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Scuba diving in Cocos Island

Home to huge schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks and plenty of other pelagics, remote Cocos Island is one of the best places to dive in the world.
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Highlights

Schooling Hammerhead Sharks

Among the parade of pelagic species seen at Socorro Island are schools of hammerhead sharks. They are most often spotted at the dive site Roca O’Neal.

Diving in Cocos Island

Quick facts

The only way to see Cocos Island is on a diving liveaboard vessel which you can board from the port city of Puntarenas in Costa Rica. Liveaboard trips usually last for at least 8 to 10 days and it takes up to 36 hours to reach Cocos Island from Puntarenas.

Cocos Island, because of its heavy currents and surges, is recommended for advanced divers only. The dive sites consist of boulders, pinnacles and seamounts which rise up from the deep.

There is also an opportunity at Cocos Island to go beyond recreational diver limits to become an aquanaut. If available, you can get on the DeepSee Submersible which can take you down to as deep as 1,000 feet (305 meters), often to explore a mammoth seamount called Everest. Truly a once in a lifetime experience.

When packing for your Cocos Island liveaboard, be sure to bring along a 3 to 5mm wetsuit, a hood and booties. You may also wish to pack a reef hook. As a final note, you’ll want to take out divers’ insurance for your trip. The nearest decompression chamber is back in San Jose, a 36-hour boat ride from Cocos Island.

When to go

Cocos Island is subject to highly changeable weather patterns. Although rainy, June to December is the best time to dive if you like lots of pelagic species.

December to May

Perpetually cloudy and rainy, Cocos Island is always humid with an average temperature of 80°F (27°C) and an average annual rainfall of over 7 meters. Water temperature ranges from 75-84°F (24-29°C) year-round. It’s important to note that thermoclines create up to a 6 degree Celsius drop in temperatures during any season, so be prepared with the correct exposure gear.

Dry months are considered to be between December and May although it still rains during this time. For divers who suffer from seasickness, this is the best time to dive in Cocos Island. The surface is calmest during these months making the long journey to this remote seamount a lot smoother than during the summer months. Visibility is also at its best during the winter months.

However, because the number of pelagic species decreases during the winter and spring months, many liveaboards stop traveling to Cocos or split their time between Cocos and other Costa Rican routes.

June to November

June to November is the rainy season, and in many people’s opinions, is the best season for diving in Cocos Island. At this time, nutrient upwellings attract the large number of hammerhead sharks Cocos Island is famous for. Manta rays and whale sharks are also more frequently spotted from June to November.

Because of the large amount of plankton in the water, visibility during this season drops to about 45 feet (15 meters) and topside conditions deteriorate. The journey to the island is much rougher during the summer.

This is also high season for diving trips to Cocos Island, so make sure to book as far in advance as possible.

Rain and temperature

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Water temperature

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Where to dive

Of the 20 dive sites at Cocos Island, Bajo Alcyone and Dirty Rock are the most famous. Beginners should dive Dirty Rock; advanced divers can try Bajo Alcyone.

    USD 2,084Per trip
    USD 1,940Per trip
    USD 4,145Per trip

    Snorkeling in Cocos Island

    Most people who take on the harrowing 36-hour journey to Cocos Island are scuba divers. If you would like to spend some time snorkeling, it is certainly possible, although you’ll need to ask your boat captain to find a protected bay. Outward currents can be dangerous to topside spotters. If you happen to see a whale shark or manta ray from your liveaboard, don’t hesitate to ask if you can grab a snorkel and jump in.
    With only about 15-20 dive sites surrounding Cocos Island, you’re sure to find a few you want to dive more than once. Of these sites, Bajo Alcyone is the most popular. Here you’ll find a seamount with its summit at 85 feet (25 meters) along with dozens of hammerhead sharks, manta rays and mobula rays. Because of its heavy currents, this site should be attempted by advanced divers only. Nearly as famous as Bajo Alcyone, Dirty Rock is a similar dive for less advanced divers. The pinnacles and boulders create a protected channel where you’ll meet hammerhead sharks, manta rays and whale sharks. Other worthwhile sites include Dos Amigos Grande, Dos Amigos Pequena, Manuelita Garden, Punta Maria and Manuelita Deep.

    What to see

    Cocos Island is most famous for its huge congregations of scalloped hammerhead sharks. These sharks come to the island to feed and also to visit cleaning stations. A particular favorite cleaner of the scalloped hammerhead shark is the black-nosed butterflyfish, otherwise known as the barberfish.

    Also expect to see mobula rays, manta rays, and the occasional whale shark coming to feed in the nutrient-rich waters. Along the boulders, find marble rays and spotted eagle rays hunting and whitetip sharks resting in the daytime. During night dives, whitetip sharks become active and you might be able to witness a feeding frenzy. Other sharks to look out for at Cocos Island include the Galapagos shark, silky shark, silvertip shark and if you are lucky, the tiger shark.

    Along with the sharks are mammoth schools of bigeye trevally, snapper and grunts.Traveling deep into the ocean in the submersible, you might be able to catch sight of the endemic rosy-lipped batfish and benthic sea creatures.

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