Cocos Island National Park: Costa Rica's Subaquatic Sanctuary of Wonders
Beneath the Surface: Delve into the depths of the Pacific and uncover the wonders of Cocos Island's underwater realm, a haven where rays, dolphins, and even majestic whales grace your aquatic odyssey. As you explore the warm, azure waters surrounding the island, prepare to be enchanted by a marine ballet of unparalleled splendor.
Encompassing Majesty: Cocos Island National Park sprawls across a staggering 199,700 hectares (493,469 acres), a realm that encompasses both the island itself and the protected oceanic expanses that envelop it. This enchanting island spans 2,383 hectares (5,888 acres) and boasts an elevation spectrum ranging from sea level to the majestic summit of Cerro Iglesias, soaring 634 meters above the ocean's surface. The island's interior is a verdant tapestry of mountainous tropical rainforests, adorned with lush ferns, vibrant bromeliads, thriving mosses, and whimsical fungi. Within this landscape, meandering rivers, cascading waterfalls, picturesque valleys, and dramatic cliffs converge in harmonious unity.
Marine Marvels: Surrounding this terrestrial Eden lies a marine ecosystem of unparalleled richness, replete with vibrant coral reefs, volcanic tunnels, hidden caves, and the mysteries of the deep. Here, the ocean's symphony is performed by a breathtaking ensemble of diverse species. Yet, with its formidable ocean currents and precipitous drop-offs, Cocos Island's underwater paradise is a realm best explored by experienced divers. Accessible solely via live-aboard boat tours, Cocos Island welcomes those with park ranger permission to explore its captivating shores, though collecting of flora, fauna, or minerals, as well as camping, remains strictly prohibited.
Subaqueous Encounters: Underwater enthusiasts will be spellbound by the marine wonders of Cocos Island. Dive into a realm where encounters with white-tip reef sharks and majestic whale sharks are part of the daily spectacle. Over 400 species of coral, an abundance of crustaceans and mollusks, and a mesmerizing array of 300 fish species, including the regal yellowfin tuna and the gentle giant manta ray, coalesce in this mesmerizing aquatic tapestry. Furthermore, the underwater stage sees the grand arrival of humpback whales, pilot whales, playful bottlenose dolphins, and the graceful sea lions. Not to be outdone, hawksbill, green, and olive ridley turtles grace these waters with their presence.
Winged Voyagers: Cocos Island's allure extends beyond its aquatic domain, as it beckons avian adventurers with the captivating presence of migratory seabirds. Brown Boobies, Red-footed Boobies, Great Frigatebirds, White Terns, and Brown Noddies elegantly grace the skies. On terra firma, seven species of land birds, including the endemic Cocos Cuckoo, Flycatcher, and Finch—cousins to Darwin's famed finches of the Galapagos—add to the island's ornithological wonder. While two endemic lizard species, an anole and gecko, inhabit the island, amphibians remain elusive. Nonetheless, over 400 species of insects complete this vibrant ecosystem. Cocos Island's wildlife, having evolved in splendid isolation, has given rise to unique endemic species found nowhere else on Earth.
A Legacy of Legends: Cocos Island harbors a treasure trove of legends and mysteries, rooted in its captivating history. As the backdrop for documented pirate activity, the island is said to conceal hidden pirate treasure, luring countless adventurers in search of these fabled riches. While small caches have been unearthed, Cocos Island continues to captivate with its enigmatic allure. It is widely believed that Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island," the desert island in "Robinson Crusoe," and the fictional Isla Nublar in "Jurassic Park" all found inspiration in the mystique of Cocos Island. However, the island faces a pressing challenge in the form of invasive species, such as pigs, goats, and rats, introduced by 18th-century whale hunters. These creatures continue to threaten native species, underscoring the ongoing battle to preserve this ecological jewel.
Cocos Island Facts
Region: Pacific island
Closest town: None
Size in hectares: 199,700 (493,469 acres)
Year established: 1978
Elevation in meters: 0 – 634 (0 – 2,080 feet)
Private managed: no
Government managed: yes
Rangers station: yes
Overnight facilities: no
Public restrooms: no
Entrance fee: $50
Hours: 08:00 - 15:30
Hiking trails: no
Boat tours: yes
Average temperature range in Fahrenheit: 70 - 90
Average yearly precipitation in millimeters: 7,000
Habitat: coral reef, rainforest, beach
From the port of Puntarenas, it is a 32-36 hour boat ride to Cocos Island. Live-aboard boat tours often incude transport to Puntarenas from your hotel in San Jose.
Weather and packing
The climate of Cocos Island is humid and tropical. Temperatures remain the same nearly year round with average day time highs in the upper 80s to low 90s and night time lows in the 70s. Average annual rainfall is 700cm/ 275 inches. Precipitation is high throughout the year, although lower from January through March and slightly lower during late September and October. Depending on your diving preference, calmer seas and better visibility are found between January and May. However the rainier months of June through December are a better time to dive with hammerhead sharks. Annual visitation to Cocos Island is about 1100 people, mainly between March and May.
Visitors should pack a bathing suit, towel, shorts, tee shirts, appropriate shoes, rain gear, sun block, and insect repellent.
Fun Fact: Due to the abundance of documented Pirate activity in the area, Cocos Island is believed by many to be a place to find pirate treasure.