Diving Cocos Island

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Cocos Island, Costa Rica


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Country: Costa Rica  Area: Costa Rica

Water Temp: 24 - 30°C (75 - 86°F)

Visibility: 10 - 30m (33 - 98 ft)

Depth Range: 10 - 40m (33 - 131 ft)

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Hundreds of Hammerhead Sharks, amazing marine life and blue open ocean, Cocos Island is a once in a lifetime diving destination that any shark lovers must dive.

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Cocos Island is an island approx 550km off the coast of Costa Rica of tectonic and volcanic origin. Converging nutrient rich currents from the nearby deep water are what attract the large schools of pelagic life, namely the frequently sighted schools of Hammerhead Sharks and make the area a first class diving destination.

With so many excellent dive sites at Cocos divers are spoilt for choice and will not be disappointed with this destination. This really is a dedicated dive holiday which only experienced divers should undertake due to the conditions but it is one that any diver will remember for the rest of their lives.

Manta Ray, Credit

Marine Conservation

Cocos Island has been a Costa Rican National Park since 1978. It first became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, with the site being expanded in 2002 to cover a broader marine zone.

While isolated from the mainland, illegal poaching of tuna and sharks is becoming a growing threat. Unfortunately, due to the islands location, conservation efforts place large financial and bureaucratic demands on the Costa Rican government, and efforts have largely fallen short of what is required. Rumours of government corruption in relation to poaching also circulate around the Puntareanas region, creating further scepticism for successful state-run conservation.

However, in 2009 National Geographic led an expedition of scientists and international NGOs to the region to further investigate the region’s degradation. After discovering that this region has some of the highest populations of large ocean predators who were gravely threatened by international poaching, the expedition opened a discussion between numerous stakeholders. These talks ultimately led to the five-fold expansion of the protected area in 2011, creating the ‘Seamounts Marine Management Area’ which is larger than Yellowstone National Park.

Costa Rican Fundación Amigos de la Isla del Coco was among the delegates on the voyage and they continue to exert pressure on the local government for greater efforts today. The organization leads a multi-sector approach to conservation, which aims to halt illegal activity and educate the broader population about the islands.

Cocos Island, Credit

 Climate & Sea conditions

The island has a tropical climate with high humidity and rainfall alternates with sunshine throughout the year. Even so there are two seasons, the drier season runs from December to May and is when the seas are calmest and have the best visibility. June to November is the rainier season, which although has more rain, choppier seas and slightly less visibility, is actually the best time of the season to dive. This is due to the nutrient upwells that it causes which attract unbelievable large schools of hammerheads, other sharks and large rays.

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The main attraction of Cocos is the incredible experience of watching huge numbers of scalloped hammerhead sharks swim right past you! Bajo Alcyone is a site unparalleled for these encounters with hammerheads coming in their hundreds to the cleaning stations located here. The best way to get close and capture great photos is to descend to the seamount, find a rock to stay still and wait behind. Hammerheads are easily spooked so the less movement and bubbles that are created the closer they will come. It’s not just hammerheads that come here to be cleaned, you may be lucky enough to spot white tip reef sharks, silky sharks, Galapagos sharks and occasionally even a majestic whale shark or the graceful manta ray.

Whitetip Reef Shark, Credit

Another excellent dive site is Dirty Rock; this site also has a high hammerhead count with spectacular rock formations and high mass of fish, making it a very popular site to dive. Sit and watch the huge amount of fish, rays and sharks all swimming around you, there will be so much going on you won’t know where to look! Turtles can be spotted feeding on the reef and to top the dive off divers are frequently joined on their safety stop by friendly playful dolphins. This truly is a dive that you will never forget.

Another amazing experience is a night dive with White tip reef sharks. This isn’t for the faint hearted as the sharks are in feeding mode and attracted to divers torch lights as they use them for hunting aids! Any fish that are lit up soon become the sharks next meal, so although this is a exhilarating experience being surrounded by the feeding sharks it’s not a dive suitable for the nervous or squeamish.

Divers exploring Cocos Island underwater, Credit

Liveaboard Diving

Note that Cocos Islands are ONLY accessible by liveaboards. Different liveaboards that sail to the islands year round, and while they do offer different levels of luxury, this 10-day minimum trip is always a costly endeavour.

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How to Get there

Its remote location means that it can only be reached by diving liveaboard trips, which depart from the Costa Rican town of Puntarenas. The journey can depend upon the weather conditions and winds but usually takes about 36 hours cruise time. This huge travel time, tricky diving conditions combined with the fact that the trips are completely dive focussed means that they are not suitable for beginner divers or non divers.

Arriving at Cocos Island, Credit

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Where to Eat & Drink

Cocos Island is a completely uninhibited island, with the exception of two permanent ranger stations. Access is managed entirely by liveaboard operations who will organize all food and drink for the duration of your stay.

A waterfall in Cocos Island, Credit

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Other Activities

Given that this is a liveaboard-only destination, all activities revolve around the reefs and the boat. With permission, tourists are allows to visit the island but may not collect any flora, fauna or minerals. Visits are strictly supervised by the Park Raners.

Dusk at Cocos Island, Credit

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Given that the Cocos Islands are uninhibited, there is no hyperbaric chamber accessible on a trip here. There is a hyperbaric chamber in the capital, San Jose, however given the distance from Cocos Island this is largely irrelevant.

Moray Eel, Credit

Be sure to book your liveaboard to Cocos Islands well in advance! There are only a handful of operators sailing to the islands, and they have a tendency to fill up quickly.                 

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Cocos Island, Socorro or Galapagos?

I have a possibility to go one of these places with liveaboard. Which one to choose just based on

a) dive conditions

b) wild life

c) water temperature (I like warm water)

Thanks for any tips / experiences!

Mat Howell

0 votes

Socorro for sure, especially if you prefer the warmer water

Cocos Island versus French Polynesia

i am currently looking to undertake a big dive trip... so far i am looking at either Cocos Island or French Polynesia and am struggling to decide.

Has anyone any experience of either and what time of year did you go?

I was looking at Malpelo only Columbian government closed it off currently.

Many thanks


Traci Quick

0 votes

I haven't been to French Polynesia yet, but I was at Cocos this past July/August and can definitely recommend it. This is my trip report http://www.divereport.com/dive-reports/6404/hundreds-of-hammerheads

Rating 10/10

Hundreds of Hammerheads

Cocos Island24 Jul 2017 - 2 Aug 2017

The Argo, one of the Undersea Hunter's boats, was our choice for our 10 days of bliss in Cocos Island. The crew was friendly and fun, the rooms were spacious, the food was amazing and the diving....oh the diving!!

The first dive was out checkout dive and it was a nice site, but what we learned later in the week was that this is where our night dives were to take place - and then it was a whole new site!! I'm not a big fan of night dives, but this night dive was one that I'll remember and relive for years to come! As the light faded and the only lights were our video lights and torches, the white tips came by the dozen to hunt - and we were part of the team! Big sharks, little sharks and huge trevally jacks scoured the reef for dinner. It was a site to behold, words can't do it justice.

The day dives were just as great! Alcyone was an early favorite as it is a hammerhead cleaning station and we were not disappointed. Close encounters were abundant. The picture burned into my brain though is the school of hundreds of hammerheads swimming above us...magical.

Not to be outdone, Manuelita Outside, had its own action waiting for us - a huge tiger shark coming in to have her picture taken...breathtaking!

Unfortunately, there are no turtles at Cocos any longer. When the tiger sharks came back to the island a few years ago, the turtles became their snack and that was the end of that.

The Argo also has the deep sea submersible available for 30m or 100m dives. A few of the guests went on that adventure and enjoyed it.

If you've had Cocos on your bucket list, it's time to get there and check it off!


Vandra Allison

Oh no! Poor turtles... at least tiger sharks are cool to see..

Rating 10/10

Just Mantas Cocos Keeling Islands NOT Cocos Is.

Cocos Island3 Jul 2012 - 15 Jul 2012

Cocos Keeling Islands Indian Ocean Coral Atoll. Not Cocos Islands -Please put Cocos Keeling on your drop down menu.

Really hard to get to and expensive - but worth it.

Lots of dive sites from wall divivng to coral bommies. Only one operator on the Island so you have to book well in advance - If you turn up without booking and expect to dive you'll be disappointed. Accommodation expensive and scarce.

Take food - meat and fresh veggies. Alchohol cheap. One store on the island but two eateries! Not a place to party The following link is to my video on You Tube. Please add video to your site


Tech details:

Access Boat

Operator Cocos Dive

Depth 8m (other dive sites to 50m)

Difficulty: Open water

Current Nil

Vizibility up to 60m yes 60m Average Viz 35m

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