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Central Pacific dive sites

Central Pacific dive sites

Exceptionally diverse undersea realms live just off the coast of the central Pacific where whitetip reef sharks, green sea turtles, spotted eagle rays and lobster swim among giant schools of game fish like tuna and mahi-mahi. The volcanic coastline along Herradura Bay, Manuel Antonio, Dominical and the famous Cano Island is peppered with brain coral, sandy sea beds, and rock mounts with depths and visibility fit for both snorkelers and divers.

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Temperatures in the central Pacific average about 82 degrees, though thermoclines can drop to 75 degrees or less during colder months – particularly in February. Visibility is spectacular more often than not, at times exceeding 100 feet depending on the weather and season. The best time of year for snorkeling and diving is during the dry season (Dec.-April).

General Information

  1. Aquatic life: Sea turtle, lobster, grouper, yellowtail, Atlantic tarpon, purple barrel sponge, fan coral, black coral, trunk fish, moorish idol, grunt, nurse shark, whitetip reef shark, chub, snapper, angelfish, seahorse, parrotfish, triggerfish, sea anemone, crab, starfish and sea cucumber.
  2. Average visibility: 10 to 100 feet. Best time of year: Mid-November through April.
  3. Skill level: The majority of sites are suitable for divers of all levels.
  4. Surge/current: Currents are predominantly calm, but can be moderate around Veinte Seis and Cano Island.
  5. Thermoclines: There are a few thermoclines (steep temperature gradients that can be felt descending through layers of water) in the area, but they are only noticeable on deep dives.
  6. Water temperature: Average temperature is 82 degrees year round, but thermoclines can drop to 75 degrees or less in February.
  7. Wetsuit recommendation: Dive suits are preferred throughout the year to protect against stings and scrapes, but not required.

Dive Sites

Tortuga Island (travel time 40 minutes by boat from Herradura Bay near Jaco)

  1. Aquarius: Underwater canyons and soft corals create magnets for colorful tropical fish. Depth: 50-65 feet; visibility: 20-50 feet.
  2. Canones (The Canons): This site is known for its many caves and chasms that are home to lobsters, eels, octopi, and other animals. Depth: 50-65 feet; visibility: 20-50 feet.
  3. Bye Bye Reef: A current guides divers along a trajectory leading to Tortuga Island. Be prepared to see an astonishing variety of fauna along the way. Depth: 50-65 feet; visibility: 20-50 feet.
  4. La Chancha (The Pig): Just along Bahia Ballena is La Chancha, Costa Rican slang for “the pig.” Here, fish feast on plankton and algae like little piglets. Depth: 50-65 feet; visibility: 20-50 feet.
  5. Cocalito (Little Coca Tree): Three dive sites near Playa Cocalito's El Chorro Waterfall offer wonderful opportunities to view whitetip reef sharks and thick schools of colorful fish. Two shipwrecks can be found in the area. Depth: 50-65 feet; visibility: 20-50 feet.
  6. Franklin Chang: This sunken ship was named after Costa Rican astronaut Frankling Chang-Diaz. Depth: 50-65 feet; visibility: 20-40 feet.
  7. Caroline Star: Here, you’ll find the second of the area’s two colorful shipwrecks. Depth: 50-65 feet; visibility: 20-40 feet.

Herradura Bay and Jaco

  1. Pesebre: Sometimes affected by fairly strong currents, Pesebre is better suited for intermediate and advanced divers with a bit of experience and confidence. Depth: 50-100 feet; visibility: 20-40 feet.
  2. The Garden: Whitetip reef sharks like to swim about the natural arches of The Garden. Depth: 50-65 feet; visibility: 20-40 feet.
  3. The Backyard: Explorers begin their ascent at the apex of a pointed rock and work their way down, passing untold crustaceans and tropical fish en route. Depth: 65-100 feet; visibility: 20-40 feet.
  4. Middle Reef: Tucked away and sheltered from strong currents, middle reef is a great place for both novice and advanced divers alike. Photographers will love the clear waters and shallow depths. Depth: 30-50 feet; visibility: 20-40 feet.
  5. The Island: The best place in the area for observing whitetip reef sharks. Depth: 30-100 feet; visibility: 20-40 feet.

Manuel Antonio/Quepos (travel times from Manuel Antonio by boat)

  1. Cano Island: Cano Island is recognized one of the top snorkeling and diving destinations in Costa Rica – second only to Cocos Island, which is one of the top ten sites in the world. While technically closer to the Osa Peninsula than the central Pacific, the island can be reached from Manuel Antonio in a reasonable amount of time. Be sure to reserve this trip well in advance, as a minimum of five divers is required to make the journey. Skill level: beginner to advanced. Depth: 40-100 feet; Travel time: 2 hours. Expect to see whitetip reef sharks, sea turtles, rays, eels, brain coral and a variety of tropical fish. Keep a look out for humpback whales and dolphins while heading to the island.
  2. Pixie Rocks: Hidden by high tides, legend has it that pixies move the rocks out of sight. The site is known for its shark cave and schooling fish. Depth: 25-45 feet.
  3. Punta Quepos (Quepos Point): This site has canyons where divers may see whitetip reef sharks resting or hunting. In deeper waters, large volcanic boulders host large fish. Depth: 35-130 feet; visibility: 60 feet.
  4. Media Luna (Half Moon): Grunts and snapper are commonly encountered among the rocks at Media Luna. Depth: 35-80 feet. E. Starfish Garden: Divers may discover octopi, eels and lobster hiding among the volcanic rocks and boulders. Depth: 30-80 feet; travel time: 10-15 minutes.
  5. Canyon Reef: Schools of snapper and grunts can be found along the site's sandy bottomed canyons. Travel time: 10-15 minutes; depth: 30-80 feet. G. Punta Sur (South Point): Large schools of jacks congregate here to hunt, making this an exciting dive. Depth: 30-110 feet; travel time: 10-15 minutes.
  6. Las Gemelas (The Twins): A wonderful spot for snorkeling or beginner dives; home to a huge array of tropical fish. Depth: 20-40 feet; travel time: 10-15 minutes.
  7. El Aquario (The Aquarium): Moorish idols and parrotfish frequent the underwater pinnacles of this site. Depth: 30-75 feet.
  8. Oloquita: Home to soft corals and volcanic formations. Divers can sometimes glimpse rays. Depth: 30-50 feet.
  9. Geo's Ridge: While exploring a series of long ridges, divers may observe schooling fish. Depth: 35-90 feet.
  10. Crying Rock: An excellent wall dive and good for deep dive training. Depth: 60-130 feet.
  11. Veinte Seis (Twenty Six): An hour's boat ride from Manuel Antonio, Veinte Seis features impressive schools of large, pelagic fish. Skill level: advanced. Depth: 95-140 feet; travel time: 1 hour; visibility: 100+ feet.
  12. Bajo del Diablo (Devil's Reef): Named for the rocks that hide just below the surface, the reef has pinnacles that attract a variety of colorful fish. Depth: 25-45 feet.
  13. Lost Rock: Known for occasional strong currents. Depth: 25-80 feet.
  14. Triggerfish Garden: Lots of volcanic formations provide shelter for giant blunt head triggerfish. Depth: 30-60 feet.