Tortuga Island is one of the most popular islands of Costa Rica. It comprises of a couple of uninhabited islands, located opposite to the Curu Wildlife Refuge. The crystalline cerulean waters and balmy weather here offers incredible snorkeling and diving opportunities (where diving buffs can encounter string rays, sharks and the vibrant small fish schools), white the glistening silver beaches hemmed with swaying palm trees offer a surreal tropical paradise setting.
The principal island of the Islas Tortugas is called Tolinga, and features an area of about 120 hectares. It sports a couple pristine sand beaches complemented by lush palms and azure clear waters. The Mortero Islands are part of this region, and are touted to offer some of the best snorkeling conditions in the Nicoya Peninsula.
Other than local operators, several small tour companies conduct day trips from San José and Puntarenas to the Tortuga Island. Adventure smitten visitors can also hike through the tropical forest for a vantage point view of this photogenic island. Full-day tours generally include roundtrip transportation, a bilingual guide, snorkeling or scuba diving trip, snacks, and a delectable BBQ lunch on the beach.
Though snorkeling and scuba diving are the island’s biggest attractions, there are several other activities to be enjoyed here such jet skiing and kayaking, banana boat tours, horses riding, a canopy tour, and a hike across the island.
The waters are at the Tortuga Islands are calm and clear. During the boat tour guests can regularly spot dolphins, the very popular humpback whales, turtles and seabirds. Plenty of vegetation adorns the rock that created the coastline connecting Curu and Tortuga Island.
One of the most intriguing and fairy-tale like islands in Costa Rica’s history, Costa Rica acquired Cocos Island in the mid 19th century. Between 1872 and 1874, the Costa Rican government ran a prison on the island. It also sponsored its own treasure-hunting initiatives, but no massive treasures were unearthed from this fabled island. It was in 1898 that naturalists Anastasio Alfaro and Henri Pittier suggested that it be designated as a protected area.
In 1978, Cocos Island was accorded the status of a Costa Rican national park, part of the country’s heritage and a vital source for natural elements. Cocos Island is the only spot above sea level in Cocos Ridge, a row of sunken volcanoes that run along Costa Rica to the north of the Galapagos Islands. The island is has emerged from volcanic eruption and its mineral-rich soil supports the tropical lowland ecosystem and a cloud forest. The Cocos Island National Park consists of the entire island, preserving its lands and waters. It is Costa Rica’s most isolated and uninhabited national park and can only be accessed via a 36-hour boat ride. Home to some of the country’s most evocative natural imagery and unique to the region wildlife species, Cocos Island is great for a long, explorative trek.
Just off the island’s shores, the Pacific Ocean is the treasure house of a spectacularly varied marine life. It hosts one of the biggest scalloped hammerhead cleaning stations in the world, which lures the prehistoric creatures by droves. Cocos Island is a significant habitat for other big pelagic species such as dolphins, giant manta rays and about eight different varieties of sharks.
A region overflowing with vast seascapes and abundant wildlife, Cocos Island National Park is known to be one of the world’s top ten scuba diving destinations. The quality of marine animal sightings makes it’s a diver’s haven, especially for intrepid shark divers. The calm waters and rocky pinnacles surrounding the Coco’s shores lure scores of hammerheads, white tip reef sharks, and rays in addition to at least 32 types of corals, 57 crustaceans, 118 mollusks and 250 fish species.
Featuring expansive seascapes and a large variety of wildlife, Cocos Island National Park is known to be one of the world’s top ten scuba diving destinations. The quality of marine animal makes this a diver’s haven especially for intrepid shark lovers. The secluded waters and rocky peaks encircling the shores lure hundreds of hammerheads, white tip reef sharks, jacks, and rays as well as at least 32 types of corals, 57 crustaceans, 118 mollusks and 250 fish species.
More about: Cocos Island
Nestled 10 miles away from the Osa Peninsula shore, Cano Island is a tropical paradise filled with silvery sand, palm-lined beaches and vibrantly hued coral reefs. The island’s beaches are super spots for relaxation and suntanning. Visitors can also spot the olive ridley sea turtles scampering ashore to lay their eggs. It is a significant island for Costa Rica, both historically and environmentally. The waters surrounding this biological reserve are filled with marine creatures, while the island itself seeks to preserve the nation’s heritage dating back to the pre-Columbian era.
Featuring a visibility of 20 ft. or more and an enclosed inshore reef, the snorkeling conditions here are almost always perfect throughout the year. Snorkelers have the opportunity of spotting marine wonders such as the parrotfish, surgeon fish, barber fish, eels, snapper, puffers, barracudas, turtles, and manta rays. Offshore, if you’re lucky humpback whales and bottle-nosed dolphins can also be spotted occasionally.
Designated a Biological Reserve in 1978, Cano Island Biological Reserve is a marine biodiversity hotspot. The island is encircled by five platforms of Coral Reefs comprising about 20 species. The best time to visit the Cano Islands is from July and October, during which the migration of the whale sharks and humpback whales can be witnessed, and again from December through March.
In order to preserve the sacred biodiversity of the region, tourists are only permitted on the northern belt of the island. It is virtually untapped and brimming with natural beauty. Visitors can enjoy a picnic on the beach while watching birds or hike along the trails and explore about 160 different indigenous plant species. The main hiking path also cuts off and allows the visitor a vantage point view of the island. If an unfazed vacation is more your cup of tea, simply lie down and cherish the sun-balmed beach.
More about: Caño Island
Murcielagos / Bat Islands
The Bat Islands are considered one of the top scuba diving destinations in Costa Rica. Located in the north of the Guanacaste off the coast of Santa Rosa National Park, this area has been protected as part of the national park. The Bat Islands are choc-o-bloc with Costa Rica’s famed marine life. There are huge schools of various species of fish. There are also gargantuan schools of Rays that pass through the area.
The Islas Murciélagos or Bat Islands are probably one of the most naturally invigorating spots for seasoned divers in the country. One of the biggest thrills here are the up close and personal encounters with large bull-shark, which are rarely seen anywhere else. Nestled at around 30 miles to the north-west of the Playas del Coco, at the western tip of the Santa Rosa National Park, the islands feature more challenging surges, stronger currents and deeper dives. The best time to visit Bat Islands is from May to end of September.It’s an hour long ride by boats.
Another huge attraction to the Bat Islands is the Pacific Giant Mantas. These mantas, which can also be spotted at one of the several Catalina Island Diving tours conducted by local tour operators, are the largest species of mantas found in the world. The mantas are seen in the company of their tinier relatives that come in large numbers. The much smaller devil rays can also be spotted in huge numbers navigating through the water after having their fill of the plankton.
More about: Islas Murcielagos / Bat Islands
Comprising 20 small islands, the Catalina archipelago acts as a scuba divers haven. Divers plunge into the waters here to witness one of the several species of rays found in the islands’ cerulean waters, such as the spotted eagle rays and devil manta rays. The less intrepid ones who aren’t into underwater action can settle themselves for some thrilling birdwatching boat trips and sunbathing.
The best time to swim here is between January and March. This is the ideal time for swimming with the bat rays, spotted eagle rays, stingrays, cow-nosed rays, bullseye rays and the famous devil manta rays. One of the most inspiring visuals one can witness in the waters of the Catalina Islands is that of the giant manta ray hovering above you in the water. The waters of Catalina Island are home to several tropical fish such as the lemon-colored barberfish, vibrantly-striped Cortez angelfish and the spiny scorpionfish. Divers can also view up, close and personal some king angelfish, starfish, sea fans, crowned moorish idols, green moray eels, octopi, sea fans, sea turtles and white-tip reef sharks.
The Catalina Islands feature some of the best spots to scuba dive in the entire country. There are several dive sites surrounding these islands that rise from the Pacific in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. The islands are considerably far from the coast host some interesting specimens of the nation’s bio-diverse marine life such as the Pacific Giant Mantas along with several others.
The marine life which divers encounter on their trip here is incredibly varied and fascinating. There are the Costa Rica favorites the Pacific Giant Manta Rays which can be spotted at several dive sites in the Catalina. The region is also quite famous for large shools of devil rays, spotted eagle rays, bullseye rays, bat rays, mobley rays, and other forms of stingrays. The island feature large schools of tropical fish varying in the size. Sharks and several varieties of eels have been known to be spotted regularly in the cobalt waters here. Located in the vicinity of the celebrated Playa Grande, it is common to spot multiple species of turtles hovering about the islands.
If you’re lucky, you many even get to see the rarely spotted whale sharks, tiger sharks, humpback whales, and in chronicled cases even orca whales which have all been spotted in the waters here. The devil rays utilize the waters around the Catalina Islands as a playground which make for a spectacular sight during the breaks. They will be in their most playful mode splashing about in the water.
More about: Catalina Island of Costa Rica
San Lucas Island
Located at about 6 miles from Puntarenas, Isla San Lucas features a land extension of 500 hectares that is demarcated as a protected forest reserve. The area hosts the most famous prison of Costa Rica. On a tour of this island, visitors get to view up close and all the cells, including the maximum security cells and the entire history of “The Lonely Men’s Island”, a book penned by Jose Leon Sanchez, a captive in this jail.
Though there are 19 beaches that come under its umbrella but only about of those are for tourist. A tour of the San Lucas is a fantastic opportunity to learn about the history of Costa Rica, and also, partake of its evocative natural resources. A tour of this island by local tour companies generally includes a multi-lingual guide, a hearty lunch at the El Pelicano seaside restaurant, and a stopover at Tortuga Island. This historical monument, not open to the public, is available only by advance reservations.
The Costa Rican counterpart of the Alcatraz, this high-security prison island on isolated waters lined by sharks is considered one of the most brutal in the country. History has it that the prison inmates here had access to butcher knives and often lynched each other in brutal prison gang wars. Since the prison wrapped up in 1991, the island has been completely sparse. Bats frequent the dingy barracks now almost in ruins. One of the goriest experiences here is the graffiti of a girl in a bikini painted with human blood.
San Lucas Island has been an intriguing and fascinating destination for people for several years. The genius natives here utilized the island as a place of burial from as early as 1,500-800 B.C. As a result Jade gold stone and clay pieces have been found on the island. The isolated and serene island continues to fascinate, but there are many stark reminders of its gory past when the island operated as a prison based on the Devil’s Island.
The structures of San Lucas that stand here are typical of the edifices of the 1930’s and 40’s. The main structure was declared a part of the Architectural Historical Heritage of Costa Rica in 2002, but lies derelict now. San Lucas is a National Wildlife Shelter, inhabited by congo monkeys, white tail deer, bats, non venomous snakes, iguanas, turkeys, skunks and anteaters. The remains of the prison stand over the landing site as a cruel testimony of the area’s more depraved era.
More about: San Lucas
Travelers can reach Cabuya by heading south from Montezuma down the picturesque road along the beach and towards the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve. Going down a little further one arrives at the Playa Los Cedros, which is known to be Montezuma’s best surfing spot. A picturesque coastal landscape, fringed by palms and aged trees goes right up to Cabuya. This belt is sparsely populated; however this is more than made up for by the scores of pelicans flying overhead. Another unusual attraction at the Cabuya Island is the tiny cemetery island, resting at some hundred meters from the coast. In pre-Columbian times the island doubled up as a burial ground for Indians and the practice of conducting funerals here is prevalent till today. At low guests can walk over to the island where they enjoy the serene environment with views of the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve. The reef located on the right tip of the Cabuya Island is known to be one of the best spots for snorkeling in Costa Rica. Snorkelers can view brightly colored fish swimming in the tide pools here.
It’s a pity people don’t actually take the trouble to walk here. This island is replete with eeriness, myth, fascinating legends, and a looming mysterious aura. It is said to be haunted at night, owing to the fact that it’s been a cemetery for a long time. The place has always been a resting place for the dead, even before the Spanish settlers first made their way here. The new inhabitants kept the tradition alive. At night you can sometimes catch a creepy sight (from the hills over Cabuya, Delicias and Montezuma) of people walking towards the island with candles in their hand, which gives the illusion of lights walking over the water body.
Isla Uvita or Utiva Island is one of the most fascinating islands in Costa Rica with an intriguing background. This tiny humble island was the Christopher Columbus first set his foot in Costa Rica during his fourth trip to the country. This enchanting island was also the hotbed of a rich and vibrant pre-Columbian culture. It is possible to travel to the island only during certain months of the year since the only way to reach here is through a boat trip from Limon. It is important to keep in mind that not water supplies or accommodation is available on site at the island and hence guests should be well stocked with essentials while making a trip here.
Utiva is a great place to camp under Costa Rica’s clear night sky. The island is also extremely sought after among the seasoned surfer and diver communities, though it’s not the best place for beginners. The waves here go to about 10 ft with very overpowering left swells. The best time to visit in the islands in terms of clarity of water and visibility if from March to early May, and from mid-August to the middle of November. In the azure waters of Utiva visitors can discover everything from vividly colored tropical fish to corals to intriguing ship wrecks.