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Costa Rica - Flag

Cocos Island
Isla Del Coco - Costa Rica

Expedition Corner | Photo GallerySunset over Manuelita

In 1997, we completed one of our most memorable expeditions we have ever been on. This expedition was to the fabled and mysterious Isla Del Coco ( Cocos Island ). Cocos Island is a protected national park belonging to the nation of Costa Rica in Central America and is considered one of the 10 best dive sites in the world.

We would like to try to set the proper mood of our expedition to Cocos Island by reading a paragraph of a magazine article we wrote about this place:

It was raining again. Not a light, springtime rain filling the air with the sweet fragrances of wildflowers but a heavy, earthy rain that permeates everything and drenches you in continual torrents of falling water. We had just surfaced from our final dive of the expedition and, rising and falling in the large, windblown swells, we patiently waited for the zodiac to retrieve us. With the Okeanos Aggressor in front of us in the distance, and the prehistoric Cocos Island behind us, we reflected upon the events of the past week…

Cocos Island is a long way away... both in distance and in time. This small island lies some 373 miles (600km) offshore in the Pacific Ocean. Be prepared…the trip to Cocos takes about 35 hours by boat from the port city of Puntareanas. This is the open Pacific. While some crossings experience calm water, not everyone is so lucky. To be perfectly frank, it can be rough. Make sure you begin taking your motion sickness medicine well in advance of your departure from Puntarenas.

Location of Cocos Island with respect to Costa Rica
Diving locations around Cocos Island

The island is uninhabited and the only permanent residents are a few park Rangers that live in a small dwelling at Chatham Bay. Cocos is approximately 4 miles long by two miles wide and its highest peak, known as Mt. Iglesias, rises a little over 1600 feet from sea level. The Island lies in a section of the world known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone. This is an area where weather patterns from both hemispheres converge near the equator. The north and southeast trade winds meet the north and south equatorial currents here, and this combination helps to create a very humid environment. It rains a lot on Cocos. I mean a lot. On average, the island receives between 18 and 24 feet of rain a year!! It is a rare day at Cocos when visitors are not greeted with some form of rainfall.

Because of all the rain, the island has somewhere close to 200 waterfalls! In fact, everywhere you look along the shore, you can easily spot these beautiful streams tumbling into the ocean along the steep sides of the island. However, despite all of this rain, the surrounding water does not get cloudy and visibility is generally good in the area. If you are planning a trip, the driest season is from January to April. The wettest season runs from June-December. This rain drenched, fog shrouded island is steeped in mystery and adventure…it is rumored that deep within its dense, overgrown jungles lies a fortune in pirate’s treasure!

It is widely believed that the Island was first discovered between 1514 and 1542 and was originally named Santa Cruz. During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, many Spanish Galleons transporting riches of gold and jewels back to Europe were intercepted and looted by pirates. Since Cocos was so isolated, it became an ideal place for pirates such as Edward Davis, Benito Bonito and William Thompson to unload their loot and stock up on supplies. The island was renamed "Cocos Island" in the 17th century because of the abundance of coconut palm trees by visiting pirates. It is even rumored that the great treasure of Lima is buried somewhere on this island.

Now, there have been 300 or more treasure seeking expeditions to this island, including one organized by Teddy Roosevelt and none have been successful! And today, the government of Costa Rica refuses to issue any more permits for treasure hunting on the island. Despite all these past treasure seeking expeditions, the real treasure of Cocos Island, however, is in its magnificent flora, fauna and underwater marine life. The flora of Cocos consists of about 155 vascular and 48 nonvascular plants, of which about 15% are endemic. There are several foot trails on the Island that allow visitors to penetrate the enchanting forests of giant, moss-draped trees, dripping bromeliads, colossal tree ferns, svelte palms and tangled vines.

The origin of its fauna is mainly eastern Pacific, Galapagos and Central American mainland. The 32 species of corals which make up Cocos coral reefs are of Indo Pacific origin and very few species are related to the Atlantic-Caribbean province. At least 60 species of animals are endemic to the island. Unfortunately, several of these animals are on the endangered species list.

It has been reported that the island has over 362 species of insects and arthropods (64 are endemic), 300 species of saltwater fish, 5 species of freshwater fish, 57 crustaceans, over 500 of sea mollusks, and two species of endemic reptiles have also been identified (anolis lizard Norops townsendii and gecko Sphaerodactylus pacificus). Eighty-seven species of birds have been identified, including three that are endemic: the Cocos Island Flycatcher, (Nesotricus ridgwayi). Cocos Island Finch, (Pinaroloxias inornata) and the Cocos Island Cuckoo (Cocyzus ferrugineus). One of the most beautiful of all the birds that visit the island for nesting is the "Espíritu Santo" (White Tern) a small white species which often hovers in the air just a few feet above one's head, totally unafraid of visitors. Fortunately, the rough jagged terrain and the islands remoteness have inhibited the establishment of permanent settlements therefore avoiding the destruction of the natural flora and fauna.

"Okeanos Aggressor" - Anchored in Chatham BaySince the island is so remote, the most practical way to visit this wonderful place is by live-aboard boats. Live-aboards provide all the comforts that any person would ever need during these one week-long excursions. Because there are no overnight facilities for visitors on the island, guests must eat and sleep aboard the vessel. In most cases, live-aboards take shelter in protected harbors at night to give passengers a calm and peaceful evening. Only two bays, Chatham and Wafer are considered safe for anchorage, both are found on the northern (leeward side) of the island. During our stay, the mothership ( Okeanos ) anchored every night at Chatham Bay and on occasion during the day as well. This gave divers the opportunity to spend some of their surface interval time exploring the shores of Chatham Bay where various rocks and boulders bear the carvings of passing travelers. In the 1980s, a Cousteau team aboard the vessel Alcyone carved their symbol into one of the rocks. Chatham Bay also offers visitors a chance to marvel at numerous waterfalls as well as witness breathtaking sunsets over Manuelita.

Hammerheads SchoolingManuelita is a small island on the North side of Cocos. Here, you can make night dives on the eastern side of the island because the waters are protected and the diving easier. The western side is often done as a drift dive and the depths can reach 150 feet or more. It is here that we encountered large packs of the White-tip reef sharks.

The island is actually the top of an undersea mountain rising from the deep surrounding waters of the Pacific. Swift currents flow around the island, including deep water currents that collide with the base of the mountain and rise to the surface, bringing cold, nutrient rich water from the deep to the surface. This is the secret to the magnificent gatherings of marine life that we see at Cocos. 7 days of diving here brought us face to face with large Eagle Rays and Manta Rays, roving packs of White-tip Reef Sharks, Sea Turtles and the famous Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks. On several dives, we encountered schools of Jacks so dense they blocked out the sun!                                                            

As we said earlier, you can only visit Cocos by live-aboard boat and there are only a few vessels who can make this demanding trip. The Sea Hunter and Undersea Hunter are two such vessels, along with the Okeanos Aggressor. Our adventure was aboard the comfortable and sturdy Okeanos Aggressor. This 120 foot, ocean going live-aboard dive boat is the perfect vessel to provide passengers with a safe and secure base of operations while negotiating the treacherous Pacific Ocean swells. Although it is live-aboard diving, it is not the typical live-aboard where you can dive anytime you want. The diving is generally more organized here…three dives during the day and a night dive most nights. The diving is all done from skiffs and Zodiacs that depart the main vessel and take small groups of divers out to the dive sites.

Cocos Island Dive Schedule (14 divers max.)
June 18, 2010 - 11 available spaces
Please contact us for more information


US$4,695 for 11 days/10 nights. Includes all meals, all non-alcoholic drinks, Divemaster service, 3-4 dives per day with all Nitrox fills, tanks and weights. Nine Days of ACTION PACKED DIVING. Does not include national park fees $245, transportation fee $60, airport departure tax $26.

Dive Vessel
MV Undersea Hunter
MV Undersea Hunter

The Undersea Hunter is 115 feet of live-aboard comfort and convenience. It is a dedicated modern dive cruiser that has been specifically built for long-range dive expeditions to destinations like Cocos Island and Malpelo. A former commercial dive support vessel, she was robustly built in 1980 to serve the oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1994 the current owners purchased the Undersea Hunter and through eight months of extensive renovation and refurbishing, turned the boat into the striking vessel she is today. A superbly comfortable, stable and spacious vessel with everything a serious diver/photographer could wish. She is now a rare hybrid that combines the large working platform and powerful machinery of a functional workboat, with the comfortable and functional interior of a modern luxury yacht.

The boat and her crew specialize in providing excellence in service, food, and underwater excitement. She has eight cabins for a total capacity of 18 passengers, all with private bath. Dive facilities are extremely well designed with individual gear storage, private camera/strobe storage shelves including individual 110-volt AC power, and a private dryer for clients' towels and bathing suits. Her spacious layout and user friendliness has introduced divers, as well as underwater professionals (photographers & cinematographers) to an entirely new concept in live-aboard.

Expedition Map

Expedition Map

DAN Diving Insurance (accident & trip protection) is highly recommended for all divers... 

Remember that you are a long way from land. The nearest decompression chamber is in Roatan, Honduras and is at least a day and half away by boat. This means that you should be very conservative with your profiles. We chose to make three dives a day and a night dive every other night, giving our bodies a rest every other day. It is a journey of discovery and truthfully, the diving at Cocos is not for the beginner diver. The waters here have large swells, swift currents and strong surge. We've already described the weather…it can be stormy. And the diving is often deep (sometimes in excess of 100 feet).

We did not limit our explorations to the underwater realm, however. Feeling like a Navy SEAL Team we setoff on a quest to discover the mysteries of the island. After negotiating landfall amid large waves and a very rocky (really boulders) shore, we journeyed upriver into the jungle to witness the awesome power of one of Coco’ majestic waterfalls. The first thing I would tell you is that the island is covered with very dense foliage. And the constant rain and running water makes the ground very wet and muddy…and the traction difficult, but seeing this 200ft thundering waterfall up close and personal was worth the ordeal.

I have described the Island of Cocos as honestly as I can without sugar coating the difficult parts. Without doubt, it is an arduous journey to get there. It takes time and energy. And the diving is not easy. Sometimes, you may find yourself bobbing in the water riding the swells in a torrential downpour while you wait for a zodiac that you can's see to show up. It can be disconcerting to some. But the rewards are worth it. The diving is truly spectacular. The marine life is unparalleled in the world in terms of big animals and quantities of fish..

To learn more about this adventure, look for our magazine article in Advanced Diver Magazine (issue 6) called "Journey Beneath Jurassic Park - Cocos Island"

Click for San Jose, Costa Rica Forecast

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Tour Operator

Great White Adventures (GWA) is one of the best expedition groups you can travel with if you are planning to visit Cocos Island. GWA is an organization that promotes conservation and protection of the marine environment while providing adventurers with a rewarding and educational experience. Great White Adventures as well as Eco-Photo Explorers believe that education and enjoyment of our environment is the key to its protection. We all hope you will come away from your adventure with a new found respect and appreciation of the ocean and all of its inhabitants.

We have traveled with Great White Adventures on multiple trips and highly recommend their operation. GWA is slowly changing their name to "Shark Diving International (SDI)" because they are now providing shark diving trips that span the world. They have an unblemished safety record which is priority number one, an extremely professional and experienced crew, as well as having the best shark cages we have ever been in to date. You will not be disappointed.

Great White Adventures (GWA)Shark Diving International (SDI)


Available Program
View Schedule

Come and see our multimedia presentation called, "Cocos: Journey to Jurassic Park" which premiered for the first time at Beneath the Sea. If you're interested in booking this program, please contact us via email or use our Online Program Request Form.

Running time: 90 minutes
Audience: Families
Program Number: DP15

Published Articles (2000, 2004)

Link to Advanced Diver Magazine Link to Dive New Zealand Magazine

IMAX MovieIsland of the Sharks

"Island of the Sharks" IMAX® allows you to dive with manta rays, barracudas, giant sea turtles, porpoises and witness hundreds of sharks as they swim past you on the giant IMAX® screen. IMAX Corporation has been the world leader in the development of entertainment technology, creating an experience that's Bigger than Your Imagination.

Produced by NOVA/WGBH Boston and Howard Hall Productions in association with The New England Aquarium.


Available Books, Music & Videos

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Diving & Snorkeling Guide to Cocos Island
by Lucy Agace

Expedition Corner | Photo Gallery

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Last Modified: December 26, 2011

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