San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Sea Comes Alive Under Cover of Darkness

NIGHTTIME is the right time for diving in Costa Rica. Like a night hike in the forest or in the city, you will need somewhat advanced skills and a guide. And just like the forest and the city, a host of creatures unseen in the daylight appears after the sun goes down.

When you are diving into nightlife, it helps to reconnoiter the site during the day and figure out the path you will take after hours. Of course, all equipment must be double-checked. Redundancy of crucial items is standard. The extra work pays off big.

Strange beasts that remain hidden in cracks, crevices and caves in the day venture forth into the night – such as hundreds of lobster that walk around on the bottom as if it were some kind of beach party.

Fish sleep on the rocks, reef and sand like vagrants. Mean jellyfish move like fighter jets. Exploding worms strafe you as you fly over. Hunting sharks dart through your dive-light beam. Corals feast on any little thing they can get their tentacles on. Wee shrimp-like crustaceans, known as sea mosquitoes, although they carry no known diseases and do not suck blood, may swim away with a chunck of your flesh.

BEACH dives are one of the best ways to begin night diving. Just going down a few meters at night is enough to thrill everybody the first time, because the experience is so different from day diving. If you like wildlife, once you have gone night diving, you will be hooked. And you won’t forget long sleeves on subsequent dives.

Manzanillo, in the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge on the south Caribbean coast, offers perhaps the easiest and most diverse night diving in Costa Rica because of the coral reefs right off the beach. Many of Guanacaste’s northern-Pacific beaches have rock reefs and islets just offshore that are perfect for night beach dives.

Offshore sights at these locations provide big-time night thrills when you are ready for more. Night dives at the remote CocosIsland are so thick with large marine life that some experienced divers might refuse to get in the water. But most cannot resist the call of the night. Strangely, night diving is illegal at the Southern Zone’s Pacific dive sites at CañoIsland. I do not know why.

ONE of the best parts of a night dive can be when we turn the lights off. Just as you need to be far from city lights to see the stars, there must be darkness to see the stars of the sea. Countless marine organisms produce their own light. Some glow blue, some red, yellow, green or anything in between. To top it all off, tiny plankton make the ocean glow everywhere there is movement. A current on a rock, a boat’s wake, a crashing wave, a kayak’s paddle stroke, or a dolphin’s path all create light.

Once your eyes adjust to the darkness, you will see there is just as much natural light under water as in the starry sky, except under water, the experience is much more three-dimensional. The fact that everybody moving has an aura and throws bright sparks makes it even more fun.

A cloudless full moon hides most of the stars of the sky and sea, but the advantage is you often do not need a light to move around. The moonlit seascape under water is just as beautiful as that of the beach or the mountains bathed in silver light.

CONDITIONS always change, so some days are better than others. Check ahead and go with a pro to ensure a safe and satisfying experience.

Careful though – you just might become a creature of the night yourself.


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