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Many people travel to the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica hoping to find the type of diving conditions that one can expect to experience in a place like Bonaire; i.e. gin-clear water, little, if any, current, and super-colorful reefs. Unfortunately, these people tend to come away quite disappointed. However, for those who visit this
Pacific Seahorse
Hippocampus ingens
destination knowing what to expect, the diving in Costa Rica can be very rewarding.

Prior to the liveaboard trip that I took to Cocos Island , I spent a week diving in the Northwest region of Costa Rica, near the resort area known as El Ocotal. Because of the abundance of plankton in the area, visibility ranged from about 15 to about 50 ft., more reminiscent of the Puget Sound than the tropics. And certainly, the reefs could not in any way compare to those found in Bonaire, a year earlier. Instead, what Costa Rica has to offer is what many dive destinations in the Pacific do -- the possibility of running into just about anything!

During my dives in Costa Rica, I came across Pacific Seahorses (Hippocampus ingens), Roughjaw Frogfishes (Fowlerichthys avalonis), Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas) and Whitetip Reef Sharks (Triaenodon obesus). Additionally, I was told by some fellow divers of coming upon a half-dozen Bull Sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) the day before I arrived, and at certain times of the year, encounters with Pacific Manta Rays (Manta birostris) are virtually guaranteed.

The terrain that I experienced was in many ways similar to that of my trip to the
Jewel Moray
Muraena lentiginosa
Sea of Cortez. In place of large coral reefs, most dives were centered around underwater pinnacles, volcanic rock piles, and small to moderate-sized walls. Eels were frequently encountered, and more often than on any of my other trips, they could be found swimming out in the open. Most commonly, I saw Green Morays (Muraena clepsydra) and Jewel Morays (Muraena lentiginosa).

Because of the limited visibility, I spent the majority of my dives searching for macro photo opportunities. So unfortunately, I was ill-prepared photographically when the frequent schools of Yellowfin Tuna (Thunnus albacares) or the occasional Jewfish (Epinephelus itajara) swam by.

There were plenty of macro subjects to shoot. In addition to the previously mentioned creatures, there were a wide variety of nudibranchs, blennies, and gobies on virtually every site. One site known as Meros, in particular, sticks out in my mind. At this extremely shallow dive (had I stuck my head in the sand, I might have reached 30 ft...), I found a frogfish, countless jeweled morays, and best of all, 2 bright orange seahorses
Roughjaw Frogfish
Fowlerichthys avalonis
within about 2 ft. of one another.

Meros was, in many ways, indicative of Costa Rica's diving, in general. Even though visibility was merely 35 or 40 ft., there was lots to see for those willing to take the time to really look. However, for as much as I saw, another pair of divers on the boat found virtually nothing, and after the dive harped on how disappointed they were about the visibility they had encountered in Costa Rica. It was obvious that they had not adequately researched the conditions and came with unrealistic expectations.

As for non-diving activities, Costa Rica probably offers as much as any place I've ever been. There is rain forest, dry forest, active volcanoes, and tons of camping and hiking. Costa Rica is quite safe and cheap, and the people are extremely warm and friendly. It is an excellent destination for budget-minded travelers. Utilizing the buses is an excellent way to get around the country. A ticket halfway across the country from Liberia (near El Ococtal) to San Jose cost in the neighborhood of $6! Also, safe and clean accomidations are extremely
Flabellina marcusorum
Flabellina marcusorum
common, as long as you are willing to sacrifice some creature comforts. One night, I stayed in a room that had two beds, a private bathroom/shower, and little else that cost a grand total of $10!

There's no doubt about it, diving in this region of Costa Rica is not for everyone. And admittedly, I can only offer my recommendation for doing a dive trip here as a precursor to a trip to Cocos Island. However, as long as you understand what kind of conditions to expect, you will probably be in for a pleasant surprise. In my opinion, an ideal trip to Costa Rica would not only include diving around El Ocotal and certainly Cocos Island, but also a significant amount of time dedicated to the plethora of non-water activities that Costa Rica has to offer.