakfasts, 1 lunch and 1 dinner, 1 night accommodation at Best Western Irazu including breakfast, 3 days 2-tank guided boat dives, Hot Springs evening, Canyon Rapelling, Whitewater rafting, Package includes all ground transportation from San Jose roundtrip, hotel tax and service charges. Valid 5/1/17-6/30/17 and 9/1/17-9/30/17. Add $160 pp for travel 7/1/17-7/31/17. Add $86 pp for travel 8/1/17-8/31/17 and 12/1/17-12/15/17. Options to add on zip line tour, wildlife cruise or pottery tour.
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From $1,369 per person double diver

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Villas Sol Hotel & Beach Resort

PLAYA HERMOSA, COSTA RICA - 7 NIGHT DIVE PACKAGE includes 7 night standard accommodations, 5 days of 2-tank boat dives, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, snacks and beverages including alcohol, roundtrip airport transfers, hotel tax and service charges. Valid 4/18/17-6/30/17 & 8/1/17-12/20/17. Add $154 per person for travel through 4/8/17.
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From $1,160 per person double diver

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Packages

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Costa Rica

Villas Sol Hotel & Beach Resort

PLAYA HERMOSA - 7 NIGHT DIVE PACKAGE includes 7 night standard accommodations, 5 days of 2-tank boat dives, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, snacks and beverages including alcohol, roundtrip airport transfers, hotel tax and service charges. Valid 4/18/17-6/30/17 & 8/1/17-12/20/17. Add $154 per person for travel through 4/8/17.
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From $1,160 per person double diver

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Resorts

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Villas Sol Hotel & Beach Resort

PLAYA HERMOSA, GUANACASTE - Located on a hill bathed by the sun of the north Pacific coast, Villas Sol Hotel and Beach Resort offers the perfect combination of services and beauty combined with elegance and comfort in the best all inclusive of Papagayo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
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Occidental Papagayo

PAPAGAYO, GUANACASTE - The Occidental Papagayo is an all-inclusive resort in which premium service is joined by a breathtaking location just 35 minutes from Liberia International Airport. Situated on a bluff with stunning bay views and sunsets, the resort offers 4 restaurants, 4 bars, a day spa, tennis courts and many other activities. Diving services provided by Rocket Frog Divers nearby.
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Liveaboards

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Okeanos Aggressor I

CAÑO ISLAND ITINERARY: The 110-foot Okeanos Aggressor I departs Puntarenas, Costa Rica for 7-night adventures to El Caño Island - a marine reserve located off the Osa Peninsula on Costa Rica's southern Pacific coast. In addition to 6 days of diving, guests will have opportunities to explore Corcovado Nation Park, the Sierpe River Mangroves or Drakes Bay.
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From $2,995 per person quad occupancy

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Okeanos Aggressor I

COCOS ISLAND ITINERARY: The 110-foot Okeanos Aggressor I departs Puntarenas, Costa Rica for 10-night adventures to Cocos Island - a lush, green uninhabited island 342 miles off Costa Rica's Pacific coast - a 36-hour voyage each way from the mainland. The rocky pinnacles surrounding Cocos Island are beacons for big animals and big action. Schooling hammerheads, countless white-tip sharks, mantas, tuna and even whale sharks call Cocos Island home. Cocos Island National Park was designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1997. Weather permitting, Okeanos Aggressor I guests are shuttled ashore to hike through the jungles of Cocos Island and swim in her many waterfalls. All 10-night trips offer seven days of diving.
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From $5,299 per person quad occupancy

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Okeanos Aggressor II

CAÑO ISLAND ITINERARY: The 120-foot Okeanos Aggressor II (formerly the Wind Dancer) departs Puntarenas, Costa Rica for 7-night adventures to El Caño Island - a marine reserve located off the Osa Peninsula on Costa Rica's southern Pacific coast. In addition to 6 days of diving, guests will have opportunities to explore Corcovado Nation Park, the Sierpe River Mangroves or Drakes Bay.
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From $2,995 per person double occupancy

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Okeanos Aggressor II

COCOS ISLAND ITINERARY: The 120-foot Okeanos Aggressor II (formerly the Wind Dancer) departs Puntarenas for 10-night adventures to Cocos Island, a lush, green uninhabited island resting 342 miles off Costa Rica's Pacific coast. The rocky pinnacles surrounding Cocos Island are beacons for big animals and big action. Schooling hammerheads, countless white-tip sharks, mantas, tuna and even whale sharks call Cocos Island home. Cocos Island National Park was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. Weather permitting, Okeanos Aggressor II guests are shuttled ashore to hike through the jungles of Cocos and swim in her many waterfalls. All 10-night trips offer seven days of diving.
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From $5,499 per person double occupancy

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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 whitetip 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.

Immunizations

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 tug of war with a 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 provide a soothing end to an active day.

Electricity, Phone 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 country 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.

Water Quality

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.

Time

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 Population

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.