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Puntarenas is a gateway to Costa Rica’s best diving destinations like the magnificent Cocos Island, Nicoya Peninsula, Manuel Antonio and Caño Island.

Highlights

Hammerheads at Cocos Island

Remote Cocos Island is renowned for its Hammerhead Shark diving. Adventurous divers sail to this Pacific Ocean rock for the dive trip of a lifetime.

Marine Mammals at Caño Island

The pinnacles surrounding this island attract a number of larger marine species, including Manta Rays, Dolphins, Orcas, Humpbacks and Pilot Whales.

The Wrecks of Tortuga Islands

The Franklin Chang, Colonel Alfonso Monge, and the Caroline Star are all waiting to be explored within recreational limits along the Pacific coast.

Giant Manta Rays at The Island

Herradura’s premier underwater attraction, Giant Oceanic Manta Rays come to The Island to be cleaned by reef fish between December and May each year.

Diving in Puntarenas

Quick facts

Puntarenas can refer to both the city of Puntarenas and the province of Puntarenas. For the purpose of this article, we will discuss the scuba diving throughout the province of Puntarenas which ranges from the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula along the Pacific Coast to the border with Panama.

Don’t expect to find pristine coral reefs here. Diving in the Pacific Ocean of Costa Rica is different but equally exciting. Here you’ll find boulders, caves and arches left over from the volcanic origins of the area as well as a few wrecks. These plankton-rich waters attract a number of pelagic species, the highlight of diving in the area.

Most diving in Puntarenas will be carried out by small speedboat. Shore diving is almost non-existent. However, liveaboard cruises are a popular option. Destinations for these boats include Cocos Island (341 miles/550 km from Puntarenas), Isla del Cano and the Tortuga Islands.

Do keep in mind that many of the dive sites offshore from Puntarenas should only be attempted by advanced divers as currents are quite strong. However, many of the protected bays throughout the province offer great beginner dives and training opportunities.

As a final note, you’ll want to take out divers’ insurance before any liveaboard trip from Puntarenas. The nearest decompression chamber is back in San Jose, a 36-hour boat ride from Cocos Island.

When to go

Generally, December to April is preferred by most scuba divers. However, those traveling to Cocos Island should book their trip from May to November.

May to November

May to November is considered rainy season. Visitors can expect one to two hours of rainfall in the mid-afternoon during these months.

The rainy season is the best time to go if you’re an advanced diver who likes pelagic action. During these months, nutrient swells attract pelagic species closer to shore and Hammerhead Sharks to Cocos Island. These plankton blooms and river runoff decrease visibility at this time.

As an added benefit, fewer tourists arrive during rainy season, making this the low season. You’re likely to find the best deals on flights and accommodation during these months.

December to April

Advanced divers should head to Mona Island or the walls of the south coast. Beginners will be most comfortable with the shore dives in the east.

Rain and temperature

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Water temperature

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Where to dive

Advanced divers will want to explore Cocos Island and Cano Island as well as many of the pinnacles in Herradura. Beginners should stay close to shore.

    Snorkeling in Puntarenas

    Often snorkeling throughout Puntarenas province is not recommended. This is because surface visibility can be terrible. However, if you still want to give it a try, Cano Island is your best possibility here. Decent visibility, weak current and large animals make it rather remarkable for topside spotters. Otherwise, take a full day snorkeling tour of the Tortuga Islands.
    Between Herradura, Cocos Island, Cano Island and Manuel Antonio National Park, there are plenty of dive sites to explore in Puntarenas Province. Of all the sites, Bajo Alcyone at Cocos Island is the most popular. Here you’ll find a seamount with its summit at 85 feet (25 meters) along with dozens of hammerhead sharks, manta rays and mobula rays. Because of its heavy currents, this site should be attempted by advanced divers only. The Island at Herradura is another favorite among advanced divers. The cleaning station for Giant Oceanic Manta Rays lies just under this strip of land which forms an island at high tide. You also have a good chance of spotting whitetip reef sharks around The Island. Finally, Cano Island has 6 dive sites, all between 50 and 65 feet (15 and 20 meters). Here you’ll find bull sharks and reef sharks. Sometimes whales even appear!

    What to see

    Diving Costa Rica is bound to be a highlight for many divers as the array and quantity of large marine life to see is astounding. Plankton rich waters bring visits from giant oceanic manta rays, schools of mobula rays as well as placid whale sharks. At Cocos Island and sometimes off the Nicoya Peninsula, scalloped hammerhead sharks gather in droves, and at Cocos Island especially, they are usually joined by great numbers of silky sharks.

    Stingrays of many types can be seen out here as well as eagle rays. Schooling fish are usually grunts or trevally and they occur in the hundreds. Other sharks to see off the coast of Puntarenas are whitetip sharks, and the occasional bull shark. Sea turtles are also frequently seen and amongst the reefs and pinnacles are colorful parrotfish, moray eels, groupers, angelfish and others. The Pacific coast off Puntarenas is a favorite route for marine mammals migrating from the Southern Hemisphere so do look out for humpback whales and pilot whales during winter. Otherwise, there are pods of dolphins to enjoy year-round and maybe orca too.

    Calendar

    For better readability of the table, pass into the landscape mode.

    Most likely sightingsPossible sightings

    Area

    Along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica is the little port city of Puntarenas with a small population of 100,000 people. It is part of the Province of Puntarenas, the largest province in Costa Rica. Puntarenas as a port city only grew in prominence in the 19th century. It was then a major hub for coffee trade and also declared as a duty-free port. In the 20th century, the port facilities got old and a new port was built to the south of Puntarenas and called the Port of Caldera.

    Today, Puntarenas is no longer a trading hub but a tourist hub and its refurbished port is instead visited by cruise ships. Many tourists come to Puntarenas to connect to other destinations along the Pacific coast like the Nicoya Peninsula to the north and Caño Island to the south and the many great beaches, islands and nature reserves in-between. Puntarenas is also the pickup point for liveaboard diving vessels making the long journey to majestic Cocos Island.

    Other attractions

    Enjoy beaches in Puntarenas or anywhere to the north and south of the port city. Surfers will be spoilt for choice here with the Pacific coast offering world-class surfing. Inland, trek dense jungles and hike up mountainous areas for a beautiful view of the coast. There are plenty of waterfalls to find as well as wildlife tours to enjoy. Adventure sports are also a popular choice. You can choose from river rafting, ziplining or horseback riding. No matter where you find yourself, you’ll want to plan at least a day to lay back, relax and enjoy the Costa Rican scenery.

    Getting there

    The closest international airport to Puntarenas is Juan Santamaria Airport in San José. From the airport, you’ll need to take ground transport to your destination in Puntarenas. The journey is about an hour and a half, but distances vary as Puntarenas is a very large province. Once you’ve reached your holiday destination of choice, you can use buses, taxis or rental cars to travel from point A to point B.

    UTC-06:00

    Time zone

    CRC

    Currency

    +506

    Calling code

    120 V

    Electric volt

    A, 

    B

    Plug type

    Spanish; Castilian

    Languages

    SJO

    Main airport
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