Scuba Diving at Playas del Coco

February 11, 2010 - Filed under Eats, Scuba Diving, Underwater Photography



Since arriving in Costa Rica nearly 6 months ago, we haven’t been scuba diving much compared to the 80+ dives we did last year in Southeast Asia. We did a 2 dive trip to the Catalina Islands from Tamarindo a couple months ago where we saw a few eagle rays, a school of jacks, and 3 or 4 white tip reef sharks, but the visibility was really poor and with the Papagayo wind in full effect since then, we haven’t attempted another dive until this last weekend when we decided to take a quick trip to Playas del Coco.

We got on the local bus to Liberia at 9am which meanders in and out of each town on the way to it’s destination; picking up and dropping off school children, workers, and food and drink vendors as it goes. Liberia is approximately an hour away from Tamarindo by car, but the local bus takes anywhere from 1.5 hours to 2.5 hours to get there. We got off the bus before Liberia at the turn off to Playas del Coco (shortly after Filadelfia) and switched buses. Our next bus came along within 45 minutes and we continued on through Sardinal. Within a half hour, we had completed our 3.5 hour journey arriving at Coco.



First off, we stopped in at Deep Blue Diving and arranged for 2 local dives the next morning to check out the area. They quickly took care of the paperwork and fitted us with gear. At $100 USD per person for two local dives and gear rental, it’s more expensive than most of the Asia dive rates we’re familiar with, but seems to be the norm in Costa Rica. Though they did arrange a discount rate for us with the hotel where they do their pool training (La Puerta del Sol) and were kind enough to drive us and our bags there in the shop truck.

Deep Blue Diving, Playa Del Coco

After a brain wracking check-in; due to us forgetting our passports at the house in Tamarindo, we wandered into town searching for lunch. Kelly and I have pretty much figured out our go-to dishes for a typical local menu. Kelly will opt for a chicken burrito, while I lean towards a casado con pollo (A typical Costa Rican meal with rice, black or red beans, salad, a chicken fillet, and a fried plantain or banana). Accompanied with a couple Pilsen beers, we quickly recovered from the earlier trek, but headed back to the hotel to beat the 36°C midday heat.

La Puerta del Sol has a large salt water pool where we worked on our sunburns for a while, after which we scoped out the sports bar for the upcoming Super Bowl game. Chatting with a few expats and tourists, we found the scene was quite different from Tamarindo. While Tamarindo is a laid back little surf town and most of the people there are backpackers and surfers traveling on the cheap, Playas del Coco has an older expat and family vacation feel with larger resorts, souvenir tables and shops leading to the beach, and golf carts roaming the streets. Kelly and I stuck around for another round, then sat down at a local pizzeria for dinner before an early turn in to prepare for out set of dives the next day.

Waking up the next morning, we prepped, had a bite to eat, and headed to the beach for our 8AM departure. Upon arrival, we found that we were the only divers going out that day which is a bit of a blessing and a curse. We hate diving in large groups because of the underwater traffic. All those fins can kick up a lot of sand into Kelly’s photos, but at the same time we view diving as one of the few social activities that gets us out of the house and we’ve been home bound a lot with work lately. Deep Blue ferried us out to the dive boat, which had a great dive setup with lots of room and a rear jump deck. Our gear was already assembled and waiting; another thing I’m slightly torn about. I like the service, but I prefer to set up my own gear just to give it a once over and make sure everything is working and done right.

Fifteen minutes later we were at our first site called ‘Punta Argentina’. We geared up, did a safety check and jumped in, where I found that my regulator had a slow leak. I’ve found it’s a pretty common occurrence with rental gear and not a big deal, but as we descended I found it kept a steady stream of bubbles in-front of my mask. I fiddled with it for five minutes or so before switching to my secondary regulator. Bubbles gone, I could finally take advantage of the 20m visibility.

The dive sites we’ve visited in Costa Rica’s north Pacific region are volcanic and lacking in any real reef structure from what I’ve seen. Our DM pointed out 2 clown shrimp, but that was pretty much the only macro life we saw on any of our 4 Playas del Coco dives. What was in abundance was porcupine fish and rays. I’ve never seen so many porcupine fish crawling the rocks and every few minutes you’d see spotted eagle rays and stingrays approaching from the blue. Sitting atop the sand, there was plenty of skate and we sniffed out a couple of moray eels among the rocks.

About 30 minutes into the dive, we came across a large stingray with 2 spears protruding straight up from it’s back. Kelly didn’t want to take a picture of a dead stingray and we were going to move on before realizing it was still alive! The spears were two different types so my thinking is that someone shot it, failed to kill it and at a later date someone else attempted to put it out of its misery after seeing the first spear, but also failed. The resilient ray swam off, leaving us saddened about the whole situation.

One additional perk to diving with Deep Blue: They don’t have a dive time limit. Too often, we’ve been restricted to 45 minutes and have still had another 15-20 minutes or more of air remaining. If I’ve paid for the whole tank, I’d like to use it! All within safety limits of course, but I find the 45 minute rule ridiculous. At around 1000 PSI, we did our safety stop and came up after 57 minutes below. We swapped my leaky regulator with a spare, had some water, pineapple, a couple cookies, and lounged in the sun, chatting with our DM about Cocos Island where he’s had the opportunity to lead dives with the hammerheads. Unfortunately the price point is keeping us away. At $4000 per person for a week of liveaboard diving, we’ll have to pass it by this trip.

The second dive of the day was at a site called “Tortuga” (Turtle). We descended to 20m, circling a pinnacle of volcanic rock. More eagle rays and stingrays floated around us and as we came over a crest of rocks we found four 1.5m white tipped reef sharks resting on the sand below us. Circling around them, we lay on the bottom briefly then moved in for some pictures. Swimming away from the pinnacle, our DM lead us to a fairly large wreck which I poked my head into. Yup, full of puffers. Drifting the length of the ship and peering over the bow, we found ten white tip reef sharks resting in the sand below. We returned to the shallows of the pinnacle and spent the rest of the dive peering in holes for golden moray eels.

After the two great dives, we signed up for another two the following day and returned to town to get dried out and have a deco beer. That night, we went to the Papagayo steakhouse where Kelly and I both ordered the surf and turf. When our plates arrive, we each had two 6 ounce steak fillets and 4 good sized shrimp, plus sides. Kelly couldn’t even start her second steak. An impressive plate for $20 each, but perhaps a little overkill. If you’re coming to Costa Rica, be prepared for some huge portion sizes. It’s rare that we finish a meal here.

The following day, we arrived at the beach to find a group of 10 people waiting for the dive boat. Thankfully, three of them were headed to the Catalina Islands on the alternate boat and two of the others were doing courses so it was just five of us fun diving together, perfect. We drove a little farther out to sea than the previous day to a site called ‘Virador’. Jumping in, we found that the visibility had worsened considerably since the previous day to 10m at the most. Much the same as the day before, puffers, rays, moray eels, and skate. Just much harder to photograph and find.

Our final dive was at Punta Argentina again, but began a little further east at ‘La Cruz’. Again, with the limited visibility we saw much the same as the day before, just less of it. Kelly did come across an octopus wedged deep in-between two boulders, but he wasn’t interested in posing for us.

That evening, we went to La Dolce Vita for another pizza and watched the Super Bowl (and a Canadian expat at the next table losing $500). Go Saints!

The following day we checked out and walked to the bus stop for the 3 hour trip home. On our way there, we saw a sign at a tourist info center that would arrange $20 shuttle transfers to Tamarindo every hour. What sounded like a great deal and would have saved us 2 hours was too good to be true. After waiting for the owner to show up for an hour (Ah, tico time… Pura vida!) and missing the 9AM bus, we left to catch the 10AM bus back to Tamarindo via Liberia.

All in all, we had 4 very nice dives with some larger ocean life at Playas del Coco. The lack of macro life is unfortunate and with the widely varying visibility and higher costs, the diving in Costa Rica has been a little hit and miss. But I’m glad we had the opportunity to get back in the water and it’s added to my anticipation for diving in Roatan, Honduras on the Caribbean side of Central America where we’ll be moving in a few short weeks.



Posted by: Shim

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