After several hiking and snorkeling excursions with friends over the past 15 years to the Isla del Caño, a biological reserve located about 20 kilometers offshore from Drake Bay, I finally obtained my PADI Open Water Diving Certification this past November. Some called me crazy – my husband told me it was an acceptable midlife crisis – but it has allowed me to discover an entire new world in the depths of the sea that has sparked magical adventures and cravings in my soul.
Isla del Caño offers four key dive sites ranging from beginner to advanced with depths of up to 130 feet. Unlike shallow coral reefs, the region allows you to discover many pelagic species, which are large fish that travel long distances, such as sharks, tuna, jacks, marlin, sailfish and dorado.
My first dive at Isla del Caño was at a site known as El Arco, or the arch, with my dive instructor from Divingmania. Our dive team saw at least six whitetip sharks that day, lying quietly in the sandy bottom. Just before surfacing, we passed over the top of a large rock formation and came upon three large sharks swimming in circles. One broke the circle and swam right at me, though slightly below. I took in a slow deep breath and bent my knees, as he swam peacefully under my raised fins into the distance. I was so thrilled with my first shark encounter in this new world that I forgot to take a picture.
Francesco Nistri, owner of Divingmania, with more than 6400 logged dives and 20 years of experience diving Isla del Caño states, “This is considered to be mainland Costa Rica's finest diving spot, and certainly one of my favorites.”
Nistri explained that not only do the waters surrounding the island contain some of the most abundant and varied marine life in the world, but the island also possesses several pre-Columbian archaeological artifacts including an indigenous cemetery. University of Costa Rica studies believe that Isla del Caño was an important place for cultural exchange along the Pacific coast.
The island is one of the few great dive spots that allows divers to visit accompanied by non-diver friends and family thanks to the variety of adventures to be had on and around the island. Hikes are available, while snorkeling within 50 feet of the beach offers schools of brilliantly colored tropical fish, coral species, sea turtles, and if you are lucky, baby whitetip sharks.
On boat trips to Caño, I have seen orcas, pilot whales, humpbacks and false orcas along with large pods of dolphins and numerous sea turtles. On my last trip to the Bajo del Diablo dive site with Dive Master Eric Murillo of Pirate Cove, we dove an enormous rock outcropping covered in white sea fans waving slowly in the current, creating the appearance of a gigantic fluttering wedding cake. We also swam along a 130-foot deep canyon, and found ourselves in the middle of more than one thousand yellow-finned tuna that allowed us lingered among the giant school. Isla del Caño offers visitors unique encounters with marine life, onshore vegetation and wildlife, ancient history and a day of sand and sun – depending on the caliber of adventure you seek.
Isla del Caño dive sites:
Cueva del Tiburón
Skill level: Beginner
"Shark Cave" is literally a cave where whitetip sharks live. The dive site is mixed sand with large rock formations and offers moray eels, sea turtles, reef fish, sea horses, octopus and more.
Skill level: Advanced
Located outside of the Caño reserve, this underwater “paradise” is home to enormous schools of blue and gold snappers, barracudas, amber jacks, horse-eyed jacks, parrot fish, the occasional stingray, and garden eels. The site consists of five rock formations covered with invertebrates including sea fans, corals and sponges.
Skill level: Beginner
At a depth of about 60 feet, you can pass through a giant arch (about 15' high and 7' wide) where you will see schools of grunts, porkfish and often the zebra moray eel. Whitetip sharks, rays, reef fish, and other species can also be found.
Bajo del Diablo
Skill level: Beginner-Advanced (depending on currents)
This site is has large rock outcroppings with two deep canyons that reach 130 feet deep to a sandy floor where you can see bottom dweller fish like the rock mover wrasse. Also expect whitetip reef sharks, occasional bull and whale sharks, devil rays (which give the site its name), manta rays with wing spans up to 20 feet, large schools of Pacific barracudas and black snappers up to 40 pounds.
Information provided by Francesco Nistri, Divingmania.net
PADI Certified Dive Centers:
Pirate Cove S-20297
Drake Bay, Osa Peninsula
representing Caño Divers - www.canodiverscostarica.com
Costa Rica Adventure Divers S-13673
Jinetes de Osa Hotel, Drake Bay
Mad About Diving S-20881
Plaza Los Delfines, Ojochal (tours depart from Uvita)
(506) 2743 8019
DivingMania Dive Center S-18273
Rohmoser, San Jose