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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Visiting the Catalina Islands of Costa Rica

Off the Northern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica lays a series of volcanic rock formations comprised of roughly 20 islands, the Catalina Islands. It is a paradise for scuba diving attracting divers worldwide for its reputation as a must-see dive site. However, you don’t need to be a world-class diver to enjoy a day off the Gold Coast. It is also a stunning location for bird watching and observing marine life attracting people for an unforgettable day away.

Where are The Catalina Islands Located?

The Catalina archipelago is conveniently located off the northern region of Guanacaste province, about 2 to 15 miles northwest of the Tamarindo and Playa Flamingo coast, and the only way to get there is by boat. The series of islands are uninhabited by humans surrounded by only birds and marine life rising from 18 to 36 meters.  If you are flying into Costa Rica to Liberia or San Jose airport you will want to make your way to one of the many popular tourist destinations in the northwestern region of the country on the Nicoya Peninsula.

Access to the Catalina Islands is readily available from many popular tourist destinations offering trips from Tamarindo, Playa Flamingo, Las Catalinas, Potrero, Brasilito, Conchal, Playa del Coco, Papagayo, and Playa Grande and is a must in one’s itinerary. Depending upon where you are departing from the boat ride can vary but falls under an hour anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes.

Just the boat ride out to the Catalina Islands can be an adventure upon itself witnessing the gorgeous scenery as you head out into the pristine waters surrounded by rocky islets. During various times of the year, you can spot playful dolphins and stunning humpback whales breaching out of the water’s surface along your ride. It is between September to March when you will find the best opportunity for whale watching and perhaps even have a chance to hear them singing.

How is the Snorkeling and Diving at the Catalina Islands?

There are plenty of snorkeling and diving tours launching from shore for even the most inexperienced person. Some companies will offer what is known as discover scuba diving for those that have not pursued a certification course. This allows one to have an introduction into the world of diving under the guidance of a professional diminishing any fears that you may have.

After familiarizing yourself with some of the basic safety guidelines and skills of learning how to breathe and communicate underwater they take you out to the water usually making two open water dives. What better place to discover what the underwater world has to offer than in Costa Rica’s idyllic waters of the Catalina Islands.

However, not everyone is looking for a dive experience and therefore there are plenty of snorkeling trips that are just half a day often taking you to more than one location. You may not be discovering the water at the depth of the experienced divers but there is still plenty of underwater encounters to be made.

Snorkeling will allow you to relax, explore and float along in the sea in search of incredible marine life spotting exotic fish, reef sharks, seahorses, turtles, angelfishes, and octopuses. Snorkeling equipment is provided to you and there are often snacks and beverages onboard in your fee so it is a simple excursion to pack for.

Catamaran tours will offer sunset cruises to have a chance to see the rocky formations and to have a chance to set sail on the open waters.  Perhaps even birdwatching is best for those looking to not get wet but want a glimpse of the serene Catalina Islands.

The Catalina Islands are offshore away from disturbances, isolated in peace, creating a haven for birds. On your excursion, you may see the large seabirds of brown boobies and albatrosses, long-legged and beautifully colored spoonbills. Frigatebirds are found on the islands and you may spot the male with his distinctive red pouch.

What Kind of Marine Life is at the Catalina Islands?

However, what lies beneath the clear water is what attracts even the most experienced world-class scuba diver to this sought-after site. The list of possible sightings is remarkable from schools of jacks, grunts, parrotfishes and barracudas, varied species of pufferfishes, eels, and of course the beloved sea turtles. From small tropical fishes that the eye can barely see to the tiger and whale sharks to underwater stunning coral formations, the sights are endless.

Costa Rica is home to the gentle manta rays and it is surrounding the Catalina Islands where you will find an abundant population. They are well known for their population of graceful manta rays with their amazing wingspans of up to 7 meters.

During December to May is when you have the best chance to experience the Giant Pacific Manta Ray for yourself especially during January and March. But they aren’t the only rays you can expect to see, the Catalina Islands host eagle rays, bat rays, and the devil stingrays. They are also home to bullseye electric rays, and cow-nosed rays.

There is no ultimate time of the year to explore these waters, as there is generally a good climate year-round. The northern warm waters of the Pacific Ocean here can have a temperature range of 70 to 85 Fahrenheit. The waters are clear as there is no runoff from the rivers during the rainy season making it a popular diving site throughout the seasons.  

When to Visit

Costa Rica’s dry season especially during the months of January to March will give you the best water viewing often up to 75 feet of clear visibility, however, you may find the water to be a bit cooler.  Some areas, however, will require more experience and your guide will be aware of this as a result of some of the currents, depths of the water, and day-to-day conditions.

Diving prices at Catalina Island can vary depending upon how many tank dives and bottom time you are looking for. Prices can start around $100 typically for 2 dives depending on where you are leaving from onshore and can increase if you are looking for a 3rd dive.

It is often said this the Catalina Islands offer some of the best and most beautiful diving in Costa Rica giving you the exciting opportunity to see all the wonders that the coastline holds. Whether you chose to delve deep into the waters or seek what lies close to the surface, Catalina Islands will leave you in awe of Costa Rica’s magnificent underwater world.

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