The reefs of Talamanca on the southern Caribbean coast have thrilled divers for decades.
Local divers, most of whom are underwater hunters, share these waters with tourists from around the world enjoying the submarine seascapes, flora and fauna.
By far, most people jump in with a mask, fins and snorkel to cruise around floating or free dive below the seasonally waveless surface.
A huge area of multihued reefs teeming with myriad marine life lies just offshore of the stunningly beautiful beaches, often less than a minute’s swim from the sand.
For many years, only two dive shops serviced those wanting to scuba dive the Talamanca coast: Aquamor Adventures in Manzanillo, created by yours truly in 1995 and now run by my brother, Gregory, and father, Richard; and Reef Runners in Puerto Viejo, started in 1999 and now owned by North American John Dobson. But just this year the number of dive shops in Talamanca has doubled, now that the secret is out about what is seasonally some of the best diving in Costa Rica.
PuntaUvaDiveCenter has made a big splash in the region with brand-new, top-of the-line gear, professional and inspired dive guides and an excellent location on the first beach of Punta Uva, between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo. Argentine dive instructors Guillermo Valdez and Lucas Eturriza started and run the operation, guiding trips, taking photos and teaching students. Boat captain Rafa Hernández says the September to-October high season was excellent, with dives every day, and November was still going strong with nice conditions. He says the shop averaged about eight to 10 divers a day, with 15 to 20 certified divers dropping down on plenty of days, not counting many students taking courses toward various levels of certification. The future looks bright for these new kids on the block.
Another newcomer to Talamanca scuba diving is Crocodive, just south of Puerto Viejo. Started by instructor Roc Menard, the shop has new gear and arguably the nicest dive boat on the coast. Menard says he’s just getting started but is already eyeing a second location in the area for more dive operations.
Crocodive also has locations on the Pacific coast.
All of these operations must work with the strength and weaknesses of Caribbean Costa Rican diving. The Caribbean’s limited dive season is a challenge, with between three and seven months of every year offering subprime diving. At various times of year, giant swells relentlessly pound the coast with waves bigger than most people can fathom. Swift and quickly changing currents combined with poor visibility add to the difficulties.
Any water person worth his or her salt learns how to surf when Talamanca’s sweet waves kick up. Its either that or stay on the beach. But the other part of the year, the southern Caribbean reefs are the easiest diving in the country. The sea turns into a giant mirror of mercury, sometimes without a ripple. Sandy areas surrounded by patch and fringing reefs are perfect for students learning to dive.
One standard adhered to by professional instructors is to start new divers in shallow, calm water they can stand up in. Learning to scuba dive is easy when you can learn and practice skills in what are basically the conditions of a shallow swimming pool. Certified divers also love to just walk in without a boat trip and enjoy great diving. During September and October and for most of March, April and May, Talamanca offers the best easy beach diving in the country.
The Caribbean does not leave out advanced divers. A five- to 15-minute boat ride from much of the Talamanca coast gets you to deep coral walls, canyons, grottos, sponge gardens and more. Costa Rica’s biggest expanse of coral reef has more than a hundred dives sites, with many more yet to be discovered. Scientists are still learning about the deepwater species here, in what is probably the country’s most biodiverse marine ecosystem.
The trick to diving the Caribbean is to call ahead, as the diving could be excellent any time of year. And when Talamanca diving is good, it is definably worth the drop.
Coming soon: a look at Pacific coast dive shops. Drop Shawn a line at email@example.com or 8835-6041 with information about your favorite dive shop.