Costa Rica is an eco-tourism paradise with rain forests, exotic wildlife, volcanoes and much more. This little Central American country is also an interesting place to scuba dive. Most of the diving in Costa Rica is done on the west coast Pacific Ocean side with an area up in the Guanacaste region located in the northwestern part of the country and another south of the capital city of San Jose near the middle of its west coast.
If flying into San Jose, one would have to do some internal traveling to get to either of these two locations. The Guanacaste area is a bit easier to get to especially if one could arrange a flight right to the town of Liberia in northern Costa Rica. There are some seasonal charter flights from North America directly to Liberia. The town of Playas del Coco which is used as the main base for divers is a short cab ride from the Liberia airport. There are restaurants and small hotels in Playa del Coco including a few American owned scuba dive operators.
These dive operators usually have special package deals available which include both diving and accommodations with one of the local hotels. Everything in town is within easy walking distance. I made a trip for scuba diving here during the late fall season. The operator I used was Rich Coast Diving. The local Costa Rican divemasters from Rich Coast they took all of the scuba equipment including tanks down to the beach every morning by pickup truck.
The dives ranged from about 60 feet to 85 feet with mild to moderate currents. One thing that all divers will notice here is that the diving in Costa Rica is very different from the usual Caribbean reef diving. The visibility is a lot poorer and there are some noticeably colder thermoclines. The poor visibility is due to higher amounts of plankton in the local waters compared to the Caribbean Sea. In some dive sites, we had to swim through sections of water which turned into an almost brown color soup.
This cut the sunlight from the top drastically. However, there is a huge plus side to this poorer visibility. The plankton attracts larger marine animals and if divers came here to see the big ones, they will not be disappointed. Even some of the reef fish here are larger. For example, the trumpet fish we saw down here are significantly larger than the ones found in Caribbean waters. Also, there are much more porcupine puffer fish here.
Previously in Caribbean waters, I've seen only a few porcupine fish and they are usually alone. Here in Costa Rica, I saw large schools of them. We encountered large schools of other fish types on a regular basis as well. The local divemasters here definitely work in a different way compared to their counterparts elsewhere.
In many Caribbean locations, the divemasters would promote a 'look only, no touch' rule. Here, the divemasters actively turned over every rock to find interesting creatures for us. They would catch them in their hands and pass them over to the other divers. Over three days of diving, I held a seahorse, an octopus, a spotted eel, an orange color frogfish and a puffed up porcupine fish.
Of course this practice of handling marine wildlife is debatable in terms of ethics but it was certainly an interesting experience holding these creatures in my hands. The divemasters were certainly hard working for sure though as they were eager to make sure that the guests had good dive trips. Large animals such as giant sea turtles, stingrays and white tip sharks were also spotted. On one occasion which I will never forget for the rest of my life is when a very large school of cow-nose rays headed straight for our group of divers. They looked like a huge squadron of alien spaceships.
They went right through and past us while we watched in wonder. Then they disappeared. This memorable experience was much too short lived.
So for a very different type of scuba diving compared to the Caribbean without traveling too much further, Costa Rica is an interesting destination for divers to consider. There won't be crystal clear visibility but the marine life will be different with more large animals to see. The diving itself is also very reasonable in cost being significantly lower than in premium priced locations such as the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas. In addition, there are many other things to see and activities to do on land besides the scuba diving which makes Costa Rica a very full vacation. .
By: Clint Leung