Often touted as one of Costa Rica’s best dive areas, Cano Island is all about world-class diving, snorkeling and whale watching. Protected as a biological reserve since 1978, the biodiversity in the area is astounding offering a variety of marine life for divers to marvel at. The area is famous for its excellent visibility and warm water and is thus the quintessential Costa Rican paradise both above and below the water.
Marine Life in Cano Island
Cano Island’s status as a biological reserve ensures that you’ll see a variety of ocean life from vibrant coral reefs to large pelagics.
Healthy coral reefs full of brain coral and sea fans are home to mollusks, lobsters, and giant conches. Often spotted on the dives around this island paradise are barracuda, tuna, turtles, rays, moray eel, parrot fish, giant grouper and schools of snapper, amberjack, and damsels. All this fish life attracts the heavyweights – reef sharks, mostly the ever-present whitetips.
Since it’s also a whale watching destination, humpback and pilot whales migrate through the area bi-annually and dolphins can also make an appearance. If you are really lucky, you may even see a manatee.
Hard and soft coral formations are prevalent but lack the vivid color of other regions.
Dive Conditions in Cano Island
Cano Island lies just 10 miles off the west coast of Costa Rica in the Pacific Ocean and is one of the country’s top diving destinations. With unbelievable visibility, enclosed reefs and abundant marine life, it is suitable for experienced and beginner divers alike, as well as snorkelers and non-divers which makes it a great family or group destination.
Outstanding visibility is attributed to the fact that it is far enough away from the mainland not to be affected by seasonal rains and the lack of development on the island itself.
Offering a variety of diving from shallow reefs to drift dives in strong currents, and plenty of rocky outcroppings and swim-throughs, there is something for everyone on Cano Island.
Because it’s protected and without accommodation, dive trips usually leave from Drake Bay or other areas in the Osa Peninsula. Alternatively, liveaboard diving is a great way to explore the area more thoroughly. Liveaboards usually depart from the port of Puntarenas on the West coast of Costa Rica.
Best Time to Dive in Cano Island
Cano Island is a tropical island in the Pacific Ocean with a rainy season from May to November, and a dry season from December to April.
The best time to dive Cano Island is from December to June. Since it is the dry season, diving conditions are ideal, especially for beginners. For more experienced divers who like big pelagic action, the rainy season may be preferable.
There are two seasons for migrating humpback whales. Southern Hemisphere humpback whales travel from Antarctica to Costa Rica from July to October and Northern hemisphere whales head to Central America from Alaska from the months of December to February. They often crossover in late October early November.
Temperatures in the rainy season tend to be cooler with rain falling mostly in the afternoon. In the dry season, the weather and conditions are ideal. Water temperatures are generally a comfortable 24 – 29°C (75 – 84°F) range, with some thermoclines at depth; while air temperature stays between 24 C (77 F) to 29 C (84 F)
Water visibility is well above average and the best in Costa Rica, ranging from 14m (45 ft.) to 30 m (100 ft.) depending on the site and the season.
Best Dive Sites in Cano Island
Most of the dive sites are off the North coast of the island.
Bajo del Diablo (Devil’s Pinnacle)
A deeper dive with stronger currents recommended for advanced dives, Bajo del Diablo is bursting with predators and prey alike. Reef sharks, Pacific mantas, mobula mantas, huge schools of big-eye jackfish, barracuda and numerous other fish life abound. Amazing underwater rock formations are also a feature of this dive site. You will see white tip sharks, nurse sharks, and even a wahoo or two. It is a large area and worth 2-3 dives. This is the top dive on Cano Island.
A shallow but beautiful dive site with rock arches to swim through that are packed with large schools of blue-striped snapper and other fish life. In the mild current the stingrays and reef sharks play and you can also spot moray eel, sea turtles and plenty of reef critters.
Also a shallow dive with mild current and generally easy conditions, there is an abundance of coral here as well as eel, shark, rays and schooling fish. White tips might grace you with their presence and it’s an excellent site for night dives.
The name suggests a shipwreck. Instead, you will come face to face with white tip sharks, southern stingrays, scorpion fish, turtles and large schools of jacks as you dive over the sandy bottom amongst the rock formations.
Shark Cave (Cueva del Tiburon)
An interesting site and the most relaxing dive in the area. An underwater shallow cave is home to some 10-15 white tip reef sharks. This site has very calm water and is close to the island. The nearby reef is buzzing with life, including butterfly fish, small snappers, moorish idols, surgeonfish and, occasionally, mantas and other rays.
How to Get to Cano Island
San Jose’s International Airport is a busy, well-connected airport about 368km from Drake Bay and 171km from Manuel Antonio. Cano Island is reachable from Drake Bay, Manuel Antonio, Uvita or Puntarenas on mainland Costa Rica. There are a number of diving centers that organize day trips from these places with Manuel Antonio being more developed that Drake Bay. Cano Island is about a 1-hour boat ride from Drake Bay, 1-and-a-half hours from Uvita and 12 hours from Puntarenas where the liveaboards leave from.
Good to Know
The park system limits the number of divers allowed here every day, and each must be registered in advance by the dive companies who take people here. The only accommodations on the island are a few campsites. During the pre-Columbian time, the island was a native cemetery. Artifacts such as carvings, pottery, and some mysterious stone spheres have been found there.