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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Rechargeable Ikelite NiMH battery pack compatible with Ikelite’s DS125, DS160, and DS161 strobes.
Suunto Vyper Novo wrist scuba diving computer with USB
Ikelite compact ball arm for quick release handle
GoPro dual battery charger conveniently charges two HERO6 Black, HERO5 Black, or HERO camera batteries simultaneously
13-inch inflatable dive buoy with a 12 by 11-inch scuba diving flag surface marker
Compact underwater scuba diving hand reel with a 150ft of white line on the spool
SHOOT 6″ Underwater Dome Port for GoPro Hero 6/Hero 5/Hero(2018) Black Camera Diving Lens Hood Housing Photography with Waterproof Case Accessories
Ikelite photography strobe DS161 with NiMH rechargeable battery pack
Compact scuba diving finger spool with 150ft of white line and a 4-inch brass double-ended clip
Black scuba diving turtle fins
GoPro HERO6 Black Camera
Bare 5mm evoke women’s full suit designed by Bare’s all-female design team. The suit has technically, innovative celliant infrared technology which increase circulation, body warmth and performance.
Bare Sports 5mm men’s wetsuit made with elastek full-stretch nylon-2 and neoprene celliant liner infrared technology.
DUI heavy duty dry suit gloves with yellow liners available in sizes: S, M, L, XL
Ikelite aluminum digital camera tray with dual handles
Black Mares Cruise Roller Tauchen bag, perfect for scuba diving and traveling
Bare drysuit trek boots designed for rocky shore entries, boat decks, and boat ladders
Flexible Lightweight Portable Tripod for Projector DSLR Cameras and Go Pro
Bare drysuit drawstring scuba gear bag the perfect alternative for transporting a dry suit to-and-from the dive site
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM Telephoto Zoom Lens
Dry glove lock system that accommodates all hand sizes
Capture amazingly smooth GoPro footage in the air with the GoPro Karma Drone
AmazonBasics 60-Inch Lightweight Tripod and Bag with adjustable-height legs and rubber feet
Ikelite Canon EOS 100D Rebel SL1 underwater camera housing in white
Black Mares Dragon Scuba Diving BCD
3PC curved armband glow in the dark slate.
Capture amazingly smooth shake-free video with the GoPro Karma Grip
Bare 7mm thick elastek dry suit hood
Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM FLD Large Aperture Standard Zoom Lens for Canon Digital DSLR Camera + 32GB Memory Card + Photo4Less Cleaning Cloth.
Scuba diving 4ft neon yellow surface marker signal tube with “Diver Below” print
Ikelite underwater macro lens casing is comprised of an acetyl body with glass front and can hold lenses of 4.37 diameter x 3 inches (111 x 76 mm)
Diving lens filter kit for GoPro HERO 5/6 which enhances colors for underwater video and photography conditions
Suunto SK-8 wrist compass with bungee straps, faster stabilization, and enhanced readability
Mini blue scuba diving tank key ring with brass pick tool and o-rings
Canon Macro Lens EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM – non Image Stabilised
Ikelite TTL dual flash sync cord attaches two strobe’s to the underwater camera housing.
If you’re not quite ready for the expense of big lights, this little video light goes perfectly with any GoPro setup
Bare SB System Mens Full Under-layer
The Hydra 5000 WSRU is an all in one photo and dive light with wide, spot, red, and UV modes