Wednesday, July 24, 2024

A Day Of Diving Cocos Island, Costa Rica


I have always been an early riser, and having my first cup of coffee on the quiet sundeck in the calm waters of Wafer Bay in remote Cocos Island just before sunrise is the perfect way to start my diving day. 

Okeanos Aggressor, Costa Rica
Okeanos Aggressor, Costa Rica

While the day starts this way, the diving from the Okeanos Aggressors 22-foot rigid inflatable panga is just the opposite! After a hearty cook-to-order breakfast, our captain (and dive master for dive number 1) gathers us around the covered second deck open-air lounge to review the dive in Manuelita Channel.

This is a drift dive between the central Island and its smaller sibling, Manuelita. Today we will be dropped from the pangas on the west side of the channel and drift through the channel towards Chatham Bay. The captain tells us to look for sizeable orange frogfish, oceanic mantas, shy scalloped hammerheads, and the ever-present curious tiger sharks. Now my adrenaline takes over from my caffeine-fueled excitement!

Nitrox Air for Scuba Diving
Nitrox Air for Scuba Diving

Most of us are diving nitrox, and after checking our percentages and setting our dive computers, we give our gear a final check before the staff loads it onto the pangas. It is a short ride for dive one, and we barely have time to put defog in our masks before we are over the drop zone and the staff is helping us done our BCDs.

As soon as we are ready, we back-roll in one or two at a time, get our cameras handed down, and move away from the panga so the rest of our group can do the same.  Our dive master signals everyone to descend and start our slow drift into the channel.

Cocos Island always delivers on its promise of abundant marine life. As soon as we are hovering just above the sandy bottom, our dive master excitedly waves us over to a small coral head.

The orange frogfish we were told has been frequently spotted here is camouflaged between two hard coral bumps. All the divers get a chance to see it, get a photograph or video, and pose for selfies. No frogfish would ever win a beauty contest, but maybe that is why we love every encounter with them.

At the channel’s entrance, we spot a lone scalloped hammerhead gliding effortlessly along the bottom edge of the main island, where the sloping volcanic rock meets the sandy bottom with its signature swaying back and forth swimming style. The current bringing the water through the channel comes from the deep ocean surrounding Cocos Island and is several degrees cooler than most dive sites.

A Trevally Baitball
A Trevally Baitball

Once in the channel, the sides are littered with truck-size boulders allowing us to tuck into the back side out of the current and watch life in the channel occur. From these calm shelters, you can see the abundant fish life foraging the bottom, entering cleaning stations, and even trevally trying to sneak up on a pair of unsuspecting butterfly fish.

Just before we are ready, we glide back into the current as our dive master signals everyone to stay in their place. He points back up the channel, and we can see a gray blur starting to emerge. As it gets closer, we can make out the broad snout of a tiger shark followed by the tell-tell tiger stripes down its sides. It lazily swims past us, giving us an uninterested glance with those big black pupils. We give it plenty of space before we depart the channel and find ourselves in the calm water on the back side of  Manuelita.

Massive sloping slabs of rock that have broken off the island form a nice ridge where we are told to keep a look out for the oceanic mantas that sometimes use this as a cleaning station. Our dive time ends without the manta encounter, but the dive site has already given us a glimpse into why Cocos Island is on the list of every scuba diver. 

We all surface together, and the panga drivers are already coming from their waiting area to pick us up. We hand our cameras, gear, and fins to the staff and climb up the ladders, where the chatter starts immediately of the wonders we all just burned into our memories. Cool freshwater towels are passed around to wipe the salt from our faces, followed by orange slices to munch on during the ride back to the Okeanos Aggressor.

Hot water showers are available on the dive deck, and while everyone is rinsing off and the steward is serving stowing cameras, hot, fresh-baked sweet rolls. This is why you dive a liveaboard! 

Okeanos Aggressor Dining
Okeanos Aggressor Dining

Our second-morning dive is to a dive site named ‘Dirty Rock.’ This is where whale sharks can be frequently sighted, and our hopes are high. We repeat the panga boarding and the short ride out to Dirty Rock. It is a small, short outcropping so titled due to the many sea birds that inhabit the rock, and their ‘deposits’ are evident everywhere. Everyone descends the gently sloping wall and slowly drifts along with today’s mild current.

Scalloped hammerheads in small groups glide towards us from the depths and dart away when they spot us. The dive master spots an unbelievably large school of jacks, and we slowly leave. Several tuna are seen zooming through the school as it moves like a living organism trying their best to stay alive. We end the dive without the elusive whale shark but have many more dives ahead of us!

After a lunch of homemade split pea soup to keep us warm, fresh salads, and all the fixings for every type of sandwich you could want, most of us take a leisurely nap before we head to the signature site, Alcyone, named after Jacque Cousteaus expedition ship.

This panga ride is a bit longer as Alcyone is on the other side of Cocos Island. Along the way, the staff points out landmarks from the film Jurassic Park and the many waterfalls we pass. Alcyone is known for being one of the best places to see the largest schools of hammerhead sharks. It is also known for strong currents. For this, they have a mooring line the panga ties off to, and we back roll in, and quickly descend along the line. Once at the bottom, there are plenty of rocky channels to drop into and out of the current. The bottom is crowded with white-tip reef sharks in clusters catching some rest before night feeding time. 

We ease out to the edge of the rocks, where the drop-off is much deeper than anyone can see. We are signaled to hang here and see if we can spot hammerhead action. A few minutes after everyone settles in, we start seeing parts of what appears to be a wall of hammerheads! As the school drifts closer, it feels like we are in a National Geographic episode.

Hammerheads stretch as far as we can see, both left and right and up and down. Camera flashes start going off like shark paparazzi. Alcyone is a deeper site than most, so our time here is short but not without the most amazing experience of the day. On the panga ride back around to the Okeanos Aggressor, we are escorted by a small pod of dolphin including a few calves. Icing on the cake!

I look forward to a relaxing evening served meal where we can all get to know each other better over a glass of wine and swap dive tales until bedtime. We are all looking forward to what scuba diving thrills Cocos Island will give up over the next four days of diving, including our elusive whale shark!

Other Helpful Information


When to go

When planning your Cocos Island liveaboard, take into account the best times to visit:

  • December-May is the dry season. During this time of year, the sea is often calmer, and the visibility is at its best!
  • June-December is the rainy season; this time of year, the surface conditions are often rougher, and the visibility can be less; however, this is a good time to encounter Whale sharks and Manta Rays!

Year-round, the water temperature varies between 24-30°C and stays at an average of 27°C.

There can be strong thermoclines at depth, so a 5mm suit is advised for this trip.

Getting there

When you travel to Cocos island, you will fly into San Jose, Costa Rica, where you will stay for one or more nights before transferring to Puntarenas, from where the liveaboard to Cocos island will depart.

Upon entering Costa Rica, you will receive a visitor visa up to 90 days from arrival. Be sure to have your valid passport with at least one blank page; also, make sure that you have proof of an outbound or onward flight exiting the country within the timeframe of your stay.

To enter Cocos island, you must pay a park fee of $490 USD per person – this fee must be paid onboard in cash.

Choosing an adventure itinerary


Other information

The travel planners at Aggressor will apprise you of the latest travel requirements/restrictions based on the most current travel requirements.

This is a sponsored post – for more information please see our disclosure policy.

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