I haven't read much about Coco Island lately, and I'm not sure why. For pure, wild, raw and exhilarating diving, this remote island about 340 miles off the west coast of Costa Rica has few peers in the dive world. Its dive sites are like trophies for experienced blue travelers, and they're packed with massive schools of marine life. One of my favorite dives is Manuelita, a small rock islet close to the bay.
Like most dives in Coco, this one starts deep, at about 130 feet. There, squads of clarion angelfish wait to groom hammerhead sharks. Coco is all about hammerhead sharks: Massive aggregations of them, mostly females, gather in the current. The reason for the congregations remains unknown, but the cleaning stations certainly stay busy.
After a bit of time at this depth, you follow the current along the wall where marbled rays by the dozen cruise by like a bunch of mottled carpets caught in the wind. You'll also pass dozens of nonchalant whitetip reef sharks lazing on the sand in the shadow of overhangs. Off the end of the island, where the currents mix, you'll find schools of jacks that flow like rivers of silver and stretch to the limits of visibility. At night, on the other side of Manuelita the whitetips gather in gangs in a no-holds-barred group assault on the reef fish trying to hide in the rocky substrate.
On the first day you're overwhelmed by the huge numbers of these marine denizens, but by day three you're ignoring them while on the hunt for other thrills -- and other thrills come in battalions. There are silvertip cleaning stations, manta rays frolic in the shallows, and whale sharks pass along with a host of birds overhead.
At sites like Alcyone and Dirty Rock, you hunker down in the rocks to brace yourself against the current and watch in awe as hundreds of hammerheads pass overhead. If you're lucky, you'll encounter a bait ball and get to watch the electric action as sharks, sea birds, billfish and any other predator in the area shows up to decimate every last morsel of the unfortunate baitfish. It's like diving in a blender where the food disappears and nothing is left but water. And the amazing thing about Coco is that many of these experiences can occur in the same day.
There's not a whole lot of off-the-boat time, so it's not a great place to bring a nondiver, and it's definitely a place better-suited to advanced divers, since most sites have mild to strong currents. If you do get off the boat and head to shore, keep an eye out for glints of pirate gold, as Captain John Morgan allegedly buried a nice stash somewhere in Coco's Jurassic Park-like rain forest.