Guanacaste and Bat Island diving are dream dive destinations offering uncrowded dive sites and plenty to see including manta rays, sharks, and schooling fish in great conditions. At Bat Island, there is an excellent chance to see bull sharks.
Marine Life in Guanacaste
The stunning underwater topography in this area makes for interesting and exciting diving. Congregating around the pinnacles you will encounter many species of tropical fish, manta, turtles, eels and pelagic fish. Bat Island is known for coming across the mighty bull shark. These agile predators are a sight to behold.
Other species that you can see in these waters are cortez angelfish, parrotfish, spotted eagle rays, hogfish, and other tropical species. Brain coral is also quite common in this area as it is all along the Pacific coast.
Migrating humpback whales also make their way through this area from July to March. They are a common sight off the coast of Papagayo, Playa del Coco, Tamarindo, and other beaches.
The diversity of marine life in the area will astound. Not only the big fish life but the critters on the reef too.
Dive Conditions in Guanacaste
Guanacaste is a northern province of Costa Rica on the Pacific West coast. The north part of the province is dominated by the Papagayo Bay, a tranquil resort area that makes a good base for diving. Dive conditions are generally good and suitable for beginners along the entire coastline of Guanacaste and an excellent place to learn to dive.
Bat Island and the Catalina Island are recommended for advanced divers as visibility is lower and there can be strong currents. Because of the position of these islands, you can encounter rougher seas, swell and reduced visibility, though this is not always the case.
Two tank dives are carried out by speedboats from the diving centers dotted along the coast. Alternatively, you can visit the area by liveaboard exploring the coast of Guanacaste, as well as the Bat and Catalina Islands
Best Time to Dive Guanacaste
There are essentially two seasons, the wet season from May to October with daily showers and moderate air temperature, and the dry season from November to April when there is little rain. Guanacaste is considerably cooler than other provinces in the country being at a higher altitude.
The best time to dive Guanacaste depends on what you are looking for. June through September offers the best visibility and warmer waters with reef fish and macro life, whereas December through March has cooler waters but larger marine life including pelagics that come to feed of the nutrient swell in the cooler months and shark that come to feed off them, specifically the bull shark at Bat Island.
Water temperature ranges from 26 C (78 F) to 29 C (84 F). December through March can bring cooler temperatures as low as 19 C (66 F) with some thermoclines at depth that are even cooler.
Air temperature is a little cooler than in the rest of Costa Rica because of the altitude. Generally 27°C (82°F) in winter and 33°C (92°F) in summer.
Visibility is excellent and can get up to 30m+ (98 ft+)in the dry season.
Best Dive Sites in Guanacaste
Guanacaste’s miles and miles of remote coastline ensure a variety of dive spots that are generally uncrowded. The underwater topography is made up of volcanic formations like arches, caverns, and tunnels. Here are some of the best.
The Catalinas are a group of rocky islets 2 to 15 miles off the northwest coast of Costa Rica. One of the best dive spots in Costa Rica, you have a good chance of seeing the pacific giant manta as well as big pelagics and other fish life. Occasionally whale shark and orca are seen in the area too and more often humpback whales and dolphins.
Bat Island (Isla Murcielagos)
Bat Island is all about bull sharks. Located about 45 minutes by boat from Playa Ocotal on the mainland, the area has been protected as a marine preserve by the country as part of the national park and is a premier diving area.
The depth and strong current around these islands make them accessible to advanced divers only. In this area, you can also see pacific manta and schools of the smaller devil ray and a myriad of other fish species.
Playa del Coco
One of the best scuba diving areas in Guanacaste is Playa del Coco, located in the north of the Nicoya Peninsula. Playa del Coco offer the best of both worlds: access to world-class diving as well as great beaches and other activities. There are many dive sites accessible from here.
Tortuga Island has a number of excellent dive sites, especially for wreck lovers. Schools of fish, pufferfish, turtles, stingrays and white tip reef sharks, are found in abundance at the dive sites here. For the wreck divers, there are three wrecks here – the Franklin Chang, Colonel Alfonso Monge, and the Caroline Star.
How to Get to Guanacaste
The province capital, Liberia, is central to the major destinations and has an international airport serviced by both domestic flights from San Jose airport and international flights from North America and Europe. You can get to Bat Island by speedboat or on a liveaboard trip. Most liveaboards depart from the port of Puntarenas, which is a 90-minute transfer from the capital San Jose.
Good to Know
Guanacaste is the least populated of all the provinces of Costa Rica and its nature above ground is just as impressive as under the water. The province is named for the Guanacaste tree, also known as the ear pod tree, which is the national tree of Costa Rica. It is UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A$ 15 fee is required for anyone wishing to dive in Costa Rica’s National Marine Parks.