Big Time - Cocos Island, Costa Rica
A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place of "outstanding natural importance to the common heritage of humanity." This prestigious list includes the Grand Canyon, the Egyptian Pyramids and Costa Rica's Cocos Island National Park named so for its "critical habitats" that provide for, and attract, large pelagic species. In short, it's a destination of superlatives with its big animals, bigger schools and the biggest adrenalin rushes.
Immense schools of jacks, confluent walls of hammerheads and night dives studded with whitetip sharks fill my logbook pages documenting trips here. At Cocos, I regularly see dolphins, turtles, and silvertip, silky, tiger and whale sharks, plus an occasional killer whale or two.
I remember the first hammerhead cleaner station I saw here. Told its location, I swam to the spot and crouched behind a rock, waiting as patiently as the pacing butterflyfish. Within minutes, the first shark assumed its position. The butterflies flocked in. The shark was only a few feet from me as he squirmed, rocked and tilted during the process. When the butterflyfish had completed their exfoliation, another hammerhead took its place. And so the show continued for the entire dive.
Located approximately 350 miles from the coast, Cocos Island has kept its pristine charm on land as well. Divers can experience it via private vessel or live-board. The Okeanos Aggressor offers luxury accommodations, gourmet cuisine local and international menus and special access to topside excursions, weather permitting, including a hike to a waterfall. Booby birds, terns, finch, flycatchers and the endemic cuckoo can be seen fluttering around the steep cliffs that surround and protect Cocos Island home to the Eastern Pacific's only tropical rainforest.
"Of outstanding importance to the common heritage of humanity" is a huge description to live up to. But Cocos Island does it, in the biggest way.
Quick Guide The Okeanos Aggressor, a 110-foot luxury live-aboard, has 10 staterooms accommodating 22 passengers, and two 22-foot diver tenders. Nitrox is available. Itineraries include eight- and 10-day trips.