By Ryan Treais- July 2017

Panama is a country that I had never visited so the excitement was definitely present after about 10 hours of total travel time. After landing in Panama City, we were met by Bianca a friend of my mother’s but who also happens to work for Yala Tours. She drove us from the airport to Casco Viejo, the old city, which sits west of of the high rises that make up Panama City today. In Casco Viejo we drove around for about an hour when we first arrived which was a great way to truly see how tight the city streets are and the different architectural styles of the 1900’s. After checking in the American Trade Hotel, we fell asleep on an amazing mattress, in a modern renovated hotel that is truly amazing.

That morning we were picked up again by Bianca and visited the Miraflores Locks. The timing of our trip was perfect. We got there almost right as the visitor center so we were not super crowded. After this, we drove up to Lake Gatun where we got on a little skiff and went out for a boat ride on the lake. Gazing up into the trees at monkeys, seeing a couple crocodiles and some pretty birds was a great way to spend a couple hours. We then went back to Casco Viejo where my mom and I explored the city around us. Which culminated in a rooftop bar with some of my mom’s clients and then a tapas style restaurant, Tantallo Kitchen (which had the roofbar), where we enjoyed a meal family style.

The next day we walked around a bit more in the morning before catching a taxi and going to the airport for our plane to San Jose, Costa Rica. The next day the Undersea Hunter bus picked us up from our hotel to drive us to Puntarenas where we met up with the Sea Hunter. Once on the boat, we began the 36 hour crossing to Cocos Island. It took two nights and we arrived at Cocos during the second night. It was so cool to wake up looking at the island itself which looks like it was taken straight out of Avatar or Jurassic Park. The first day was a pretty relaxed way of starting a dive trip with a checkout dive with little reef sharks which we soon realized where absolutely everywhere. The diving was amazing and different dive sites had different fish to look at.

The boat itself has 8 crew members, (2 divemasters, Capitan, engineer, chef, sous chef, steward, skiff driver). The boat is very comfortable with a large lounge and a large sundeck to relax on between dives. Diving is out of a fiberglass skiff which holds 10 people with a big sturdy ladder to get out of the water on. A simple backroll and you are in the water. All of the tanks stay in the skiff so there is no stress about passing gear between skiff and the mothership. If you need to access your gear between dives just jump into the boat which are kept alongside.

The diving itself is great. You do dive in large groups 8-10 so it is imperative that the groups stick together which the dive guides to a great job of. They are also fantastic and pointing out the big pelagic as well as the little things. During our trip, there was unusually green water so visibility was limited to about 50-60ft. There were also a couple of great thermoclines with what we were told was a lot colder than Cocos is usually. The coldest I ever felt was 67 degreesF (about 19 degrees centigrade), which in my three mm wetsuit was quite lovely. There were only two dives with a massive thermocline and the rest of the dives were between 83 degrees and 73 degrees F.

For someone who has had a longtime passion with sharks and pig pelagics, I absolutely adored Cocos. From the Hammerheads, to the Manta, to the Blacktips that we saw I was in awe and bewilderment. The style of diving at Cocos is you hit the deepest part first, stay down there as long as possible swim a little then drift off into the blue. For me, the cleaning stations were stunning. Seeing these big pelagic animals sometimes within 2 feet was truly spectacular. As well as the sharks, there were some curious yellowfin tuna, massive schools of Bigeye Trevally, Black Jacks, and some Wahoo. My personal favorite dive site was Dirty Rock, a pinnacle separated from Cocos proper by about half a mile. This dive site was teeming with life and we saw lots of sharks as well as a school of big eye jack that stretched from about 10ft of water to nearly 110ft. Swimming through this massive school is definitely something I will never forget.

To anyone considering diving Cocos just know that you are going to experience nature, nothing is guaranteed and go and make the best trip you can. Sadly, we never saw any massive schools of hammerheads, but we did see some schools about 20 strong but none as large as the ones you see in the photos. I had an amazing time and would love to visit again someday. Thanks Mom!