It was day two after Mom and Dad’s arrival in Costa Rica for a short vacation and we decided to hit the water with Summer Salt Dive Center for a day of diving at the Catalina Islands.
The Catalina Islands is a collection of 20 outcroppings and islands formed by volcanic activity. They are considered one of the best dive sites in Costa Rica and can be found about 3-24 kilometers off the Nicoya peninsula. Strong currents and a fantastic ecosystem make this site a favorite for large schools of fish and different species of rays.
Joey and I were actually slightly nervous to head back out on the water less than two weeks after our Bat Island dive. Our last venture out on the Pacific had been a nauseating one, and we were worried that our episode of sea sickness would come back. I don’t think I could handle another day of almost non-stop puking so quickly after the last.
As always, Mom was looking out for us and had brought some motion sickness patches that we would don behind our ear for the day of diving. Unlike a gravol tablet, which helps nausea at the price of making you very sleepy, the motion sickness patch kept the seasickness at bay and enabled us to dive in a safe and alert manner.
We woke up at 6AM, an ungodly time of day. The sky was a faded blue and we hadn’t even heard the rooster’s crow from surrounding farms. By 7AM we met the Summer Salt crew at the dive shop and boarded the boat for a 45 minute ride to the Catalina Islands. Elated that our motion sickness patches were working like a charm, we jumped into the Pacific and dropped to 40 feet to start our dive.
Colorful fish, octopi and stingrays eyed us suspiciously as we entered their domain. Piles of porous black lava rock took shape on the bottom and has the occasional aggregation of coral and algae growth on it. As we descended deeper we hit a woopingly cold thermocline. The cold water pierced through our wetsuits giving me goosebumps and making me shiver.
I spend most of the dive playing detective Nancy Drew and finding every little creature I could and showing it to my dad. I found a little snowflake moray that had made a den in the crevasse of some rocks. When I approached, it recoiled and reared its fangs. In moray language it was code for get the heck away from me.
A couple of times a white tip shark cruised through the water just at the edge of our vision. Unfortunately the shark swam by too quickly and was a little too far to estimate its size. Our divemaster Carlos, also found a teeny tiny yellow sea horse anchored on some soft coral swaying in the ebb and flow of the current. It was a first for me; I had never seen a seahorse in the wild before.
Similarly to the Bat Islands dive, Joey and I had done a few weeks before, schools of grunts came pouring out of nowhere and encircled us. Left, right, front and back, everywhere I looked their silver and yellow bodies filled my field of vision. They were close enough that I could see every nick and scale missing on their body but they danced just out of my reach.
Dad used his air up faster than everyone so he had to surface early. At 900 psi Joey and I made our way to the surface after first making a 15 foot safety stop.
In total Dad, Joey and I spent 150 minutes underwater split over three dives and it was pure bliss. More than just a dive site sporting the same name as salad dressing, the Catalina Islands are home to marine wildlife big and small, of which we only got a glimpse at some of its inhabitants.
Cost: The price to make your way to the Catalina Islands is not as expensive as it’s counterpart the Bat Islands, but don’t get me wrong it’s still a pretty penny. For two dives with tanks, weights, snacks and a bilingual guide the price is $115.00 USD. If you’re looking for more bottom time $145.00 USD will get you three dives with tanks, weights, snacks and a bilingual guide. Additional scuba diving equipment is an extra $25.00 USD day rental fee.
Seasonality: Scuba diving the Catalina Islands is available all year round and the water temperature stays more or less the same. The visibility is ideal from September to March (try to avoid diving right after rainy days). These months are also the best times to spot whale sharks, tiger sharks, killer whales, humpback whales, pilot whales, and spinner dolphins. The big draw to this Costa Rican island chain is for diving with manta rays. To give yourself the best chance of sighting rays stop in between the months of January and March.
Restrictions: Diving the Catalina Islands is a challenging dive due to currents and bathymetry making it impossible to anchor the dive boat. As such most of the dives are deep drift dives and are reserved for Advanced Open Water divers only
Companies: In and around the touristic town of Playa del Coco there are lots of dive companies to choose from each with its own pro’s and con’s. We went with Summer Salt Dive Center and were very happy with the quality of the service we received. When in doubt speak with a reputable tourism agency for advice on which one you should select.
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