Bull Shark diving at the Bat Islands is one of the most exhilarating experiences scuba divers can experience whilst travelling Costa Rica.
Also known as Isla Murcielagos, the Bat Islands are located within Santa Rosa National Park, some 8km off the mainland of Costa Rica’s northern Guanacaste province
Although you can’t stay on the bat islands, they’re within 90 minutes boat ride from Playa Coco; another major Costa Rican dive destination, which is also close to the Catalina Islands, yet another favourite place for scuba divers.
During my year in Central America I made a few trips to the Bat Islands – on the first few rounds I didn’t make the necessary advance-arrangements so I didn’t see any bull sharks!
However, after trial and error I witnessed several bull sharks together on one dive!!
Although bull sharks technically spend the whole year around the bat islands, it’s only possible to go diving with them during a few months… that’s because dive centres are only willing to make trips to the bat islands between mid May to early November.
The reason for this is because outside of these months water conditions are simply too wild due to the strong currents that the bat islands experience which is in part because of how far they are from the mainland (a little under 10 km).
Some dive centres are even stricter and stop visiting the bat islands around the end of October.
The best (and closest) place to dive the Bat Islands from is Playa del Coco; an extremely laid back seaside town offering plenty of beach activities, trekking, excellent dining and also a decent but not overly in your face nightlife.
There are also many local dives around Playa del Coco which are beginner friendly and great for spotting white tip reef sharks, southern stingrays, eagle rays, turtles and tons of fish.
Around Playa del Coco there are scores of dive centres – however, what I found was that even during the official “bat islands diving season”, many of these dive centres were pretty reluctant to make trips to the bat islands. First of all, dive centres require at least four divers to be interested in going to the bat islands.
Even then, if those dive centres are already scheduled to make trips to Playa del Coco (which is the most popular area due to how beginner friendly it is) or the Catalina Islands, they won’t take you and your buddies to the bat islands.
The only way I got around this (and I was travelling alone) was to message several dive centres a few days in advance to see if they had any scheduled trips to the bat islands. You will definitely want to do the same! Don’t give up, perseverance is key. Message lots of dive centres if you have to!
There’s a few other dive centres as well, but I’ve listed the main ones above. Pretty much all of them offer the same prices with the exception of those in more remote areas (like ScubaCaribe) which can be a little more expensive.
As mentioned, you can’t stay on the bat islands and considering that they are little more than a couple of bare rocks 10km out to sea, exposed to all the elements you definitely would not want to!
The closest place to stay is on Playa del Coco in Guanacaste; which was probably my favourite part of all of Costa Rica for it’s awesome food, laid back vibes, tranquil beach and nearby trekking activities. From Playa del Coco it takes about 90 minutes to reach the Bat Islands.
Getting to Playa del Coco is extremely easy! If you’re driving, it has some of the best roads in all of Costa Rica and is accessed via the Route 911; a National Road that runs all the way from the north to south of Costa Rica. You could get to and drive around Playa del Coco even without a 4 X 4.
If you choose to rent a car in Costa Rica, Alamo Car Rental are a great option because they have stations all over the country, including one in Playa del Coco. You can rent a car from an Alamo Station in San Jose and leave it at the Alamo station in Playa del Coco without having to drive back for example.
Alternatively you can catch a bus; your best option here will be TicaBus which takes about 5 hours to get from San Jose to Playa del Coco.
As for other dive destinations close to the Bat Islands:
Dive Centres only go the bat islands between mid May and early November because outside of these months water conditions are just too wild. But even during this dive season, water conditions can get fairly gnarly!
Bull shark diving takes place at a dive site called “the big scare” which is right next to a huge rock rising out of the sea. Waves crashing against it will normally make the boat rock and I remember a couple of divers questioning whether it was safe to enter the water so close to such a gnarly rock – but we all survived!
When you descend down, you may experience a strong current that changes direction quite rapidly – generally speaking you just wait on the seafloor for the bull sharks to swim past, so you may need to grab a rock to stop yourself being blown away!
Please bare in mind that the bat islands is an advanced dive (being a deep dive in strong currents with bull sharks)!
You have your advanced open water certification and if it’s been a while since your last dive you may be asked to complete your scuba refresher course first – fortunately it’s easy to do this at the local dive sites around playa del coco.
You’ll want a full wetsuit for diving – a 3mm if you don’t get cold easily, or a 5mm if you do get cold easily!
Between 2021 and 2022 I spent a year based mainly in Costa Rica.
A favourite place of mine was Playa del Coco; the local dive sites were an excellent place to test out my new cameras and of course they were close to the Bat Islands and Catalina Islands.
The first few times I tried to dive the Bat Islands it was as an afterthought whilst being up there to dive Playa Coco and the Catalinas.
Consequently, the dive season wasn’t right on my first try so no dive centre would take me and on my second attempt I couldn’t find three other divers who also wanted to go.
It was only on my way driving back from Nicaragua where I’d been diving the Corn Islands that I returned to Playa del Coco for a fourth time on a sudden, un-planned whim for just two days.
After messaging no less than five dive centres, I finally found one (Rocket Frog Divers!) who had a Bat Islands trip scheduled for the next day.
I remember well the 90 minute boat ride against a torrential downpour of rain, the mad crashing of the waves against the jagged rocks of the Bat “Islands”, the backroll entry and the descent down to a sea bottom, gripping a rock so as not to be blown away by the strong current constantly changing direction.
It wasn’t long before a bull shark; a huge muscular creature; the ultimate killing machine appeared out of the murky water for a few seconds only to be swallowed up by it again a moment later.
Over the next 20 minutes we saw this happen a dozen times- there were definitely at least two bull sharks – maybe more!
It was my fourth last day in Costa Rica and my final dive in Central America (for now…). What a dive to go out on it was. You can check out the full movie I made here!
And there you have it – the Bat Islands of Costa Rica – it’s perhaps the best place in all of Central America to go diving with a bull shark and an awesome half day trip to add on to your itinerary if you’re already up at playa del coco.
If you go at the right time of year and make sure to book in advance with a dive centre, your chances of seeing not one but several bull sharks at “the big scare” dive site of the Bat Islands are extremely high!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and don’t forget to check out my other pieces of diving around Costa Rica. Peace and love!