A rough and extremely gorgeous island, this World Heritage Site and Marine Park is the cherry on top of Costa Rica’s national park system. The island was created during a volcanic turmoil approximately two-and-a-half million years ago and is primarily created out of basaltic rock, labacorite and andecite lava flows. Its landmass is peppered by four mountain peaks, the highest of which is about 2,080 feet. The island has a couple of large bays with safe anchorages and sandy beaches. Chatham is nestled on the northeast side and Wafer Bay is on the northwest.
Cocos Island is an island approx 600 off the nearest Costa Rican coast of volcanic origin. Its nutrient rich deep water is what attracts the large schools of pelagic life, namely the regularly seen schools of Hammerhead Sharks (at the world’s largest cleaning station) that make the region a top class diving destination.
The island is the only point above the sea in Cocos Ridge, a line of sunken volcanoes that run from Costa Rica to the north of Galapagos Islands. The island is of volcanic origin and its rich soil supports a tropical lowland ecosystem along with a cloud forest.
Cocos Island National Park includes the entire Isla del Coco and the marine ecosystems up to a distance of about 20 kilometers around the island. It the only island in the tropical Eastern Pacific with a tropical rainforest setting. Its location and varied eco marine system make it one of the most biologically intriguing corridors on the planet. The adjoining marine national park has is celebrated among divers for the large range of big pelagic species such as sharks, rays, tuna and dolphins.
The island has a primarily tropical climate with high humidity and rainfall fluctuates with sunshine throughout the year. Even so there are two seasons, the dry season runs from December to May and is when the sea is calm and the visibility at its optimum. June to November (rainy season) which has more rain, rough seas and less visibility is actually the best time of the season to go diving. The nutrient generous swells attract incredibly large schools of hammerheads, sharks and large rays.
The highlight of a Cocos island trip is the unbelievable experience of witnessing scores of hammerhead sharks brush past you and you meander through its clear waters. Bajo Alcyone is one of the beat sites for an up, close and personal encounter with hammerheads coming in their hundreds to the cleaning stations nestled here. The most strategic way to get close and capture images is to find a rock to lie still and patiently hand around behind it. They are easily scared so the lesser the movement, the better are the chances of them approaching. It’s not just hammerheads that come here to be cleared. Divers experience a variety of sharks such as white tip reef sharks, silky sharks, Galapagos sharks and occasionally a spectacular whale shark or the ever popular in the waters-manta ray.
The secluded location of the Island means that it can only be accessed by diving live aboard trips, which departs from Puntarenas. The travel usually depends upon the climate conditions and winds but usually takes about one and half day of cruise time. The high travel time, challenging dive conditions combined with the fact that the trips are highly focused means that they are not appropriate for beginner divers or non divers.
Since Cocos Island is a liveboard destination, all island tourist and leisure activities are centered on the reefs and the vessel. By seeking prior permission, tourists are permitted to visit the island but are not allowed to take back flora or fauna. Visits are facilitated by the Park Rangers.
Though the range of terrestrial fauna is rather low, they are present here in considerable numbers. The island hosts about 90 bird species including the three endemics like the Island cuckoo, the Island flycatcher and the Island finch. There are other aerials like the Red-footed booby and brown bobby along with the great frigate bird, the white tern, and the common noddy create breeding colonies on the encircling small islands and rocks. A couple of endemic reptiles have also been identified such as the anolis lizard and gecko. Some of the terrestrial mammals here introduced by man include pigs, goats and cats.
Cocos Island is known as rich, natural resource, but it was considered a rich source for erstwhile pirate treasures. Cocos Island was a significant base for sailors, explorers, pirates and adventurists since the early 1500’s, and notorious pirate kings like William Davis (1684) and Benito Bonito (1819) are believed to have stashed their treasure here.
The Costa Rican administration acquired the Cocos Island in 1869. During the period of 1872 and 1874, the Costa Rican government ran a prison for the most hardened criminals on this cast away island. It also carried out its own treasure unearthing expedition, but it yielded no efforts. In 1898, naturalists Anastasio Alfaro and Henri Pittier visited the island and proposed to turn into a national park. In 1978, Cocos Island was included in the part of the nation’s heritage and a significant hub of natural resources.
Owing to the breathtaking marine life in Cocos Island, it has been named one of the top 10 scuba diving spots in the world by PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) and on the diving list of most divers. For many, the primary attractions here are the range of pelagic species, which are present in large numbers here. The largest schools of hammerhead sharks in the world are consistently reported there. Up close and personal sightings of scores of these creatures and other large animals can be seen in every dive. Tinier and more vibrant marine species can also be abundantly encountered in one of the most widespread and generous reefs of the south eastern Pacific.
http://www.visitcocosisland.com/ – Isla de Coco of Costa Rica, information about travel, tours, and of course scuba diving.