Cocos Island National Park
After several days at sea, a rectangle of emerald green becomes visible to the west. Its crown is topped with clouds dumping sheets of rain onto the island. As you get closer, the shrill cries of seabirds fill the air, pterodactyl-like Frigatebirds wheel overhead and a pod of dolphins courses through the waves near the boat. For a few hundred years, this same exciting scene has marked the arrival to Cocos Island for sailors, whalers, modern day fisherman, pirates and the scavengers of history; treasure hunters. However, they didn’t get to experience the amazing underwater scenery of 100s of sharks, rays and glittering schools of fish; a natural spectacle awaiting you on a dive at Cocos Island National Park.
Location and how to get there
Cocos Island National Park is found 550 kilometers off the southwestern coast of Costa Rica. The only way to get there is by boat; either your own or on a tour. Unfortunately this is not a national park for the thrifty. Due to the distance from the mainland, tours are usually 8 to 10 days and cost $3,000 on average.
Biodiversity on shore
Long recognized by the Costa Rican government as a national treasure, Cocos Island was declared a national park in 1978. UNESCO also recognized the importance of this national park in 1997 by declaring it a world heritage site. Like other island ecosystems, Cocos has fewer species than mainland ecosystems but a higher level of endemics; species found nowhere else. The islands rain forest has over 200 plant species, 30% of which are endemic, 64 endemic insects out of 400 occurring species, two endemic lizards and three endemic land birds. The island is also an important nesting site for several species of seabirds. The only mammals are introduced species such as rats, pigs, and cats; all of which pose threats to the fragile island ecosystem.
Biodiversity off shore
The fantastic coral reefs and water around Cocos Island National Park host over 300 fish species (27 endemic) and 600 mollusc species. The surrounding waters support large populations of big fish such as Tuna, Sailfish, Manta Rays, Jacks, and most of all sharks. Large schools of Hammerhead Sharks are frequently seen at Cocos Island along with Silky, White-tipped and Silvertip Sharks.
Cocos Island National Park is one of the best places in the world for diving with sharks. The large schools of Hammerhead Sharks at Cocos Island are legendary and are almost guaranteed on a dive here. Most dives visit various undersea outcroppings and mounds that attract loads of marine life. The Dos Amigos Grande site is also incredibly scenic; an underwater archway filled with schooling fish. Chatham Bay has a coral reef that is good for snorkeling. The currents around Cocos Island make this national park a less than ideal place for first time divers though; only dive at Cocos if you have a good deal of experience and always follow the instructions of your guide. Two boats that frequently do trips to Cocos Island are the Okeanos Agressor and Undersea Hunter.
Cocos Island has often been called the largest uninhabited island in the eastern Pacific. Whether it truly has this distinction or not, it most definitely lacks accommodation of any type. Your boat typically provides all lodging and food.