San Lucas Island: Where the Haunting Past Meets the Vibrant Present

San Lucas Island Costa Rica

Going beyond its dark, historical past and into a full-fledged tourist spot in Costa Rica, San Lucas Island is one of the country’s destinations that’s slowly making a name for itself.

It’s the largest island in the Gigante Bay area at a size of 600 hectares. Located just offshore from Puntaneras along the Pacific Coast, San Lucas Island can be reached only by hiring a boat to take you there.


San Lucas Island used to be the most notorious and feared prison in the entire country before it became a national park. It was created by Costa Rican dictator Tomás Guardia especially for the worst criminals in the country.

From the year 1873 to 1991, prisoners with the heaviest offenses curse this place because of its very poor conditions. It was said that being sentenced here is the same as being given a death sentence. An even more disturbing story is that the lives of the prisoners here were short and spent on being tortures.

In the year 2008, San Lucas Island was declared as part of the national wildlife preserve. With the government trying its best to transform this haunting place into a vibrant, attractive and commercialized one, it seems like their efforts for San Lucas Island are paying off.

What’s to See and Do

Moving forward from its violent past, San Lucas Island is steadily furnishing its tourism, attracting more and more visitors every year. Ruins of the prison are still visible up to this day with old concrete walls continue to stand tall in some holding cells. The warden’s and administrative offices too are still standing.

Better to take pictures while you still can because it’s believed that commercialization will be on full speed anytime soon. You’ll be seeing more restaurants, beach hotels and the like in the coming years.

Although it’s a relatively young park and apart from its eerie past, its rich surroundings allow vast vegetations to grow and for animals, reptiles, insect species to inhabit it. There are a couple of mangrove forests where 6 mollusk species can be spotted. 8 mammal species, 17 reptile species, 40 bird species consider San Lucas Island their home.

When you’re strolling around the area, chances are you’d be able to see white-tailed deers, armadillos, boa constrictors, Mexican pythons, raccoons, skunks, anteaters and feral pig to name some. Moreover, there are about 8 species of bats in the island and underwater, hammerhead sharks, turtles and rays can be found living here.

There are also five beaches dotted along the lines of this island. If you want to just swim or get a good tan, then enjoy the mostly untouched shores and seas of this island.

If you’re looking for a place that can offer something so much more than just a disturbing past, then San Lucas Island is the right destination for you. Just make sure to go around during the day. You don’t want to be here when darkness falls and the holding cells are towering over you.


Getting There
Before you reach the boat that will take you to San Lucas Island, you need to drive first from San Jose and take the Interamerican Highway to the turnoff at Puntaneras. There are some chartered boats that can pick you up from San Jose straight to the island. All you need to do is to book in advance.


Places to Stay Near San Lucas Island 

Alamar Apartotel

Double Tree Resort by Hilton Puntaneras

Ensenada Lodge National Wildlife Refuge


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