The country's name, which means 'rich coast' in Spanish, was (by some accounts) first applied by Christopher Columbus, who sailed to the eastern shores of Costa Rica during his final voyage in 1502. There will be little argument from any diver who has had the fortune of diving below the waves in Costa Rica as to the richness of these waters. While many of those looking for the best diving in Costa Rica head straight to Cocos Island, the diving from the mainland's Pacific coast is also superb, with the chance of coming nose-to-nose with bull sharks a particular highlight...

manta ray

Cocos Island

Cocos Island National Park became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 to protect the rich marine environment that surrounds the remote island. Requiring a 36-hour cruise by liveaboard, reaching the national park takes time and effort, but the underwater vistas, characterised by endless schools of hammerheads, are definitely worth it. Cocos Island is seen not only as the best diving in Costa Rica but also up there with the best diving on the entire planet.

But it's not just about the presence of the scalloped hammerheads. Jacques Cousteau visited the island several times and in 1994 called it 'the most beautiful island in the world', maybe due to the abundance of white-tipped reef sharks, silky sharks, Galapagos sharks, whale sharks, manta rays and marble rays that regularly accompany the hammers.

Diving here can be rough and rugged due to the currents and remoteness of the sites, but with so much megafauna cruising around Cocos Island, you'd be hard-pressed to find a diver who has regretted making this journey...

Bull Sharks Swimming Together

Bat Islands

While it may have to settle for being somewhat in the shadow of Cocos Island, mainland Costa Rica is also home to some excellent diving. From Peninsula Papagayo, a short dart across the Gulf of Papagayo takes you to dive with the bull sharks of the Bat Islands. The Bat Islands, also known locally as Islas Murcielago, sit at the end of the Santa Elena Peninsula, which juts out into the Pacific Ocean just to the south of the Guatemalan border.

Much closer to shore than Cocos, the Bat Islands can experience varied visibility (between ten and 30 metres), but that just adds to the exhilaration of diving alongside the large bull sharks. With some strong currents and thermoclines, it may not be suitable diving for recently certified divers, but for those who are comfortable in the water, seeing the silhouette of a large bull emerge from the thermoclines is a truly memorable sight, and one that ensures the Bat Islands take their place among the best diving in Costa Rica.

Still not convinced? The Bat Islands are also visited by Pacific manta rays and devil rays, as well as a whole host of reef fish, and the area is also well known for its superb hiking trails through lush rainforests for non-diving days...