The Papagayo Gulf, Costa Rica’s Best Scuba Diving
The North Pacific coast of Costa Rica is full of life and activity. The Gulf of Papagayo is our playground and it starts up North at Los Arcos in Isla Murcielagos and ends just before the Catalina Islands.
We are fortunate to have many beautiful local sites to choose from in the Playa del Coco / Playa Hermosa area… Sorpresa, Punta Argentina, Tortuga, Playpen, Estudiantes, Cabeza del Mono, Virador, Los Meros, Punta Ballena, Narizones, Palamares Point and Palmares Wall… Plus there are still many other possible locations waiting to be explored… I love them all…But I had to pick a few, so here they are.
Tortuga is a local dive site just a ten minute boat ride from Playa del Coco. This site is good for snorkeling and discover scuba excursions while also very exciting for more advanced divers as well. The depths are from 20-80ft. Seahorses, nudibranchs, octopus, different varieties of eels and schools of fish populate this area. There are two wrecks resting here. Rusty II was an old commercial fishing vessel that was donated for use as an artificial reef. Rusty has been resting here for almost twenty years and is a favorite hangout for the white-tip reef sharks and is a popular cleaning station for the southern stingrays and turtles. The other wreck, Giorgiana was a 1964, forty-seven ft aluminum stryker that was used by Diving Safaris for many years for scuba diving and snorkeling. She sank in 2014 and was a beautiful habitat… full of plant and fish life. She was originally sitting in 50ft of water, but tough storms moved to her to a depth of 80ft and then a strong tropical storm in October 2017 moved her again. To date we have not been able to re-locate her…but we keep looking.
Virador (Turning in Point)
Virador aka Turning in Point is about a fifteen minute boat ride from Coco and is situated at the point of the Peninsula Papagayo, at the turning in point for the Bahia Culebra (Snake Bay). This site is a pinnacle that we dive around. The depths are 30-80ft and due to the massive cleaning stations and the currents coming in and out of the bay it is a popular site to see a variety of pelagics including manta rays, whale sharks, plus lots of rays, turtles, big schools of fish, white-tip reef sharks and all the other many critters we see at most of the sites.
Los Meros (Grouper)
Los Meros is also a great site for turtles, nudibranchs, harlequin shrimp and seahorses. Most of the site is a maximum 40ft deep with the top of the rock being 15ft. It is located in the Bahia Culebra (Snake Bay) in front of the Peninsula Papagayo, about a 15 minute boat ride from Playa del Coco. There is also a wreck resting here, named Suposen. Suposen is sitting in 50-60ft of water and the big grouper and turtles love to get a good cleaning and take a little siesta at this artificial reef. This site is also home to the weird fish…a type of stargazer that I have seen here, at Virador and Punta Ballena…but more commonly at Los Meros.
The Palmares Wall is located about a twenty minute boat ride from Playa del Coco with depths going from 20-90ft. The site is like a bunch of rock ridges with nice sand beds dividing them. We commonly see white-tip reef sharks, lots of rays and schools of many types of fish. We have also found these large egg-shaped rocks there…Who knows what they are???? Sometimes when we visit this area we can go to Playa Juevos for our surface interval or if the tide is right we can take the boat inside the beautiful Palmares Estuary where we can see all sorts of birds and sometimes find some crocodiles.
The Catalina Islands
The Volcanic rock islands known as the Catalinas are about a 45-60 minute boat ride south from Playa del Coco. There are many beautiful dive sites to choose from, most of them being more advanced due to entries, currents, surge and depth. I have many favorites at Catalinas…such as La Pared, La Punta, La Viuda, Arco Iris, Aquario, Bajo Tiburónes and Punta Gorda.
La Pared (The Wall)
I love this site because of the number of white-tip sharks we can see here and the schools of rays. It is also a good place to see the beautiful pacific manta rays from December through March. There is one area that we call Shark Alley. The surge can be quite challenging in Shark Alley, so it is a place we cannot always visit…But when we can…it is beautiful. We are entertained by many schools of fish plus a variety of different starfish. Depths are from 40-80ft.
La Punta (The Point)
La Punta is also a good place to see the manta rays, lots of schooling fish and a variety of eels. Beautiful rock formations with lots of octopus and lobster. Depths are from 40-100+ feet.
Bajo Tiburones is an underwater rock formation starting at 40ft sloping down to 80+ feet. There are lots of sand beds that the white-tip reef sharks like to sleep on. Good chance to see huge southern stingrays, eagle rays and turtles. It is fun to hang out for the safety stop and watch all the fish coming in for the cleaning station. We normally see huge schools of spade fish and horse eyed jacks.
Isla Murcielagos (Bat Islands)
The famous Bat Islands are very remote sites, about a 60-90 minute boat ride North from Playas del Coco. The best time of year to visit here is
from May through September. The sites are deep and rugged with lots of surge and currents. These dive sites are all advanced starting from 50ft going to 100+ feet. There are many areas to be explored in this area. My favorites are Big Scare, Los Arcos, Bajo Negro and our newest site Anika’s Magic.
Big Scare is one of the main dive sites at Bat Islands. Depth starts at 40ft and goes to 110+ feet. This is the main dive site for the impressive bull sharks. We also have a good chance to see the pacific manta rays…common to find some shark teeth…however don’t spend all your time looking for teeth. This area is also a part of a study of the bull sharks with Mision Tiburon.
Los Arcos (the arches) is very magical with depths starting at 40ft and going to over 100ft. It is located at the beginning of the Gulf of Papagayo…also known as El Codo. There are three underwater arches and one of them has a chimney…I call this one Bat Mans Cave… Lots of surge and current in these areas, beautiful and full of fish life. Good chance to see manta rays, eagle rays, barracuda and blacktip reef sharks.
Anikas Magic is located close to the Big Scare and is also a deep site. Good chance to see bull sharks, huge amber jacks and is an aquarium full of fish life. This is is a very active location.
Bajo negro or “black rock” is our last dive of the day and is a pinnacle barely sticking out of the water. The site is deep, so you must watch your depth. We drop in on one side and dive around the pinnacle. Lots of eagle rays, schools of fish and many eels. Also a good place to see mantas, rooster fish and dorado.