Liveaboard Charters in Costa Rica
Tour Options and Travel Information
The Costa Rican island of Cocos is for scuba divers who have experienced other places around the world and are now ready to go somewhere truly isolated and special. If that sounds good to you, you could be in for witnessing hundreds of hammerheads, many different species of rays: mobula, marble, manta and eagle rays, large schools of fish, and a bevy of other shark species.
If you're ready for some unforgettable encounters with hammerhead sharks, eagle rays and whale sharks, or you just love to dive in water filled with schools of fish, check out your options:
The eco-system has been largely untouched by humans, offering the lucky few a rare glimpse into a world where nature reigns supreme. It is not by accident that the island was the setting for Jurassic Park. Privileged divers who have treated themselves to a Cocos liveaboard trip all agree it is an amazing experience and an important entry in any enthusiast's logbook.
The incredible Cocos Island, the subject of strong conservation efforts, is on the 'To do list' of all sorts of divers: male, female, old, young, those who have dived everywhere else and those who simply wish to visit a genuine natural paradise. Memories of happy people enjoying a delicious evening meal together as the boat is moored in a quiet bay, reliving the day's beautiful underwater sights in this special destination, will last forever.
Since there are no resort options for Cocos, once you've finished your liveaboard safari, you'll return to the Costa Rican mainland. The country is both an exciting adventure destination as well as a haven for rest and relaxation. Diving with hundreds of sharks around Cocos Island can be added to with canyoning, windsurfing, forest canopy flying and many more heart-stopping activities. There are also beautiful, serene beaches, and relaxing spas for those who prefer idle pampering.
The rest of this page contains information about Costa Rica:
Diving Cruise Options
We recommend liveaboards that operate out of Punteranas on Costa Rica's west coast to the island of Cocos, where the country's best scuba diving is located.
Cocos Island - For many people, the prospect of diving around Cocos seems like a distant ambition. However it is easily done. You simply need to decide that you deserve to be surrounded by thousands of fish, hundreds of hammerhead sharks, dolphins or silky sharks, in a location in the middle of nowhere with few other divers. Those who have dived Cocos share the opinion that it is one of the very few places on earth that can provide such a treasured experience.
Most diving trips to Cocos Island run for 10 nights as the tour includes a 1½ days cruise out there, and the same on return. This gives you plenty of time to make sure your equipment is in order, to get to know the other boys and girls on board and learn more about the island's history and eco-system from the on board information. The boats tend to be relatively high-spec to cope with the potential demands of operating in such a remote location and aim to provide a comfortable experience with fine food and beverages to compliment the fabulous diving.
Scuba divers are expected to be experienced as some of the sites are deep and strong current is often present. Many of the dives will be quite relaxed too. Cocos may not be for beginners, but as long as you are comfortable in different conditions, you will love the diving here. What's more, thrilling encounters with large and dangerous predators are likely, including tiger sharks, hammerheads and Galapagos sharks; divers must be happy to see them! As always, the open ocean conditions can vary so these liveaboard safaris are not recommended for those who suffer badly from motion sickness.
An exciting option on some of the boats is to take a submersible down to the ocean depths on a once-in-a-lifetime dive to see deep sea creatures and landscapes way beyond recreational scuba limits. Imagine looking up through the glass viewing bubble of the submersible to the ocean's surface 100m above and witnessing the silhouettes of a school of hammerheads or a squadron of mobula rays overhead!
Key Travel Facts
Ports of Departure and How to Get There
Costa Rica, is one of a number of small nations that comprise the isthmus of Central America. Its eastern shore is lapped by the Caribbean, and its western shore by the Pacific. The land border to the north is Nicaragua and to the south is Panama.
Major airlines with regular direct flights to Costa Rica from North America are: Air Canada, American Airlines, Continental, Delta, Frontier, Grupo Taca, Mexicana, Spirit Air, and US Airways. From Europe: Iberia and Martin Air have established routes to San José, some direct and others with one connection. It takes between 3 and 7 hours to fly there from most U.S. cities.
International flights land either in San José's Juan Santamaría International Airport or in the city of Liberia's Daniel Oduber International Airport. Liveaboard charters pick up from San Jose hotels and transfer guests to the departure port of Puntarenas (a 2 hour ride), so we recommend you fly into Juan Santamaria. The cruise from Punteranas to Cocos takes roughly 35 hours.
We recommend you take out insurance to cover health, diving and travel activities, including trip cancellation. See our insurance programme for a competitive price.
Places to Stay
If you plan on staying in Costa Rica before or after your diving safari, then check out our affiliated hotel reservation agents Agoda.com and their accommodation options. Browse their website choices, use their on-line chat to ask your questions, or simply use your credit card to make your booking:
All their options are backed up with their 'Low Price Guarantee' to ensure you get top-dollar value for money.
The Climate and Best Time to Visit
Costa Rica's climate is described as mild and subtropical year-round. Rainy season is approximately May to November, with more showers and lower water visibility, but this is also the time when there is most action underwater around Cocos Island. Dry season occurs between December and April. The temperature does not vary a great deal, with the average range being between 23 to 28°C although 2 or 3 degrees either side would not be a rare occurrence, especially in the higher altitude locations such as San José.
Truly there is no best time to go to Cocos as the island offers great diving all year round and the weather is very changeable. June to December sees more rains and rougher seas but there are more hammerheads, whale sharks and manta rays at this time. December to May is drier and the seas calmer while still having great pelagic sightings.
The water temperature ranges between 24-30°C. We recommend you take a 5 mm full length wet suit, hood, globes and boots on your Cocos liveaboard safari to, depending on the presence of thermoclines.
Everyone needs a valid passport to enter Costa Rica. At the time of writing US, Canadian, EU and Japanese citizens do not need an entry visa. However, visa regulations change and we recommend consulting your Costa Rican consulate or embassy when planning your trip. Visit the Costa Rica Embassy USA website for further details.
Costa Rica has among the highest levels of health services in Central and South America. The main concerns are Hepatitis B and C, Dengue fever (especially on the Caribbean coast) and rabies. If you behave sensibly, drink bottled water and ensure you consume well-washed vegetables and peeled fruit, you will limit any risk. If eating meat, try to ensure it is well cooked. Avoiding contact with animals frothing at the mouth might also be a wise idea. Any bites should be swiftly followed by medical attention.
There are 3 main hospitals in San José which are reasonably well-equipped. Hospital CIMA San José is generally considered to be the best hospital with the most modern technology. Others are Hospital Rafael Angel Calderon Guardia, which is generally considered the best place for serious emergencies. Hospital San Juan de Dios specialises in surgery and is the only adult burn unit it San José.
Tourist Security and Safety
At the time of writing, there have been no recent acts of terrorism in Costa Rica. Visitors may encounter work stoppages and strikes which are rare but inconvenient. The normal rules about not displaying wealth, e.g. flashy watches, and avoiding carrying credit cards or important documentation apply. Opportunistic thieves exist in Costa Rica as they do everywhere.
Useful Tips for Tourists
Sightseeing, Activities and Adventure
Apart from a couple of opportunities to go ashore on the island to explore the bays and a limited amount of the coastline, your time in Cocos will be spent on board your liveaboard. There are no inhabitants or shelters on Cocos Island at all. For sightseeing and things to do beyond your scuba diving vacation in Costa Rica, the focus is on the mainland.
'Traditional' pastimes such as surfing, rafting and fishing remain very popular and can be the main reason for visiting Costa Rica if they are your main interest. More modern pursuits such as canopy tours are becoming more popular. Imagine yourself whizzing through and over the rainforest on a zip line that can stretch great distances and reach heart-pumping speeds.
Costa Rica is part of a volcanic region so climbing and trekking the peaks is another popular thing to do, particularly the Arenal volcano where there are daily, and visible, 'eruptions'. Poas Volcano is an interesting one to visit with its mile wide crater and huge geyser. Hot spring spas also benefit from the geothermal activity and can make for a very relaxing day of pampering.
An exploration of the tropical rainforests is close to the top of everyone's priorities in Costa Rica and Monteverde Cloud Forest is the most popular. It is the perfect haven for lovers of nature including bird-watchers, for whom a trip to the Quetzal is also a must-do.
For more information on what to do, visit the Costa Rican Tourism Board or Costa Rica - Discover It.
The country is a beach-lover's paradise, enjoying more than 800 miles of coastline fronting both the Caribbean and the Pacific.
The island itself has 2 bays, Chatham and Wafer, which are sheltered spots in which to anchor and go ashore. You can enjoy a little stroll on terra firma and Chatham Bay is a great spot for taking in sunsets over Manuelita Island.
Pacific Coast Beaches
On the Pacific side of Costa Rica, you can find both black and white sand beaches leading to rainforests where all manner of life exists. These include sloths, iguanas and hummingbirds. The beach scene here includes restaurants and beach bars, where music fills the air and umbrellas fill your cocktail glass. These beaches tend to be more populated and there are therefore more beach-style businesses to cater to sun-lovers.
Caribbean Coast Beaches
In contrast to the Pacific coast, the Caribbean beaches see more rainfall and are therefore flanked by thick vegetation and dense forestation which runs well inland covering all the lowland areas. These beaches are more natural and a great variety of plants and animals thrive in the forests. Turtles also come ashore in many locations along the coast for nesting purposes.
Standard time in Costa Rica is 6 hours behind GMT (GMT -6 hours), or -1 hr EST.
Costa Rica uses 110 volt, 60 cycle electricity, the same as in the USA, and uses plugs having 2 flat pins. The Cocos liveaboard boats have the same fittings.
Internet cafes are fairly easy to find in tourist areas and in San José. Some of these offer long distance calls over the internet and many have Skype and other instant messaging software.
Public phones are plentiful and will either accept coins or phone cards. Many of the more modern phones also allow SMSing or emailing too. Phone cards are available from many outlets including pharmacies. Mobile roaming is possible and you should check with your provider as to what they recommend for Costa Rica. You can also purchase pre-paid SIM cards here.
If at sea or at Cocos, your best chance of phone communication is to use the SAT phone that the dive operators have, although this can become quite a costly means of communication.
506 is the international calling code/country code for Costa Rica.
Codes of Behaviour
Tipping and bargaining
Tipping is not the norm here and you can expect restaurant bills to include a service charge (10%) and sales tax (13%) which should be sufficient to douse any intentions of a further tip. Even when this is absent, tips are not expected. However a little loose change to guides, porters and taxi drivers will be gratefully received.
Bargaining on the other hand is expected at markets and craft shops. Failure to do so will result in a fiscal disadvantage to you of outrageous proportions. The vendor's starting point is usually exhorbitant. Taxi drivers in Costa Rica, as in the rest of the world, will take as much as they can so some prior knowledge of the expected fare is wise.
Costa Rica tends to be hot and can be humid so bring clothes that suit these circumstances. Unless you are traveling on business, leave the suits at home. Light, airy clothes are the order of the day. Women might want to think twice about wearing shorts or strapless dresses to finer restaurants or occasions.
Travel smart. Bulging wallets, passports in short pockets, flashy watches and cameras are all to be avoided. Carry only what you need. Don't carry important documentation on a stroll around town. There are opportunist thieves in every country on earth, including Costa Rica.
Use only official foreign exchange outlets and avoid drink-driving, for which the penalties can be strict. Tourists who avoid unnecessary risks seldom encounter problems of a criminal nature here.
Useful References for Cocos Island