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Costa Rica, Isla del Coco: Permit or not?

By Various sources — last modified Oct 17, 2016 08:37 AM
No vessel coming from a foreign port can stop here (i.e. en-route Panama - Marquesas). Only yachts that have cleared in to Costa Rica with the Authorities including Immigration can apply for a permit to visit Isla del Coco.

Published: 2016-10-16 23:00:00
Countries: Costa Rica

Park permits for Cocos has been something the government has been pushing for many years in order to limit the number of visiting boats. Whilst in the past we have received reports of boats visiting these islands without permits (and being permitted to stay), the situation it tougher now and according to the Cocos Island Marine Conservation Area (ACMIC) who oversee permits and regulations in the park, these are very much required prior to making a visit.

Update October 2016: From Karsten Staffeldt, Panama

I am currently in contact with a boat en-route Panama - Marquesas and they tried to call Isla del Coco without a permit and were refused. Seems regulations unchanged, no vessel coming from a foreign port accepted. Only vessels (or yachts) cleared in to Costa Rica with Authorities inclusive Immigration can apply for a permit to visit Isla del Coco.

This permit takes about 2 weeks to obtain and generally the Park Authorities do not respond to e-mails etc. In other words it is somewhat difficult to arrange. It may be possible for an agent in Costa Rica to secure a permit prior to a boat's arrival in Costa Rica, but again presently clearing in at a Costa Rican Port is a requirement in order  to be able to apply for a permit.

January 2015: Costs and permit application procedure

As of http://www.isladelcoco.go.cr/

Note: Application for a permit to visit Isla del Coco can only be made once you have arrived in Costa Rica as clearance papers are required. It is a complicated and lengthy procedure, especially if you do not speak Spanish.

The ACMIC website has a forms section "Formularios" so you can make an application in advance. Fill out the form to apply for a permit, "Requisitos y tramite para solicitud directa de permiso de ingreso al parque nacional isla del coco."

This form needs to be sent along with the requested documents to the ACMIC office in San Jose at least 15 days prior to the planned arrival date in Cocos. You will need to include:

  • Copy of ID/passports for all crew
  • Copy of boat registration
  • Copy of certificate of Seaworthiness/boat survey or the like (that states you have a holding tank and proper disposal of trash and rescue equipment, radio etc.)
  • Proof that the boat is legal in Costa Rica waters (i.e. CR clearance paperwork)
  • Itinerary in detail of all activities for every day (what each person on board is planning to do)
  • Crew list

Note that the declaration of seaworthiness, rescue equipment etc. needs to be notarized.

Costs involved can be found on the ACMIC website (http://www.isladelcoco.go.cr/es/programas-programa-de-turismo.aspx) under "Atractivos y Costos", along with bank transfer details.

Admission: $ 25 per day. 
Diving: $ 10 per day (you are assigned the dates and times to dive more or less, for each site around the island, 3 dives per day)
Anchor (according to Length of Vessel) per day: 
• 0-14 meters: $ 25. 
• 15 to 29 meters: $ 35. 
• 30- 44 meters: $ 45.

You may also want to hire the services of a dive guide (additional $300 per day) due to the extreme conditions one may encounter diving some of the different sites around the island; extremely strong currents, upwellings, downwellings, etc... as well as knowing exactly where to dive to get the best experience.

For questions on permits, fees or park requirements contact:

Cocos Island Marine Conservation Area (ACMIC)
San José, Sabana Sur, de la Contraloría General de la República, 400 metros Oeste y 25 metros Sur, frente al Ministerio de Economía Industria y Comercio (MEIC)
Tel: 2291-1215 
Fax: 2291-1264
Hours: Monday through Friday from 8:00 to 15:00

E-mail contact via http://www.isladelcoco.go.cr/es/contactenos.aspx

Website: http://www.isladelcoco.go.cr/
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Parque-Nacional-Isla-del-Coco-Cocos-Island-National-Park/201143926560

January 12, 2015
Report from SY Imagine received via Karsten Staffeldt, Panama

Now the funny thing and please post it to other sailors when we will have left Isla Cocos.
The rangers pleaded us to do it!

If we had gotten the immigration stamp /zarpe in Golfito or another Costa Rica port, the rangers would have given us the permiso to stay at the island and also dive without any problem. 50 us$ per day per person.
The permiso - for which I spent hundreds of dollars going to notarios, getting apostille etc. over the past two months - was not necessary.

EVEN IF I had brought it with us without an immigration stamp, it doesn't help.

So the good news is, you can visit Isla Cocos and get the permission here IF YOU HAVE A COSTA RICA IMMIGRATION STAMP.

Andreas
SY Imagine (Germany)

Editor's Note: SY Imagine were not succesful getting a permit in advance from Panama as securing a permit is only possible in Costa Rica. They therefore did not arrive with a permit and were not permitted to go ashore. After effecting repairs, they continued on to the Galapagos. Unless something has changed radically this year with regards to permit rules, it is probably that there was some confusion with IMAGINE and the rangers. See the New ACMIC website http://www.isladelcoco.go.cr/ for full details on how to apply for a permit.

September 29, 2013
As reported on Yahoo Southbound_Group

We tried to visit Cocos Island, C.R. in February 2013. The permit system was in transition at the time. We'd met boats that had recently been there, without permits, and were allowed to stay. Then we met a boat that had been turned away, so I tried to obtain a permit in advance.

Many of the websites and email addresses listed on sailing websites as well as on the Costa Rican government sites were incorrect. In the last week before departing Panama I finally got a reply from a gov't lawyer in Costa Rica. It said we had to go to Costa Rica, check into the country and then get a permit. Having already spent our maximum 3 months in CR recently, and because we were heading South, that wasn't a viable option. Hoping that was an overly-officious answer, we gambled and sailed to Cocos.

On arrival in Cocos, we pleaded our case with the rangers, most of whom were sympathetic. I had copies of my emails to show I'd attempted to obtain a permit in advance. However, they clearly had been told NOT to allow any exceptions to the new rules. They even took us ashore to call the main office in San Jose CR. They reached the same lawyer who'd sent me the email, unfortunately, and she said we'd been told what to do and don't let us stay. They gave us permission to buy diesel from a dive boat, and until dawn to leave (which was generous). They kept an eye on us and wouldn't even let us snorkel around our boat. Such a frustrating experience!

The dive boat folks were super nice and felt really bad for us. We got a tour of their boat, some cold drinks, diesel, etc. I talked to some of their passengers and would have to say that I'd opt for going on a dive trip with them rather than sailing out there in most cases. I believe their boat was called the Sea Hunter.

Supposedly the permit system for Cocos will soon be such that there is an immigration agent at the island, so boats arriving from the south don't need to go all the way to Costa Rica, get a permit, then back-track hundreds of miles. My only advice is to start early with the permits and not go without one unless you're willing to suffer the disappointment of only seeing that gorgeous island from your deck.

December 3, 2012

We tried to get the Permit to Isla Cocos in Costa Rica in advance, but they now want legal NOTARIZED paperwork sent by post to the main office in San Jose. They want it 15 days ahead.

So, we arrived at Chatham Bay on Cocos Island from Balboa, Panama without a visiting permit, because for many years yachts have been accepted for a short visit, 1-4 days, when arriving from foreign countries without one.

But, It is not possible to pay at the park any more. The Park Rangers came on board and in a friendly tone they told us we had to leave in two hours, because we didn't have a Permit. We argued and tried everything, but they were determined. If we had had engine problems we could have stayed for repairs until the next morning, but we could not dive, snorkel, go ashore or anything.

It is worth noting, that if you do arrive with a permit, it is only possible to dive with a local Dive master, that charges 80 USD for two dives and that is on top of all the other fees. The only dive masters on Cocos are the ones on the big "live aboard, Agressors", so it is impossible. This is the new policy.

The rules have been there always, but now they are being enforced. The Rangers explained that they are trying to get an Immigration officer to the Island, but until that happens they want to see the Permit and the Passports stamped from Costa Rica. All cruising yachts visiting Cocos Island without this paperwork will be rejected... We gave up. They don't want cruisers there any more.

Same rules goes for Isla Cano. 10 USD per person for snorkel, 14 USD for diving and 4 USD for the boat, all per day, paid in advance. Only anchoring at the Ranger spot or grab one of the moorings same place. We got our permit in the park Office in Puerto Jimenez, that takes care of Isla Cano, but when we came to the Island, we could not dive - as we were not notified that we must have a local dive master. We were lucky, that a dive master from a resort on the main coast was diving with tourists that day and said he could help us, so we could dive on day two we were there. The fist day we could only snorkel.

National Parks are now a big thing (income) in Costa Rica, but they are not updated with all the park offices on all their rules, so nobody knows what the other does. This is why, when we purchased the permits at the park office in Peurto Jiminez we were not informed of the need of a local dive master, nor were we charged the special permit fee for diving. It is a real problem to travel to the correct office, see the right people and still not be given the correct information.

Jan Klintegaard
Yacht "Anaconda" of Copenhagen
P.S. We have been cruising for more than 12 years all over the World and been very happy to have Noonsite. Now we think it is time to contribute with some of our experiences.

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