Scuba Diving Costa Rica's Pacific Northwest
Diving the Pacific waters in the Gulf of Papagayo is anything but your "average" diving. There is an enormous amount of fish activity to be found among the volcanic rock islets and undersea pinnacles off this coastline. Familiar Caribbean fish species mingle with Pacific Coast and Tropical Pacific varieties unique to the area. The cooler nutrient-rich waters attract enormous schools of fish. Big animal encounters with large pelagics - giant Manta Rays, Eagle Rays and Bull Rays, several species of Sharks and Turtles and Whale Sharks are considered routine.
Anyone who been diving in these waters would agree that the immense quantity of marine life more than outweighs the lower visibility encountered in the area, which is known for unpredictable currents and up welling that can cause a five degrees shift in temperature in a matter of feet, as well as the ever-fascinating thermoclines on the deeper dives. In addition to more local dive sites, day trips to the Catalina and Bat Islands offer divers some extra-ordinary adventures.
The Catalina Islands are a rocky outcrop off the coastline where from November through May of most years, Manta Rays swarm to "primp" at cleaning stations in preparation for mating season. Joining them are any number of Stingrays, Barracuda, Whitetip and Bull Sharks and a wide variety of Moray Eels. And that is just the big stuff! The islands are also home to a variety of schooling tropical Pacific and Caribbean reef fish.
Check out this video filmed by Seamus Pender who shared it with Rocket Frog Divers. A great day diving the Catalinas in beautiful Costa Rica!
Bat Islands or Las Islas Murcielago as they are known locally is another island formation further out to sea. The underwater topography and blue-water surrounds of these remote islands makes for an astonishing dive experience. Seas en route to this area can be rough, and high wave action and strong currents often encountered. For this reason it is consider a dive trip appropriate for more advanced divers. In addition to Manta Rays and sharks, there is the option for sighting blue-water fish such as Wahoo as well as mammals including Whale Sharks and the occasional Humpback Whale.
Dives to Catalina and Bat Islands are a must do for experienced divers but require a minimum of 4 divers for Catalina, 6 divers for Bat.
Scuba Diving with Rocket Frog Divers
Dive Vacations partners with Rocket Frog Divers, a 5 Star PADI IDC Dive Center, to offer their guests scuba diving packages and instruction. Rocket Frog divers does not have an office on property, however van transfers are provided at a minimal charge ($20.00 round trip) for all guests staying at the Occidental Grand Papagayo.
Boat Diving Package[supsystic-tables id='26']
Local Reef Diving (Content Courtesy of Rocket Frog Divers)
Local dive sites are all found within a 15 minute boat ride of Rocket Frog's Playa Ocotal location. All offer a variety of rock pinnacles and sand channels with opportunities to find everything from the large to the small: sharks, olive-ridley and giant leatherback turtles to frog fish, sea horses and nudibranchs! There are approximately 30 local dive sites at which their divemasters and captains are expert guides. Water temperatures and visibility range incredibly in these waters. It is not uncommon for temperatures to change by as much as 5 degrees celsius on any given day. There are often extreme thermoclines which also are very hard to predict. The water generally is warm enough that a 3mm wetsuit will suffice. The visibility is also quite hard to predict. In the dry season the visibility can range from 10-70 feet, and again can change almost daily. The massive changes that occur here are what makes the marine life so abundant and diverse.
Some of Rocket Frog Divers favorite sites include:
Tortuga is a local dive site that is frequented often by the shop as it is one of their favorites in the area. The dive site is a quick 5-10 minute boat trip from their location at Playa Ocotal. Upon arriving at the site you will be hooked up to a mooring line and descend 40 feet or so to the start of the dive site. There is a large rock formation that will stay on your left hand side for the majority of the dive. On this rock you will find a variety of marine life. Moray eels, puffer fish, and several other large schools of fish. Quite often on this dive, usually when the water is warm, there will be a group of white tip reef sharks resting on a sandy patch in the rocks. After stopping and seeing the white tips you will continue the dive to a 40 foot or so wreck that is located in approximately 65-70 feet of water, the deepest you will go on this dive. During the rest of the dive you are fairly sure to see a few more white tips, some common rays, possibly some spotted eagle rays, and tons of fish. This is truly one of their favorite dives due to its diversity. It is the surest best for finding sharks in any of the dive sites and also allows you to explore a wreck.
Argentina Point is another favorite local dive sites. It is located only a short 5-10 minute boat ride from Playa Ocotal and is only a short ride from other dives sites such as Tortuga and Surprise. Argentina Point gets its name due to its rock formation that is eerily similar to the land mass of Argentina. When you hook up to the mooring line on this site you will drop down into 35-40 feet of water. Quite often the divemasters will be able to find you Harlequin clown shrimp shortly after beginning the dive. The dive site with its many different rock formations can be a bit difficult to navigate for people who are new to the area, but the divemasters will ensure you see everything there is to offer on this site. This site features a huge variety of marine life. It is not uncommon to find the harlequin clown shrimp, sea horses, several species of rays, turtles, morays, and even the odd white tip reef shark can quite often be seen lurking about the rocks. The dive reaches a maximum of 80 feet.
Sharks Shallows is one of the local dive sites which is located just south of Ocotal beach on the way to Catalina’s island. Shark Shallows is typically the first of a two tank dive in the area often followed up with a dive at Punta Gorda. Although Shark Shallows is well known, it does not see many divers due to the distance that must be traveled from Coco beach. What many divers do not know is that the dive site consists of a series of five rock formations. The first two formations are visited by most divers with a maximum depth of 75 feet at the second rock. The next three rock formations are rarely seen by most recreational divers due to air consumption. If you are a skilled breather then the other three rock formations are breath taking. Your depth continues to increase to 110 feet. Here is where you see lots of big rays and white tip sharks weaving between the rock structures and if your lucky you may have the opportunity to see the fast moving black tips that sometimes visit these formations. You can expect the water temperatures to range between 73-80 degrees. Maximum depth at the 5th rock is 115 feet. Marine life that is commonly seen includes spotted eagle rays, common rays, moray eels, octopus, white tip sharks, large schools of fishes, turtles, and the rare black tip shark.
Punta Gorda never fails to please. With a maximum depth of 70 feet this is a great dive site for beginners and the advanced diver alike. Rolling off the boat you find the journey to the bottom on the mooring line is a short 25 foot descent. As you make the descent to the bottom you can expect the excitement to begin as hundreds of small colorful fishes school around the divers. This large rock typically is navigated counter clockwise to ensure the divers get a nice ride on the gentle current on the back side of the rock. Before you get to ride the current you will certainly see an abundance of sea life. You can expect to continually see large schools of fish, moray eels, and some friendly green turtles all in the first 25% of the dive. As you round the first turn your right shoulder points to the open ocean and big common rays fly effortlessly by on the sandy bottom at the base of the rock. If your lucky you will occasionally encounter a stray white tip shark hanging out on the bottom, waiting for the sun to set and the feeding to begin! There is a lot of fire coral at Punta Gorda and you are sure to find some small blennys hiding in the small holes of the coral. But still your not done, on the last quarter of the dive we can often find yellow, orange and brown seahorses. Just before the dive ends harlequin clown shrimp can sometimes be seen feeding on starfish. Most divers will make it back to the mooring line as most of the dive is spent between 35-55 feet.
Monkey Head is one of the favorite dive sites in Costa Rica, named after the rock formation that is found at the surface of the dive. After taking a 10 minute boat drive from Playa Ocotal you will arrive to the rock formation that perfectly resembles a monkey’s head. Eyes, ears, nose, hair, mouth, it has it all. This is a great above water photo opportunity for our photo enthusiasts. The dive is off of a mooring line and reaches a max depth of approximately 80 feet. The dive is a circular dive around the Monkey Head rock formation. Generally the rock is kept on the left hand shoulder for the duration of the dive, however, your divemaster will make the final call based upon the current conditions at the dive site on the day of your dive. Marine life you are likely to see at Monkey Head is diverse. There are several species of rays. Spotted eagle rays are the highlight here. There have been the occasional manta ray spotted at monkey head over the years, however this is not common. Common rays as well as several different species of moray eels are also very common. There are large schools of fish as well as the possibility of finding the occasional turtle.
Turning Point (or Virador) is a kick cycle away from Monkey Head and are often paired together as dive sites. This site starts off with a depth of approximately 8m/25ft then follows a circular boulder field formation that extends to the surface to a maximum depth of 21m/70ft along the back side. Expect to see lots of moray eels of several species sticking their heads out to say, “Hola” as you drift by. Barberfish and King Angel Fish also like to tag along for the ride and will often follow divers for a better part of the dive. Spotted Eagle Rays also tend to cruise by at this site, so don’t forget to look away from the rocks every once and awhile! The masters of camouflage, Scorpion fish, are also a common critter to see, if you can spot them…
Usually there is so much to see that we don’t make it all the way around the rock so when air is running low, we will swim away from the rock and your divemaster will send up an SMB and a lone eagle ray or a school of Latin Grunts might bid you farewell!
Tranquilo features incredible volcanic rock structures including small boulder fields that are home to Royal Urchins, Arrow Crabs, and several species of moray eels, large boulders which are frequent cleaning stations for the occasional sea turtle, as well as home base for the aliens here on earth: octopus. There is also a spectacular channel at the end of the dive where White Tip Reef sharks like to rest during the day; to get a closer look at these shy guys make slow movements and stay close to the sand- we don’t want to disturb them while they are trying to get some shut eye before they are more active at night.
At a maximum depth of 18m/60ft this is a perfect dive site for new Open Water divers, with enough interesting features for more advanced divers to find something new as well. As the name states, this is one chill site!
Rocket Frog Divers utilizes 3 purpose built dive boats. The Pacific Express is unlike any other in the area. It features two 250HP V6 Yamaha 4 Stroke engines that allow us to visit our dive sites in a fraction of the time that it takes other dive companies. This proves especially worthwhile when you consider that some of the more popular dive sites in the region, the Bat Islands (Isle Murcileago) and the Catalinas Islands are several hour trips with other operators. The Pacific Express can make the voyage to the Catalinas in less than half an hour.
The “Tiburon” or the shark is another purpose built dive shop build for small groups. This dive vessel is perfect for exploring local dive sites in the Gulf de Papagayo with a very small group.
The Devil Ray is a catamaran style dive vessel which we acquired in 2015. It is a catamaran style vessel which offers a lot of room and comfort for our divers and also offers an upper level sun deck for surface intervals and for the voyage to and from the dive sites.
Resort Course/Discover Scuba divers generally participate in the afternoon one tank boat dives, which target the sites with minimized currents. Here is a glimpse at the fun that awaits a resort course diver!
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