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
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 50 ft., more reminiscent of
the Puget Sound than the tropics. And certainly, the reefs
could not in any way compare to those I dived 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
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
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
jewel morays, and best of all, 2 bright orange seahorses
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 a great 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
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 the country
has to offer.