Cocos and Malpelo Islands

Each year more people summit Mount Everest than visit Malpelo Island and just about the same numbers trek to Mount Everest as visit Cocos Island.*  For those that love sharks Malpelo and Cocos Islands are must dive locations.  Part of the appeal of these locations is how remote they are.  Remote means 121 hours to travel to, between and then back to the mainland.  Regardless, after our second trip we have decided to make this an annual pilgrimage. 


We did a fairly detailed trip report for our 1st trip in 2006 so this report will mainly focus on the differences between the two trips and cover some of the questions we have been typically been asked about these destinations. 


The Sea Hunter Operation
Once again I want to emphasize what a class operation they run. Go to their website it will give you just about all the information you need.  We were happy to be back on the Undersea Hunter.  It is smaller than the Sea Hunter and their new vessel the Argos but the trade off is it only takes 14 divers versus +20 and in Cocos this makes a difference.  Once again the crew met and exceeded all expectations.  We want to thank our dive guides, Edward, Juan Manuel and Moricieo for doing a fantastic job. Kudos to our skiff Capitan Jose always on the spot after each dive.  He also amazed us by taking us into caves and cracks which due to the rough conditions in 06 we could not visit.


Malpelo Island
Malpelo is known for its schooling silky sharks and masses of moray eels.  Unlike Cocos where you are almost guaranteed of seeing sharks with Malpelo it is a 50/50 chance.  It is a minimum of 45hrs to Malpelo and close to 40 hours from Malpelo to Cocos.  That’s 4 potentially miserable days of travel.  We came prepared for the worst, Scopolamine patches, Dramamine and even Ambian.  We were fortunate and had pond flat seas the whole trip.  Were Cocos is green and verdant Malpelo is a Rock!  There is no vegetation on the sides of this 1400ft tall piece of ocean bottom.


Malpelo Diving
If you go to Malpelo you have to come to terms with the potential of traveling a long way and getting skunked.  Sadly we saw no silky schools but we did see hammer heads in the dozens, big Galapagos sharks, red lipped batfish in groups and of course masses of moray eels.  We also were treated to bottle nose dolphins spinning thru the air and pod of false killer whales.  If you have the time Malpelo is well worth the trip but keep expectations in line.


Facts about Diving Cocos and Malpelo (from our perspective)
This applies to the weather, the creatures you will see, currents, viz and surge.  Conditions can vary radically day to day and even on the same dive

Malpelo and Cocos seem to delight in surprising you!  Last trip two dive buddies missed one dive and the whale shark showed up.  This time a couple skipped one day dive and we had a bait ball with silkies, tuna and dolphins. 

 The #1 Question we have been asked is:  “When is the best time to go to Cocos????”

 We have only been twice but we have done a lot of research, read every trip-report we could find and talked to a lot of people including Jay Ireland and Georgienne Bradley who have over 3000 dives just at Cocos.

Our trip this year in April was excellent.  As mentioned, at Malpelo we encountered white tips, hammer heads and several big Galapagos sharks but unfortunately no big schools of silkies.  Can’t emphasize enough conditions can change quickly; the boat that followed us by just two days saw no sharks at Malpelo and felt Cocos was just “ok.”  This could be an “expectations” issue.

The “theory” is the wet season (June-November) with colder water, bigger currents, rainy days and rougher surface conditions has the best schooling action for all species.  The warmer weather is nice for divers and photographers but the schools aren’t as big and are down deeper, this is the “Theory”.


Our meager experience


September of 2006
Water temp:  surface about 74-77. At 60fsw 72 and thermo clines in the 65 degree range
Visibility:  was average of 35-40ft but did have some dives with it in the 80ft range
Surface conditions: Ride out was rough most just stayed in their cabins
Conditions at Cocos: Rained hard every day but we did have 2-3 days with sun breaks.
Surface conditions: Rides out in the pangas could be pounding due to +3ft chop.
Hammer Head Action: Was great we never got skunked, big schools of +100 sharks but due to viz it was sometimes hard to appreciate their mass.  They were often in 70fsw or less of water. 
White Tips: Were every where you stop paying attention to them after awhile. The night dive is one of my favorite dives of all times.
Jack Schools: Were massive.  They would block out what minimal sunlight we were getting and due to viz again the schools were so large you could not see the edge of them.
Rays: Like white tips the marble rays were everywhere
Silver Tips: We got skunked one day but did see one on our second try.  We also found the red lip batfish at this site.
Silkies: None
Baitballs: None for us but the other team found one with very good action
Whalesharks: We had the joy of spending about 10 minutes with one the other team none.
For the Photographers:  Cocos is friendlier to video but know how to manually focus your camera.  For still photographers rainy season, the “low” viz, murky water and gray subjects can be a challenge. 
Over All:  Great trip, could be tough for people who get seasick, great action with big schools.  But was cool, we were happy we brought our fleece and being from Seattle the Rain did not bother us, too much.


Note:  La Nina was supposed to be in affect.  Meaning that the water should have been cooler than normal.  We thought we might get the best of both worlds diving in the dry season during an La Nina, meaning good viz and lots of sharks.


Water temp:  Much warmer around 80 degrees.  Some chilly thermo clines again in the 65 degree range
Visibility:  Much better this time, give it an average of 60ft and many dives it in the +80ft range
Surface conditions: The whole trip the seas were flat, flat, flat!
Conditions at Cocos: Mainly hot and sunny with a few afternoon showers but Julie got a lot of tanning in.
Surface conditions: Flat
Hammer Head Action: Was good, never skunked.  Some good schools at Dirty Rock and Alcyon but most schools were at 80fsw or deeper.
White Tips: Again were everywhere but not in the numbers we saw in September.  Once again the night dive delivered.
Jack Schools:  Were there but not in the masses we had previously. 
Rays: Only found 3-4 the guides said it was due to the warmer water.
Silver Tips: Like before we got skunked one day but on the second two came buy and stayed for 15minutes or so.
Silkies: We snorkeled with dozens as we chased bait-balls and I had one very close encounter with one, see Multi-Media show.
Baitballs: Found one at the end but still attracted yellow fin tuna, silkies and dolphins.  The second we kept missing but did see dolphin and silkies again
Whalesharks: None for either team
For the Photographers:  Due to viz much better for both video and still but due to low currents and warm water everything was down deeper so no blue water, sun ball and huge hammerhead school shot.   Now a buddy who was there the week before did get many of these shots.
Over All:  Another great trip.  The weather was “perfect” and viz was much better. BUT, next time we will probably try the rainy season again.


Were there is adversity there is great opportunity.  Yes the trip out to these amazing islands can be trying, the diving at times challenging, the sharks operate according to their own agenda but when it all comes together there is truly no place like Cocos; besides maybe Malpelo.


*very rough estimates to make for an interesting opening.


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