Isla del Caño is a biological reserve of only 300 hectares of land extension that belongs to the province of Puntarenas, on the Pacific Ocean, located in front of the Corcovado National Park, about 20 kilometers from the Osa Peninsula. From the geological and archeological points of view, this island is one of the most important ones in Costa Rica; also this land constitutes a refuge for migratory birds and protects wide marine environments and their fauna. The island originated between 40 and 50 million years ago, as a result of the movement of tectonic plates, when the Cocos’ plate sunk under the Caribbean plate causing its emergence
Many people believe Caño Island offers the best diving in Costa Rica (after Cocos Island, which lies 36 hours offshore.) Many of the same species you find in the Galapagos Islands live here. Isla del Caño is one of the world’s newest hot spots for adventure diving. Located off the Southwest Pacific coast of Costa Rica, this virgin area offers a variety of unique diving attractions, from 15 – 16′ reefs to 80′ “walls”. The rock formations are volcanic origins; sea fans, cup coral, head corals are the most common. Because of its status as a Biological Reserve the diving in Caño Island is regulated. Only 10 divers maximum and 5 dive sites are open to the public. By law, it is totally prohibited to remove any marine objects dead or alive (shells, corals, etc.).
At Caño Island you will see both open ocean (pelagic) and reef fish. Depending on the time of year you can see humpback whales, pilot whales, several varieties of dolphins, white tipped reef sharks, silky sharks, bull sharks and occasionally whales sharks. You may encounter large manta rays (wingspans up to 20 feet) and hundreds of small manta rays, and also parrot fish, puffers, damselfish and moray eels. You’ll also see large schools of barracudas, jacks and tunas.
Although the currents and visibility are difficult to predict, the latter is usually outstanding and rarely gets below 50′. The name of the game here is “SHARKS”! Lots of them (white-tips) ranging in size from 6-10′ as well as sea turtles, dolphins, stingrays, morays, and huge snapper and grouper.
Best Diving Destinations in Cano Island
El Bajo Del Diablo (The Devil’s Pinnacle)
On a good day, this site is by far the best site in the area and one of the best in the entire country. A huge area with many sub sites. Towering rock pinnacles rise from a depth of over 150ft to just under 20 ft. An incredible maze of peaks and valleys. The best visibility, overall fish life and best place to encounter Giant Mantas. Groupers, snappers and amberjack reaching 70lb, swim along side great schools of barracuda, jacks, reef sharks and a large number of tropical fishes. Many species of eels can be found as well.
Cueva Del Tiburon (Shark Cave)
A small cave that is home to you guessed it, sharks! Although we do not penetrate the cave, we will swim up close enough to view the sharks inside. Other inhabitants include angels, butterfly, damsels and parrotfish. Over five different types of eels can be found here as well as moorish idols, puffers, surgeonfish, and occasional mantas and stingrays. A very exciting dive.
Los Arcos (The Arches)
Unique rock formations formed in the shape of arches. Swim through these towering underwater arches and see fish life similar to the Shark Cave due to its close proximity.
El Barcohundido (The Shipwreck)
Nicknamed El Barco, aka “El Sharko,” for the vast number of sharks seen here. Although there is no wreck, there are a variety of rock formations. Fish life is profuse and a great dive to encounter white tip reef sharks, giant stingrays (up to 6ft (2m) wide), and an occasional sea turtle. This site also allows the observant diver a chance to view the well camouflaged rock scorpion fish.
The Coral Gardens at Barcohundido
A short swim southeast of El Barco will bring you to the areas’ largest concentration of hard corals. This shallow dive of 15 to 30 feet (5-10m) allows long bottom times to explore the many fascinating reef creatures found here.
Prolific fish life. Excellent site to view white tip reef sharks schooling. Also: Large schools of snappers, barracuda, and grunts. The occasional school of mobula manta rays can be found gliding by here as well.
The Sharks’ Lair (at Paraiso)
About 50 meters from the main rocks at Paraiso, up to 20 white tip reef sharks can be often found resting under rock overhangs. At times these sleek creatures will allow the calm diver a chance to swim within a few feet of where they are resting.
Mystic Dive Center, located in the pristine surroundings of Ventanas which is the perfect site for a vacation of both water and land based activities.
Mystic Dive Center is well organised and offers scuba and snorkeling tours to both Caño Island and Ballena Marine Reserve. These are both national parks and renowned for their pristine wildlife. All of their boat dives are equipped with a first aid kit and oxygen and are guided by a certified PADI Instructor or Divemaster whom are trained in emergency procedures, medic first aid and are DAN oxygen providers. Their boat is small but efficient and provides a comfortable journey to the diving locations. The average time to get to Caño Island is about 60 to 90 minutes and approximately 20 minutes to Ballena National Park.
When to Visit Cano Island
The visibility around Caño Island is usually ranging from 50 to 100 ft plus, however it does vary from site to site. The water temperature ranges from the upper 80`s to the low 70`s due to thermoclines and therefore minimizing the need of exposure protection to a 3 mm full or shorty. The best time to go is the rainy season (May through November), even though runoff can affect the water visibility. The water clarity may be better during the dry season, but the wind blows up enough to make it almost impossible to get out to the best dive sites, which are small islands or rock outcroppings an hour’s boat ride from the mainland. Visibility varies any time of the year, but even more so during the rainy season. However, even during the wet months there is a slight chance that offshore sites can reach a visibility of almost 100 ft, although less than forty is more common. The best time to go would probably be May, when the wind has died down and the rain hasn’t started yet.
Getting to Cano Island
First fly into the International airport of San Juan in Costa Rica. From San Jose their are a number of transportation options. You can opt for a national flight from San Jose to to Palmar Sur or take a taxi or bus to the hotel near the dive center. Renting your own car is always an option as well.
There are two Costa Rican airlines servicing the route between San Jose and Palmar Sur.
Travel Air: has daily service from San Jose to Palmar Sur. Departure times vary so its is recommended to make reservations in advance. Baggage is limited to 25 lbs per person.
Sansa: Daily service. Usually one departure per day leaving in the morning. Baggage is limited to 25 lbs per person.
You can also take a bus from San Jose to San Isidro del General.
Musoc Bus or Trapoca bus: Can be taken to San Isidro Del General. The bus station is located in downtown San Jose and can be reached by asking any taxi driver to take you to the Musoc or Trapoca bus station.The bus ride takes an average of 3 hours to reach San Isidro del General. Once in San Isidro a taxi can be taken south to your hotel and takes about an hour.
By taxi from San Jose to your hotel.
A taxi can also be taken from San Jose to your hotel in Zona Sur and will take aprox. 4 hours.
By rental car from San Jose.
From San Jose rent a vehicle and drive south at your leisure. It is recommended to have your own transportation in Zona Sur for ease of travel. A 4-wheel drive is recommended. The most direct route San Jose is first to San Isidro del General and then on through Dominical to Bahia. Maps should be available from the car rental company.