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BUCKET LIST #15 Cocos Island, Costa Rica

Bucket lists. Some of us have them, others don’t. And some people don’t even need them at all because they live their lives doing all the things that would otherwise be on a bucket list.

As much as I wish I were one of those latter people, I’m not. I wasn’t born with a millionaire status and so must toil eight hours a day for many moons and save up money – not to mention beg for favors – to have the opportunity to visit exotic places abroad.


In the past, my diving destinations were the result of whatever opportunity happened to come my way. I was presented with a place and I took the chance to go there. That happened over and over. But recently, I’ve decided to be more purposeful and deliberate in choosing where I go to dive. As the years pass, I realize that being passive in this pursuit just isn’t going to get me to all the really cool places I want to go and dive. No, the whales and sharks aren’t going to just come to me – I’m going to have to go and find them, I realized. And I actually consider that a really good thing.

Above rambling aside, all this pondering has resulted in a series of articles about the dive destinations that are on my bucket list. What is it about any dive site that makes or breaks it? That answer is different for everyone. A diver who lives for wreck dives may not find the Great Barrier Reef the premier dive destination. Of course, that person would also have to be uninterested in vibrant reefs that teem with life in every nook and cranny not to want to dive the Great Barrier, but to each their own. This bucket list is all mine, but I’m going to lay out the destinations and the reasons I see for going there for everyone to read. Perhaps the information will make you give a destination a second look, or maybe you’ll learn about a place you otherwise would never have known about. Whatever the result, I hope it inspires you to dive.

Bear in mind that I haven’t yet dived in any of these places on my bucket list (after all, that’s why they’re on the bucket list). So the information I’m providing comes from research and not from my personal experiences. If you’ve been to any of the destinations I cover and have something to add, I’d love to hear about your personal experience there.

With no further ado, I present Shelley’s Dive Bucket List – Destination #15: Cocos Island, Costa Rica. You know that one had to be on the list, now didn’t you?

Deemed “the most beautiful island in the world” by Jacques Cousteau, Cocos Island is the largest uninhabited island and a world heritage site and is also at the center of pirate treasure rumors. It’s a place that’s rich with both history and lush, endemic wildlife found both above and below the clear waters. Located almost 350 miles off the coast of Costa Rica, this marine sanctuary can only be reached by a 30-hour-plus boat ride, so traveling by liveaboard is the way to get here. Due to its remoteness, depths and occasionally strong currents and waves, Cocos Island is not considered an ideal place for novice divers.

The wild waters surrounding this volcanic island teem with marine life both large and small. Rays, dolphins, white tip sharks, hammerheads, sailfish, turtles, jacks, tuna, marlin and octopus are among the animals most frequently seen here. And they can be found intermingling in large groups around 20 dive sites that include seamounts, deep walls, coves and reefs (both shallow and deep), including some sites that are just perfect for night dives. If you appreciate diverse marine life, this is the place for you. The area is a sanctuary, and being protected from poaching has kept it wild and thriving with life.

Can you imagine? I think I would lose my mind from both the fear and excitement of it all.

Two dive sites at Cocos stand out from the others: Dirty Rock and Bajo Alcyone. Dirty Rock seems to be the premier show of shows. It’s said that there are so many fish, sharks, rays and dolphins here that it’s better to use the video mode on your camera than to capture stills. Once you’ve descended, you need only look up and around you to watch the show unfold. You’ll be immersed in the variety and quantity of marine life that most people can only dream about. This site is definitely not for novice divers, however, as currents and waves are sometimes strong.

And when it comes to Bajo Alcyone, one word always comes to mind: hammerheads. With the number and kinds of sharks that frequent this seamount, this dive is not for the feint of heart. That said, a shark bite has never been reported here. Currents and waves can be strong in the area, which means most of the divers and marine life stick to depths of around 90 feet and below.

When it comes to climate, Cocos experiences heavy rainfall (some 25 feet of rain per year), with outside temperatures staying between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit year round. Water temperatures don’t fluctuate nearly as much, sticking between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, so you should be fine in a 3mm or your shorty. May through December is the rainy season, which can bring choppy seas.

Aside from the obvious highlights I’ve discussed, you might still be wondering why Cocos Island is on my bucket list. And the answer is diversity – this is a place with multiple attractions, and that’s exactly what I’m looking for in a dive destination. I want to get the most out of my trips, and that includes satisfying the history and archaeological buff in me as well as catering to my topside interests. And Cocos Island is a place that can meet all those desires.

Since the 1500s, sailors, pirates and whalers have used the island as a stop off point and, as rumor would have it, a place to stash treasure. Cocos is rumored to have been the inspiration for the book “Treasure Island,” as there was a point in time when pirates were the only ones making their homes there. Many left their marks by way of graffiti on the beach rocks.

In addition to the rumored treasures that have never been found here, the island harbors tropical rainforests, cloud forests, numerous waterfalls and pristine pools for swimming. Take your pick between easy hour-long hikes to waterfalls and more strenuous eight-hour excursions to the cloud forest on Cerro Yglesias, found at an elevation of over 2,000 feet.

All in all, Cocos Island makes for a well-rounded destination for the nature lover, which is another reason why it appeals to me so much. From the island’s mysterious pirate tales and verdant tropical forests to the plethora of marine life surrounding volcanic seamounts, pinnacles, coves and reefs, this is truly a premier diving destination worthy of a top spot on my bucket list.

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