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Dive Review of El Ocotal in
Costa Rica

June, 2004, an Instant Reader Report by Elizabeth Hilla, VA, USA
Report Number 1111
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Reporter and Travel
Dive Experience
101-250 dives
Where else diving
 Caribbean only --South Caicos, Bonaire, Domenica, Cozumel, Roatan, Saba,
Cayman Brac, Nevis
Closest Airport
Getting There


Dive Conditions

calm, choppy  
Water Temp
0   to 0    Fahrenheit  
Wetsuit Thickness
Water Visibility
20   to 35    Feet  
Dive Policy
Dive own profile
Enforced diving restrictions  
Most dives were max 70 or 80 feet with a 45 minute time limit.  Divers were
asked to stay with the group, which made some sense because of strong
currents and limited viz.  
Nitrox Available?
What I saw
1 or 2 
Whale Sharks
1 or 2 
Ratings 1 (worst)- 5 (best):
  1 stars
Tropical Fish
3 stars  
Small Critters
  3 stars
Large Fish
4 stars  
Large Pelagics
  3 stars
Underwater Photography  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
Subject Matter
Boat Facilities
Overall rating for UWP's  
Shore Facilities  
Ratings and Overall Comments  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
5 stars
5 stars
Service and Attitude
5 stars
Environmental Sensitivity  
Dive Operation
5 stars  
Shore Diving  
2 stars  

Overall Rating

Value for $$
1 stars   
3 stars    
We were looking for a destination where my husband and I could do some good
diving, and also have some fun with our kids (12, 9 and 5 years old). 
Costa Rica, and El Ocotal specifically, were great choices.  The country is
beautiful and diverse and we thoroughly enjoyed our day trips which
included the Paloverde River, a trip to the Monteverde Cloud Forest, and
the "Mega Combo" tour to a place called Buenavista which featured
horseback riding, mud baths, a water slide through the forest, and whizzing
through the canopy on a wire, all in one day.  

This was our first experience with Pacific diving.  We dived for four days
and enjoyed the contrast from Caribbean diving--such as new types of
butterflyfish and angelfish--although we did miss the coral and warmer
waters of the Caribbean. We saw eels on every dive, some of them quite big.
The place is also porcupinefish heaven. We saw octopus several times, and I
was thrilled when one dashed right by my face while changing color
instantly from gray to brown.  We saw many schooling fish, some of them

We mostly did the "local" dives not far from the resort but did
take the longer trip to the Bat Islands. I hadn't understood until we were
on the way that the goal of our trip was to see schools of bull sharks. I'm
all for big critters but am more than happy to see the more aggressive
sharks in pictures.  Fortunately for me and unfortunately for the rest of
the divers, no sharks were spotted on this outing.  Several divers did
point their fingers at what they later told us was a large manta, but all
my husband and I saw in the limited visibility was a large shadow

Most of the time the water was warm enough to be comfortable in a diveskin,
but occasionally we'd hit a thermocline and suddenly the water temperature
would plummet. We wore thin shorties and were fine, although apparently the
water is much, much colder in the dry season (our winter).

El Ocotal has a terrific dive operation. All the dive staff seemed very
eager to make our diving as enjoyable and easy as possible. When my BC
sprung a leak on part one of a two-tank dive, one of the divemasters traded
his BC for mine so that I could do the second dive. The divemasters asked
everyone to stay together, but didn't get irritated when my husband and I
lost the group during a murky descent(we ascended again and found one of
the divemasters waiting for us). The dive boats were comfortable and

The resort is scenic and upscale.  As we were coming in the beginning of
the rainy season (although we had lovely weather all week with rain mostly
at night), the hotel had offered us a free upgrade to a bungalow room,
which was roomy and comfortable. A bungalow is a separate building divided
into two units. Each bungalow has its own mini-pool shared only with the
residents of the other half of the bungalow.  The only things we didn't
like were the lack of soundproofing between the two sections (we could hear
virtually every word spoken on the other side) and the lack of a shower
curtain around the big jacuzzi-style tub/shower.  What we liked most was
the family of howler monkeys we discovered just a short walk from our

Breakfast was included in our package and we hiked up the hill each morning
to enjoy the expansive buffet each morning, with fresh fruits, a variety of
American and Costa Rican fare, and made-to-order omelets.  The view from
the restaurant terrace was awesome.  We were greeted the first morning by
an impressive bluejay-like bird with parrot-like plumage; the bird then
proceeded to fly away with the sausage from my breakfast plate.  A tour
guide later told me he called them "raccoon birds" for their
tendency to steal food.  Interesting that he would mention raccoons, as
they showed up at dinner the next night.

The service in this restaurant was considerably less impressive than the
food, but not terrible. We also tried the hotel's "Father
Rooster" restaurant and liked its beach-front location and casual
ambiance, but the place was understaffed and the service hovered between
slow and stopped. We ended up eating most of our meals in town and found
that the food was pretty darn good everywhere we went.  

This is a great place for divers with kids.  With several airlines now
flying into Liberia, Costa Rica (just 20 minutes from El Ocotal), the
travel is easy and we even found some very affordable fares (a key factor
for a family of five).  The hotel arranged babysitting (but I was glad I'd
studied up on my Spanish because unlike most of the hotel employees, the
babysitter did not speak English).  And there's plenty for the kids to do. 
My children loved the pool with the swim-up counter for food and drinks,
and they did a lot of snorkeling just off the beach and spotted some
interesting fish.  We took them on the dive boat one day and the captain
dropped us off on a secluded beach for snorkeling, which was fantastic. 
And when dolphins followed the boat and began jumping full-body out of the
water, it made the kids' trip.

The only thing I'd add about taking kids is that while I'm not a fan of
certifying 10 or 12 year olds as divers as it is, I definitely wouldn't
recommend this as a dive destination for young or inexperienced divers. 
Even though the divemasters were extremely safety-conscious, the currents
and the surge could be considerable.
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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