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12 Dive Centres in Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is famous worldwide for a number of extremely positive reasons. It has one of the best health care systems in the Americas, and an excellent education system that boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the Americas. Since 1948, this small Central American nation has had no military, yet remains one of the safest countries in the regions to travel to. The name ‘Costa Rica’ literally translates as ‘Rich Coast’, and it really lives up to its name. Despite being only 52,000 square kilometres (only slightly larger than Denmark), it contains over 5% of the worlds biodiversity – which the country works hard to protect. On the east coast the warm Caribbean waters bring the humidity needed to sustain the countries dense rainforests, and on the west coast is the vast and nutrient rich Pacific Ocean.

Currency

The currency of Costa Rica is the colón, although it is sometimes referred to as the peso – which is because most Central American countries have had a ‘peso’ at some point in their history.
Currency exchanges and banks are common place throughout the country, so you should not need to carry too much cash around with you – unless you are heading into more remote areas such as any of the countries national parks.

Language

Spanish is the main language of Costa Rica, however there are some difference between Costa Rican Spanish and the Spanish spoken by neighboring countries. There are also at least five indigenous languages throughout the country by the descendants of pre-Columbian people.

A creole-English is spoken widely in the Limón province due to Afro-Caribbean immigrants settling from other Caribbean islands. Roughly 10% of Costa Rican adults can speak English.

Religion

Much like neighbouring Central American countries, Costa Rica is a predominantly Christian country – with 70% of the population identifying as Roman Catholic, and a further 14% identifying as Protestants. Interestingly, due to immigration from east Asia, roughly 2% of the Costa Rican population identify as Buddhist.

Visa Requirements

British citizens do not need a visa to enter Costa Rica and can receive a (up to) 90 day stamp upon arrival – although the exact duration is at the discretion of the immigration officer you deal with upon arrival – so make sure to be polite!

Full visa information for Costa Rica can be found on the UK’s foreign travel advice website.

 

Best Things to do in Costa Rica (Non-Diving)

Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal volcano is the most famous of Costa Rica’s active volcanos and has been one of the countries most popular attractions for years. Until recently, local hotels could offer guests rooms with stunning views of enormous lava bombs being ejected from the crater, however for the past seven years, the volcano has been much quieter, offering visitors only the occasional rumble and rising towers of steam. Who knows when it will return to its former glory, but despite no longer glowing throughout the night, the volcano still provides a beautiful and imposing skyline.

The park is astounding for hiking and nature lovers. Make sure to bring a pair of binoculars with you as Arenal Volcano National Park is home to over 500 bird species. There are also hot springs within the park that can be bathed in, and white water rafting is possible along the river that cuts through the forest.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

Located along the Cordillera de Tilarán, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is spread over 10,500 hectares, roughly 90% of which is virgin rainforest. The region boasts an extraordinary high level of biodiversity - with over 2,500 plant species, 100 mammal species, 120 reptile and amphibian species, and over 400 bird species. There are more orchid species living within the reserve than anywhere else in the world.

Visitors can explore the reserve by themselves on any of the eight plus miles of hiking trails, seeing thousands of species along the way. For those who want to learn all about the incredible flora and fauna, guided tours are available for birdwatchers, orchid fanatics, or even those interested in the history of the reserve. Night tours are also available for those who want to see the amazing nocturnal creatures that call the reserve home

Bajos del Toro

Hidden away in the Amarillo Valley in the Central Highlands, Bajos del Toro is a paradise for nature enthusiasts and anyone who loves spending time in the great outdoors. Very few tourists actually make it here compared to any of Costa Rica’s more famous national parks, so you are very likely to have a tranquil experience away from the crowds.

The rugged terrain attracts serious hikers, and just like anywhere else in Costa Rica, there is an abundance of wildlife surrounding the trails. The main trail takes you through dense rainforest and up Poas Volcano. Other activities include mountain biking, horse riding, river rafting, trout fishing, and for the more adventurous visitors, it is possible to rappel 100 metres down a waterfall into the crater of an extinct volcano.

Nauyaca Waterfalls

If swimming under an enormous waterfall in an untouched rainforest is something you have always dreamed of, then make sure to add the Nauyacca Waterfalls to your travel itinerary.

To get to these stunning waterfalls, you must first make a challenging four mile hike over very rugged terrain and dense forest, however you will be rewarded with a 40 metre, multi tiered waterfall that crashes into an enormous deep water basin. While this powerhouse may be too violent for you to rest your shoulders under, there are a number of smaller pools and lighter waterfalls that you can relax underneath. For those who may find the hike too challenging, it is possible to sign up for a guided horseback tour to the falls.

 

Scuba Diving in Costa Rica

Cano Island

Cano Island Biological Reserve is one of the top dive spots in Costa Rica. Located close to the Osa Peninsula in the wild Pacific Ocean, Cano Island boasts some of the highest marine biodiversity in the country – and conditions are usually suitable for all levels of divers.

The pinnacles surrounding the island attract huge amounts of marine life. There are so many reef fish surrounding you that you may even lose contact with your buddy if you don’t stay close enough, and white tip reef sharks and bull sharks are not uncommon sightings. The real attraction here though is the much larger, pelagic species – including a number of marine mammals. Manta rays, orcas, pilot whales, humpback whales, and dolphins are regular visitors to the reserve – and sightings by divers are not uncommon.

Best of all, because it is a designated marine reserve, there are only five dive sites where visitors can visit, and only ten divers are allowed in the water per site at any one time. This means you will see some of the best diving the Americas has to offer, but without the crowds.

Limón

Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastline does not yet have fully developed diving infrastructure, so dive shops can be few and far between. This doesn’t mean that it is not worth checking out though – quite the opposite in fact. Pristine reefs run along the entire Caribbean coastline, and most of these reefs are protected by marine reserves.

Limón actually refers to three places in the same region; the country of Limón, Limón province, and Limón city, the regional capital. There are a number of marine national parks found throughout the province, and much like the rest of the Costa Rica’s national parks, they have been incredibly well protected.

There are over 400 species of reef fish, 30 species of coral, and close to 150 mollusc species. Barracudas, turtles, reef sharks, and eagle rays are regular sightings, and most of the dive sites are virtually untouched. For now, you would be quite unlucky to share a dive site with another boat, however diving infrastructure is quickly appearing throughout the region, so make sure you visit before it becomes too famous.

Cocos Island

Situated roughly 550 kilometres off the countries west coast is Cocos Island – without a doubt, Costa Rica’s most famous dive destination. Due to its remote location, Cocos Island can only be reached by liveaboard, which means its is not a cheap destination, but it is defiantly a must on any serious divers bucket list.

The island is sat in extremely deep waters and due to the sudden change in topography, highly nutrient rich and cool waters are forced up from the deep, attracting vast amounts of pelagic life. There are around 20 dive sites at Cocos Island, and each one offers the possibility to spot pelagic species such as sailfish, dolphins, manta rays, and huge schools of jacks.

The main attraction is regular sightings of sharks – which gather around the island in enormous numbers. Galapagos, tiger, bull, and silky sharks are regular visitors, but at the most famous site, Bajo Alcyone, vast schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks make their way into shallow waters – which makes Bajo Alcyone regularly feature as one of the top dive sites in the world.

Cocos Island usually has moderate to strong currents, so any diver visiting must be confident in the water and hold at least Advanced Open Water certification.

 

When to Visit Costa Rica

Because Costa Rica has two very different coastlines, there is no single diving season and diving is possible year round. The average visibility throughout the year is around 25 metes, with June through September usually being the best. Water temperate can vary enormously depending on which coast you are diving or what season. At a minimum you can expect a chilly 18ºC or on the other end of the scale, 29ºC is not uncommon.

May – November

These are considered the rainy months, during which one or two hours of heavy rainfall are expected daily – particularly on the Pacific coast. During these months, upwelling in the Pacific attract the vast schools of hammerhead sharks to Cocos Island, and bull sharks to Bat Island.

Because the rain tends to deter many tourists, the prices are generally cheaper during these months, and there tend to be fewer divers in the water.

On the Caribbean coastline, July through to December offer peak diving conditions with very little wind or rainfall. It is important to note that this also coincides with the Atlantic hurricane season, although these rarely affect Costa Rica.

December – April

These months are considered the dry season for Costa Rica – particularly on the Pacific coastline. Cooler waters (as cool as 19ºC) chill the entire Pacific coastline, which in turn attracts the larger species such as humpback whales, whale sharks, and giant manta rays.

The pelagic fish species that are present during the rainy season disappear during the dry season, however they are replaced with much larger numbers of reef fish and macro species. The winds also calm down during these months, so the diving conditions are much easier for beginner divers or those who prefer nice, easy conditions.

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