Costa Rica is most commonly known for its pristine beaches, abundance of wildlife and varied landscapes. Visitors can fly into the cosmopolitan capital of San Jose one day, and be zip lining through a nearby jungle or laying out next to clear blue waters the next. Many of these frequently visited seaside destinations also boast tiny, little-known islands not far off their coasts. From abandoned maximum security prisons, national parks and possibly haunted cemeteries, don’t forget to put these six ‘secret’ islands on your itinerary during your next trip to Costa Rica!
Isla de Caño
Where: Osa, Costa Rica (in the Pacific Ocean)
The island, which is rumored to have once been inhabited by pirates, is a Costa Rican national park and part of the Osa Conservation Area. Visitors can explore the island’s varied marine life and brightly-colored coral species by snorkeling or diving in the crystal-clear waters. Several different companies in the area offer guided hiking, diving, snorkeling and even whale watching trips to the island. Visitors will also be able to see several artifacts that give evidence to pre-Columbian inhabitants of Isla de Caño, including carved stone spheres.
Where: the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula in the Pacific Ocean
The Islas Tortugas are a stretch of uninhabited islands lying in the Pacific Ocean. Daily catamaran tours of the island depart from nearby towns Montezuma, Jaco and Puntarenas. Once on the island, visitors can rent jet skis, paddle boards, snorkel gear and kayaks or spend the day laying out on the beach.
Isla del Coco
Where: the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about 340 miles from the shores of Costa Rica
Isla del Coco is a designated national park that does not allow inhabitants other than park rangers to stay permanently on the island. Tourists who come for a day trip to check out the island’s natural beauty, however, are always welcome. Because of its extremely remote location, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is ideal for advanced divers seeking a truly unique spot. The island offers a wide array of biodiversity; divers will be able to see hammerhead sharks, dolphins and whales, as well as over 300 different species of fish during their trip.
Where: Quepos, Costa Rica (the Pacific Ocean)
Hop on a quick 30-minute boat ride from neighboring beach towns such as Jaco and Manuel Antonio to spend the day exploring one of Costa Rica’s most unique environments. This small island is an easy day trip for tourists who wish to enjoy boating or kayaking through the mangrove trees that surround the island. Visitors can also take the time to learn about the island’s tropical rain forest ecosystem, which boasts wildlife species such as monkeys, sloths and boa constrictors.
Isla San Lucas
Where: Puntarenas, Costa Rica (Pacific Ocean)
Located in the Pacific Ocean about five miles off the coast of Puntarenas, Isla San Lucas served as Costa Rica’s most famous maximum security prison until 1991. Those seeking more information about Costa Rica’s history and culture can take a tour of the island, where they will get an inside look at the cells and hear several stories about the prisoners who spent their days living on the island.
Where:Montezuma, Costa Rica (Pacific Ocean)
Isla Cabuya, also known as “Cemetery Island,” is located just off Montezuma, a small town near the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Public buses run four times daily from Montezuma to Cabo Blanco Reserve, where visitors wanting to make the trek out to Isla Cabuya must wait until low tide, when a causeway over the rocks will appear. Snorkeling is a popular activity for visitors, as a reef on one tip of the island makes for the perfect spot to see tons of colorful fish. In pre-Columbian times, Isla Cabuya was home to a burial ground, and the island is said to remain haunted by ghosts. Funerals continue to be held on the island to this day, and participants can be seen late at night carrying candles as they make their way out to the tiny cemetery. The island also boasts a little-known surfing spot called the “Secret Reef.” With the right conditions, a huge swell forms, satisfying even the boldest of surfers.
Rob Harper is the Director of Business Development for Namu Travel Group.