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Cocos Island – Dive with Sharks in Costa Rica

cocos island

Cocos Island in Costa Rica is a remote island destination on the Pacific Ocean. It is located 300 miles off of mainland Costa Rica and is only accessible with a liveaboard scuba diving tour that lasts for over one week. 

The coral reefs are not as impressive here as in other locations, but the real draw is the insane number of sharks that swim in the waters surrounding Cocos Island National Park. 

In other words, if you are interested in spending several days diving with other like-minded individuals, sleeping on a boat, and just relaxing in a peaceful nature-infused environment, this is the trip for you!

History of Cocos Island

cocos island

Cocos Island was annexed by Costa Rica in 1832. 

During this time and until the mid-19th century, whalers regularly stopped at Cocos Island.

In October 1863, 426 Tongan former slaves were abandoned on the island after it was discovered that they had contracted smallpox. The crew did not want to be affected, so they deserted them. By the time the Tongans were rescued one month later only 38 people remained after the rest died from smallpox. 

In 1897, a small colony was formed here under the rule of a German adventurer. This colony was short-lived, but while here the adventurer spent a great deal of time searching for the supposed buried treasures. He never found much besides a few gold coins. 

The island was established as a national park in 1978. In 1997 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2002 that classification was expanded to include over 700 miles of ocean surrounding the island.

Buried Treasure

cocos island

There are multiple claims of buried treasure on the island, but none has actually been discovered (that we know of).

The first claim came from a woman, Mary Welch, who stated that 350 tons of gold (worth $16 billion today) was buried on the island by a British pirate named Bennett Graham. She claimed that she had been a member of the pirate crew and knew that this cache had been stolen from a Spanish galleon and buried here.

Welch was sentenced to an Australian penal colony for her crimes. However, when she was released she returned to Cocos island with a crew and a map that she possessed which showed the location of the treasure. 

Unfortunately, the landmarks were unrecognizable and she never found the treasure.

A Portuguese pirate, Benito Bonito also supposedly buried treasure on the island, but no concrete evidence has been found.

The most well-known legend of Cocos treasure comes from what is referred to as the Treasure of Lima. The Spaniards controlling Lima, Peru in 1820 supposedly entrusted a British trader, Captain William Thompson, with the city’s treasures while Lima was being invaded by the Argentinian army. 

Thompson and his crew took off with the treasure and sailed to Cocos where they allegedly buried the loot. Not long after, they were stopped by a Spanish warship that killed the entire crew except for Thompson and his first mate.

They promised to show the Spanish crew the location of the buried treasure on the island in exchange for their lives, but both Thompson and his first mate ran off into the thick jungle as soon as they landed onshore.

The treasure was never found. 

There have been hundreds of expeditions to find the treasures that the island may possess, but none have been successful so far. And, because the island is not open to the public it is not exactly a heavily traversed piece of land (except for by the park rangers). 

Marine Life Around Cocos Island

cocos island

In the waters surrounding Cocos Island you may see; scalloped hammerhead sharks, white tip reef sharks, tiger sharks, giant mantas, whale sharks, sailfish, yellowfin tuna, hawksbill turtles, green turtles, olive ridley turtles, humpback whales, orcas, dolphins, sea lions, 300 fish species, 30 species of coral, 60 species of crustaceans, and 600 species of mollusks. 

Cocos Island Diving Sites 

cocos island

There are several diving sites that you will visit during your trip, but here are the main highlights. 

Bajo Alcyone

This is a great spot to see hammerhead sharks. 

The seamount top is about a 82ft (25m) descent. From here, you can find a crevice to hang out and watch the hammerheads come into view in swarms. Seriously, you will likely see hundreds of them. In this area you might also see silky sharks and whale sharks. 

The reef isn’t overly impressive, but there is some sea life with octopi and manta rays. 

Dirty Rock

This is considered the most popular diving spot in the area due to the volume of hammerheads and large amount of fish that gather here. You may see tuna, blacktip sharks, snapper, bigeye jacks, whale sharks, and more!

The area is made up of volcanic rocks outcrops that are divided by a seed channel. 

Dos Amigos Grande

Here there is an impressive underwater arch. This can be accessed at 82ft (25meter). Here you can see hammerheads, reef sharks, eagle rays, jacks, snapper, etc. Occasionally, tiger sharks have also been known to show up in this area. 

Dos Amigos Pequeña

This small island is a nice spot to swim around and see sharks, urchins, snappers, and starfish. This is an area of great visibility. 

Manuelita Deep

There are numerous ledges in this area where white tip reef sharks often hang out. Just note that this area can have strong currents. This is one of the more popular diving sites and is sometimes done more than once on liveaboards.

Manuelita Garden

Manuelita Garden is a coral garden located atop a submerged mountain. This is one of the only coral reef dives near Cocos Island, and it is beautiful!

Visiting the Island Mainland

cocos island

During your several days of diving at the Isla del Coco National Park you will have a few opportunities to walk with a guide on the island. There is a waterfall that you could previously walk to, but I read that it is now closed to visitors.

Along the way you may see wild pigs, goats, white tailed deer, two species of rats, and house cats. 

Thing to Note Before Booking

cocos island

Best Time of Year to Visit

The dry season (mid-December until end of April) is the best time to visit for good weather. There will be almost no rain during this time of year. This is the best time to visit if you have a tendency to get sea sick because the waters will be much calmer.

The rainy season (May until mid-December) mean almost daily rain storms usually in the afternoon. During this time of year the water which be much rougher. However, this is the best time to see hammerhead sharks and manta rays.

If possible, we suggest visiting in mid-July. Usually Costa Rica experiences a mini summer during this time of year and the rain stops for about two weeks. This also happens to be when hammerhead sharks are about at their peak.

Diving Conditions

Most of the diving sites are open water. Keep in mind that many of the diving sites are located on submerged mountains and can have strong currents depending on the time of year. The water temperature is usually between 75 and 85 degrees. The visibility is generally between 30 and 100 feet. Most dives are between 30 – 131 feet (10 – 40m). For this reason, Nitrox diving is recommended.

What to Pack

It is recommended that you bring:

Bug spray, reef-safe sunblock, comfortable clothes for while on the boat, BCD, dive computer, dive light, fins, mask, regulator, snorkel gear, wetsuit (between 3 and 5mm), dive watch, dive gloves, dive knife, and depth gauge. 

Tanks, weights, and weight belts will be provided on the boat.

We suggest that you put all of your gear in a carry-on if possible. It would be no fun if your luggage does not show up with all your gear at the airport. 

If needed, it is always possible to rent all equipment on the boat for the extent of your diving adventure. This will definitely save you from the hassle of lugging everything with you. 

Also, laundry service is available on most boats. 

PADI Requirements

We recommend this trip to more experienced divers. It is a full immersion into diving and if it is not something you are super passionate about, it may be a bit much for you. However, for most tours, the only requirement is that you have your open water certification.

There is no requirement for the number of dives completed, but 50 hours of completed dive time is suggested. 

Most tours will offer the Enriched Air Nitrox course for an extra fee.

Safety Notice

All tours and dives are led by certified guides with extensive training. That being said, occasionally things happen. I say that because a woman from New York was killed here in 2017 during an unprovoked tiger shark attack. Her diving instructor was also bit in the leg but survived the attack. Tiger sharks in the area is a relatively new thing and are very rare.

Cocos Tour Options

cocos island

In order to visit Cocos Island it is necessary to take a multi-day liveaboard style boat trip. This is due to the fact that it is located 300 miles off of Costa Rica’s coast and the fact that nobody besides park rangers is allowed on the actual island (they are trying to keep all the buried treasure for themselves 😉 ). 

There are multiple tour options. Here are the four best options (in our opinion).

Okeanos Aggressor

cocos

Amenities

This yacht accommodates 22 guests in 7 deluxe cabins, 2 twin cabins and 1 quad cabin. Each room has individually controlled AC, TV and media player, bathroom, and ample storage space. All meals are served in the dining room. 

The food consists of freshly prepared local cuisine, American and BBQ. There is a large salon with entertainment options as well as a sun deck with lounge chairs and a bar and grill. All food and drinks are included in the price. 

Tour Length

11 days/ 10 nights

Tour Schedule

Arrive in San Jose and meet with a tour representative. From there, you will spend the night at either the Holiday Inn Escazu or Holiday Inn Express Forum. 

Day 1: Meet in front of the host hotel. A transfer service to Puntarenas will be provided. This drive takes about 1.5 hours. You will then board the Okeanos Aggressor and depart for Cocos Island.

Day 2-3: Arrive to Cocos Island and begin diving.

Day 4-9: These days will consist of eating, sleeping, and diving around the multiple island diving sites..

Day 9-10: Travel back to Puntarenas.

Day 11: Check out of the boat at 7 am. A transfer bus will take you back to San Jose Airport or host hotels.

Price

Approximately $4,400 depending on your room choice and time of year. On top of that, you will need to pay for any gear that you need to rent, diver insurance, as well as the national park fee of about $400. 

Okeanos Aggressor II

cocos island

Amenities

This yacht accommodates 22 guests in 11 deluxe cabins. All meals are served in the dining room and consist of freshly prepared American style cuisine. There is a large salon with entertainment options as well as a sun deck with lounge chairs and a bar and grill. All food and drinks are included in the price. 

Tour Length

11 days/ 10 nights

Tour Schedule

Arrive in San Jose and meet with a tour representative. From there, you will spend the night at either the Holiday Inn Escazu or Holiday Inn Express Forum. 

Day 1: Meet in front of the host hotel. A transfer service to Puntarenas will be provided. This drive takes about 1.5 hours. You will then board the Okeanos Aggressor and depart for Cocos Island.

Day 2-3: Arrive to Cocos Island and begin diving.

Day 4-9: These days will consist of eating, sleeping, and diving around the multiple island diving sites..

Day 9-10: Travel back to Puntarenas.

Day 11: Check out of the boat at 7 am. A transfer bus will take you back to San Jose Airport or host hotels.

Price

Approximately $4,800 depending on your room choice. On top of that, you will need to pay for any gear that you need to rent, diver insurance, as well as the national park fee of about $400. 

This boat is a bit newer and more modern than the Okeanos and the price slightly reflects that.

MV Argo

diving cocos

Amenities

This boat can accommodate 16 guests in twin and double bed air-conditioned suites. All rooms have en-suite bathrooms. The boat has an air-conditioned restaurant, sundeck, entertainment lounge, and a study with books. 

Tour Length

The trip last for 10 nights

Tour Schedule

Day 1: Meet in front of the host hotel in San Jose. A transfer service to Puntarenas will be provided. Along the way you will stop for a snack and lunch. You will then board the boat and depart for Cocos Island.

Day 2: It will take approximately 36 hours to arrive at Cocos Island.

Day 2-9: These days will consist of eating, sleeping, and diving around the multiple island diving sites. Meals will be provided throughout the day. Most days consist of three dives, but three times during the trip there will be an option for a night dive as well. 

Day 9-10: Travel back to Puntarenas.

Day 11: Check out of the boat at 8am. A transfer bus will take you back to San Jose Airport or host hotels.

Price

Approximately $6,300 depending on your room choice and time of year. On top of that, you will need to pay for any gear that you need to rent, diver insurance, as well as the national park fee of about $400. 

MV Sea Hunter

cocos

Amenities

This boat has 10 cabins which accommodates 20 guests in twin and double bed air-conditioned suites. All rooms have en-suite bathrooms. The boat has an air-conditioned restaurant, sundeck, entertainment lounge, and a study with books. 

Tour Length

Tours vary between 7 nights and 10 nights

Tour Schedule

Day 1: Meet in front of the host hotel in San Jose. A transfer service to Puntarenas will be provided. Along the way you will stop for a snack and lunch. You will then board the boat and depart for Cocos Island.

Day 2: It will take approximately 36 hours to arrive at Cocos Island.

Day 2-9: These days will consist of eating, sleeping, and diving around the multiple island diving sites. Meals will be provided throughout the day. Most days consist of three dives, but three times during the trip there will be an option for a night dive as well. 

Day 9-10: Travel back to Puntarenas.

Day 11: Check out of the boat at 8am. A transfer bus will take you back to San Jose Airport or host hotels.

Price

Approximately $4,800 depending on your room choice and number of nights of the trip. On top of that, you will need to pay for any gear that you need to rent, diver insurance, as well as the national park fee of about $400.

And there you have it! What do you think? Is a diving trip to Cocos Island in your future? Feel free to comment with any questions below. We are always happy to help you out. Also, we would love to hear about your experience on a Cocos Island dive trip.

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About Us

We’re Thomas (the German) and Sarah (the US-er).

We met in Virginia, moved to Germany, and now live in sunny Costa Rica. It was a spontaneous decision to move here, but it was the best decision!

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