Diving Cano Island

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Cano Island, Costa Rica

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Country: Costa Rica  Area: Costa Rica

Water Temp: 25 - 30°C (77 - 86°F)

Visibility: 5 - 30m (16 - 98 ft)

Depth Range: 10 - 20m (33 - 66 ft)

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Cano Island is a marine reserve located off of the south central pacific coast of Costa Rica.  It has clear water as it is offshore and famous for many reef sharks. Wonderfully suited to divers and snorkelers alike, a visit here is a perfect glimpse into that classic Costa Rican tropical paradise.

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Visitng Cano Island requires you to stay in either Drake Bay or Manuel Antonio, taking day trips out to the island itself. Both towns are located on the Pacific coast, and are surrounded by explosive jungles filled with vibrant wildlife. Manuel Antonio is the more developed of the two, with more opportunities for dining, drinking and activities. Drake Bay by contrast, is a secluded village that remains fairly untouched by the Costa Rican tourism scene more broadly – a rarity, these days.

All diving occurs within the Caño Island Biological Reserve. This area has stunning coral reefs along with rich marine flora and fauna. Divers frequently encounter sea turtles, stingrays, manta rays, moray eels, barracuda, tuna and snappers. Sharks and dolphins are seen occasionally, and humpback and pilot whales migrate through seasonally. The dives themselves tend to alternate between rocky outcroppings and vibrant coral, with plenty of stunning tunnels and archways to swim through.

Fishes in Cano Island, Credit

Marine Conservation

Cano Island Biological Reserve is a protected area in Costa Rica. A number of organizations operate here, working to protect the marine life with a particular emphasis on the sea turtle population. The Corcovado Foundation is one of the most prominent organizations working on the Osa Peninsula, with efforts that focus on sea turtle conservation, environmental education and community based rural tourism initiatives. Local lodges are also involved in protecting and conserving the local environment to varying degrees.

The Beach,Credit


Cano Island has a rainy (May – November) and dry (December – April) season. During the rainy season, temperatures are generally cooler and the rains occur generally in the afternoon only. The landscape is also much more lush during this period (and the prices are lower). In the dry season, the area has near perfect weather. 

The water temperature hovers around 75 degrees Fahrenheit year round.

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Shore Diving

There are no shore dives off Cano Island.

Boat Diving

A number of different dive sites are found off the shores of Caño Island. All but one are suitable for beginner divers, and most offer a combination of sand patches and volcanic reef rock. Conditions vary from 10m to 30m deep, with visibility changing depending on the time of year. At all sites, you are likely to see reef fish, butterfly fish and angel fish. Pelagics, jacks and sharks are also occasionally present, alongside rays.

The tanks, Credit

The Coral Gardens is an ideal beginner dive site. Here, you will find beautiful coral, calm waters and a great variety of reef fish. The Arc is another easier dive that carries you through rock formations. Here, you will have a good chance of seeing white tip reef sharks, as well as angel fish, butterfly damsels and parrot fish.

The region’s best site is the Bajo del Diablo. With a depth of over 100 feet, and an average visibility of 60 feet, dives here always impressive. Swim through a system of underwater mountains and valleys as you search for grouper, barracuda, morays, puffers and – if lucky – bull or white tip sharks. Seaonally manta rays also pass through the area.

The Depth Two Depth sites is one of the area’s more advanced dives. Located in open seas, it is common to see large schools of grouper, snapper, tuna and rooster fish around the large rocky formation.

The best site for night dives is Twenty Minute Rock, which combines volcanic rock with coral formations. Countless numbers of octopus and lobsters emerge here after dark.

Liveaboard Diving

There are no liveaboards in the area.

Information & Photos kindly provided byGo Pro Costa Rica & Oceans Unlimited

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How to Get There

Cano Island can be accessed from either Drake Bay or Manuel Antonio. The boat ride from Manuel Antonio is somewhat longer, but that town is a far more convenient base than Drake Bay.

The beach & the boats, Credit

In either case, you will first need to fly into San Jose International Airport (SJO), or reach the capital by public bus. From there, you can either reach Drake Bay over an 8 hour drive (see the Drake Bag page), or you can get to Manuel Antonio over 2 – 3 hours.

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Where to Eat & Drink

It is not actually possible to stay on Cano Island. Rather, you need to stay in Manuel Antonio or Drake Bay . If considering Drake Bay, please review that destination’s dive page for additional information.

Drake bay, Cano Island, Credit

If staying in Manuel Antonio, there are a number of small restaurants located throughout town that cater to most tastes. Most serve a combination of Costa Rican and international dishes with plenty of seafood. Happy hour occurs nightlight with plenty of beachside bars serving a variety of cocktails in the late afternoon, before the evening takes off. Bars and beachside clubs are plentiful into the night.

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Other Activities

In addition to being a great diving destination, Cano Island is also excellent (some would argue better) for snorkelers. It is worth exploring the island itself as well, since you can see the ruins of an ancient pre-Columbian civilization. Trails weave through the island, occasionally passing by carved stone spheres. This island is also a popular nesting ground for Ridley sea turtles.

Bottlenose dolphin, Credit

Given however that you cannot stay on the island, there are also activities available in the towns of Drake Bay and Manuel Antonio. Please refer to the Drake Bay page for specific activities there.

If staying in Manuel Antonio, one of the top on-land activities is a visit to the Manuel Antonio National Park. Here, a lush jungle explodes out onto a few small and pristine beaches. Monkeys scamper through the forest overhead – occasionally making grabs at picnics brought in by visitors. Along the perimeter of the park, it is also possible to sign up for a number of adventure activities, including canopy walks and zip lining. Spas and beach days are of course also very popular ways to pass the time.

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Diving Cano island you have 2 choices. Dive from Drake Bay and the Osa national Park is the first. This is a very isolated area to get to and can be accessed by either flying direct from San Jose to Drake Bay or by driving. If driving, the roads can be very tricky, especially in rainy season and the drive from San Jose can take you 7 – 8 hours. Once there, Drake Bay is a very small isolated village , very peaceful but very rustic.

Coconut trees, Credit

The other option is to dive from the Manuel Antonio/Dominical area. The boat trip from these areas is around 30 minutes longer but they are more centrally located and have many more accommodation and restaurant options.

If prone to motion sickness, please take something for that. The boats are out for around 6 hours and lunch is served onboard the boats as no one can eat on the island sue to its protected status.

The nearest hyperbaric chamber is located in San Jose.

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Cano Island Vs Playas del Coco

Hi Everyone,

I'll be backpacking through Costa Rica early-mid September. I'm an avid diver and have been researching Cano Island and also Playas, where do people recommend?

Have read a few different reviews online, some recommending Cano, others Playas. What site has the best chance of Sharks/Manats etc...

Thanks a Lot

Ryan Elfallah

0 votes

Curious as well I will be heading there in a few days! Will be there begining of Nov 1-10th trying to decide which location is better for visbility but also to see Mantas and Whale sharks if possible.

Michael Calverley

0 votes

Hi Ryan, I did the Cano dive with a school based in Uvita back in 2018. It was nice. Actually saw a Humpback whilst diving. Other than that some nice reef sharks but not much more. If you're an advanced diver there's another pinnacle around the island that you can visit where the chance of Mantas, Bull Sharks and Hammerheads is high, but the school will only visit if 3 or 4 others are interested. Unfortunately that wasn't the case during my trip but definitely worth investigating if you can.

Costa Rica, where is the best place to dive?

I'm planing a trip to Costa Rica on April 2017 and need to decide the best place to scuba dive: Cano Island or Guanacaste.

The best place to dive in Costa Rica

I'm going to Costa Rica from Dec.22-Jan.6. I've never been there before, but I hear amazing things. I'm an avid diver. I have over 2,500 dives, mostly in Thailand, Indonesia and the Maldives. I've also done a little diving in Cozumel and Belize. I desperately want to go to Cocos Island, but I just can't afford it. One of my dreams is to see huge schools of hammerhead sharks. Another is to dive with Whales and Dolphins. A couple of years ago I went to Lembeh Straits and saw some amazing critters, including the flamboyant cuttlefish, mimic octopus, blue ringed octopus, seahorses and a ton of frogfish, etc. I absolutely adore critters. But I also love the big stuff.

Since I can't make it to Cocos, where else in Costa Rica would even remotely compare? I've heard that Cano Island is supposed to be quite good. I've also read about the Catalina Islands and Bat Island. Of these places (or others in Costa Rica), where would be the best place to dive and see a mixture of large fish and small, bizarre critters?


Palmira Trentino

1 vote

Maybe check out Playas del Cocos or Cano Island.. they both can be good for clear water/great diving and also for seeing seeing some of the big animals.


Edward Callahan

0 votes

Playas is awesome! :)

Nestor Kopko

0 votes

bat islands and catalina islands are awesome, but dive shops do not go there past early Nov. due to rough Pacific seas at that time of year. I would then go to Cano.

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