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Dive Review of El Ocotal in
Costa Rica

El Ocotal, Jun, 2004,

by Elizabeth Hilla, VA, USA . Report 1111.

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

Weather sunny Seas calm, choppy
Water Temp 0 to 0 Fahrenheit Wetsuit Thickness 0
Water Visibility 20 to 35 Feet

Dive Policy

Dive own profile no
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.
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? N/A

What I Saw

Sharks 1 or 2 Mantas None
Dolphins Schools Whale Sharks None
Turtles 1 or 2 Whales None
Corals 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 N/A Boat Facilities N/A
Overall rating for UWP's N/A Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments [None]

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 5 stars Food 5 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity N/A
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving 2 stars
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ N/A
Beginners 1 stars
Advanced 3 stars
Comments 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 large.

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 overhead.

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 uncrowded.

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 room.

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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