Bat Islands

Big Scare

I’m a Dive Master trainee floating weightlessly at 30m/90ft, backing up a group of nervously excited Advanced Divers where the instructor leading the group is pointing out big dark looming shadows of the world’s third most dangerous shark left, right and centre.

As I turn around slowly, to see when my turn will come, a large female bull shark is cruising slowly to my intermediate left eyeing up the group trying to work out who these strange, noisy bubble-blowing sea creatures are. Its Bat Island season in Costa Rica and Rich Coast Diving is taking a trip at Islas Mucielago, famously one of the few places in the world where you can dive with bull sharks.

Did that really just happen? I slowly regain my composure and begin to think in words and sentences again, rather than in raw emotion. I was an intruder on that fish’s marine turf – and it simply let me be. It allowed me to share its space. Thanks for not eating me. This is one of many regular bull shark sightings that draws hundreds of dive tourists to this region of Costa Rica each year between May and November.

Affectionately known by English speakers as the “Bat Islands,” Islas Murciélago sits offshore from Santa Rosa National Park near the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border. Fearless bull sharks stretching 6 feet to 10 feet or more; enormous manta rays big enough to block out the sun; and zebra eels as long as a garden hose are just a few of the sea creatures that adventurous souls can hope to encounter on a single diving expedition within these protected waters.

The main island is composed of rolling, lush green hills – a shade of emerald lime so stunning it almost looks like an artificial backdrop. It’s one of those magical, picture-perfect places that you have to convince yourself is actually real. The lone building on the island, a ranger station full of Costa Rican law enforcers and environmentalists, is the only sign of human life. Everything else is primal, and probably exactly as it was thousands upon thousands of years ago.

On any given boat trip out there we encountered pods of dolphins, humpback whales, 100’s of golden rays shining beneath the surface and devil rays jumping out of the water to shed parasites collecting on the surface of their skin. The first dive site: Big scare is where we find the bull sharks and on the way home we stop at Black Rock to dive around a huge pinnacle with swarms of jacks, rays and if we’re lucky reef sharks. There’s only a few months left and visibility and water temperature is at its peak in July/August, come sign up!


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