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.
Plan and Book Your Trip to the Maldives
At Coco’s Island, every dive is a shark dive. Hammerheads by the hundreds, mighty tiger sharks, imposing whale sharks, dolphins, mantas and more. It’s the ultimate destination for oceanic pelagic enthusiasts.
Coco’s Island in Pictures
A collection of photos of Coco’s Island both over and underwater.
Marine Life in Coco’s Island
The island is famed for its large schools of hammerhead sharks. There are multiple dive sites where you can see them, both swimming gently in the blue and nice and close near the reef.
For me, even more exciting are the tiger sharks populating the waters around Coco’s Island. These large macro predators are a common sight around the tiny satellite island of Manuelita. As if that is not enough, whitetip sharks are numerous, as are Galapagos sharks; and there is a decent chance of seeing whale sharks and dolphins on a dive.
Coco’s Island and its surroundings are also home to rays; on many dives, you’ll see big stingrays gliding freely around the reef and, if you’re lucky, manta, mobula and eagle rays too.
The health of the ecosystem and the rich and extensive reefs in this diving paradise attract big schools of bigeye trevallies, blue striped snappers, and other big fish – and that’s why the big guys are here.
As a rule, the dive sites are vibrant with life and action and more than a few surprises await you.
Dive Conditions in Coco’s Island
Alone in the deep Pacific Ocean, about 550 km (375 miles) southwest of the coast of Costa Rica, Coco’s Island has no protection from the coast and is subject to oceanic counter currents and changeable weather conditions.
These can cause rough seas with big swell and reduced visibility. Though not always the case – you could have a week of sunshine, calm waters and perfect visibility – the unpredictability of the environment and the depth of the dive sites make Coco’s Island a dive destination recommended only for experienced divers.
Don’t expect colorful reefs and white sandy beaches. Coco’s Island is a volcanic island emerging from the ocean, with steep walls, huge submerged rocks, and a few hard corals. Above water, the land is mountainous with rainforests and the climate is humid and tropical.
Because of its remote location and National Park status, the only way to visit and dive Coco’s Island is on a dive liveaboard.
Single dives are carried out by pangas, or skifts, that take a maximum of 11 divers per boat.
Currently, there are two dive companies operating two liveaboards each. The Aggressor Fleet with the Okeanos I and II, and the Undersea Hunter Fleet with the Argo and the Sea Hunter.
Best Time to Dive Coco’s Island
Coco’s Island’s tropical nature means that there is a wet season (June to November) and a dry season (December to May).
The best time to dive Coco’s Island is between June and November. Although this is the wet season, which means more rain and rougher seas, it’s the time to see the most marine life, with a better chance of close encounters. During this season, water temperature is a steady 25 C (77 F), although there are thermoclines that can reduce the water temp down to 19 C (66 F). Air temperature ranges from 22 to 30 C (71 to 86 F) and rainfall can be expected, especially in July through September. Visibility is between 20-30m (65-100 ft) depending on the currents.
December to May is the dry season when seas are calmer and the sun shines most days. You’ll still see plenty of activity underwater but not as much as during the wet season. During this season water temperature is a steady 27 C (80 F), air temperature ranges from 23 to 32 C (73 to 89 F) and there is less rainfall. Visibility is between 20-30 m (60-100 ft) depending on the currents, but usually better than in the wet season.
Best Dive Sites in Coco’s Island
Coco’s Island is a small island and, as they’ll probably tell you during the first dive briefing, every dive is a shark dive. Nevertheless, there are some spots that stand out from the crowd.
Manuelita Island (Isla Manuelita)
By far the best place to see sharks, the dive site on the west of the island, Manuelita Deep (Manuelita Profundo), is known for brushing up against both hammerheads and tiger sharks, whereas the site on the east side, Manuelita Shallow (Manuelita Somero) is more common for trysts with tiger sharks.
One of the most famous dive sites around Coco’s Island, Alcyone is a pelagic fish extravaganza. Massive yellowfin tuna hunt bonitos in the blue, bigeye trevallies congregate in teeming schools while hammerhead, Galapagos and whitetip sharks patrol the reef. A real show and a dive you can’t miss.
Dirty Rock (Roca Sucia)
This is the place to see walls of hammerhead sharks swimming in the blue. We also spotted dolphins and schools of jackfish. Swim down to 30 meters, hide behind the rocks and wait for the spectacle to begin.
Another two excellent sites to see sharks. Dos Amigos Pequeña (Dos Amigos Small) and Dos Amigos Grande (Dos Amigos Big), are both cleaning stations for Galapagos sharks, giving you a good chance to see these impressive sharks close up.
How to Get to Coco’s Island
Coco’s Island is rather off the beaten track. It is uninhabited except for the park rangers, so the only way to dive there is by liveaboard. Liveaboards leave from Puntarenas on the Costa Rican Pacific Coast, about two hours from San Jose, the capital. San Jose is serviced by many international airlines.
Good to Know
Together with Galapagos and Malpelo it forms the well known hammerhead-triangle.
- Diving in the Hammerhead Triangle
- Diving in the Galapagos Islands – The Ultimate Guide
- Diving in Malpelo Island – The Ultimate Guide
- Diving with Hammerhead Sharks – The World’s Best Dive Sites
- Diving with Tiger Sharks – The World’s Best Dive Sites
- Diving with Whale Sharks – The World’s Best Dive Sites
- Diving with Manta Rays – The World’s Best Dive Sites
- Diving with Dolphins – The World’s Best Dive Sites