Last Updated: Aug 21, 2013
Isla Tortuga is one of the Nicoya Peninsula’s star attractions with its crystalline waters and tropical white-sand beaches. Named Turtle Island for its volcanic rock formations that resemble the majestic marine creatures, Tortuga is comprised of two uninhabited islands and sits a few miles in front of Curu Wildlife Refuge. Coconut palms line the beach, where visitors can play volleyball, lounge under the sun, or swim in the island’s calm waters.
Location : 2 miles east of Curu Wildlife Refuge
Altitude : Sea level
Area : 297 acres
Entrance Fee : Tour package prices vary
Tortuga is one of the best snorkeling and diving locales off the Peninsula, and delights visitors with its diverse marine life. It has three shipwrecked boats, offering unique diving adventures with average visibility from 20 to 45 feet. The rainy season months of May through November provide the best conditions for scuba diving, while snorkeling is good year-round.
Most day trips to the island are aboard party catamarans, yachts or speedboats that depart from nearby destinations. Full-day tours normally include roundtrip transportation, bilingual guide, snorkeling or scuba diving, snacks, and a delicious BBQ lunch on the beach. Some tour operators include complimentary wine and fresh ceviche en route to Tortuga.
From the central Pacific towns of Jaco and Herradura, travelers can take a scenic 90-minute catamaran cruise across the gulf, passing the isles of Negritos, San Lucas, Gitana, and Guayabo. Dolphins, whales, manta rays and sea turtles are frequently spotted along the way. Tourists based in Montezuma or Mal Pais have a shorter, 45-minute journey, usually via covered speedboat. Once on the island, guests are given a few hours to snorkel or dive amid the rock formations off the coast, followed by several hours of leisure time on the beach.
Snorkeling and scuba diving are the island’s biggest attractions. There are jet skis and kayaks to rent, banana boat tours, horses to ride, a small canopy tour, and a nature hike across the island. Note that all of these activities cost extra, unless specified in tour packages.
Average daytime temperatures on the beach range from 85° to 90° F. September and October usually see the most rain, but tours depart rain or shine throughout the year.
Flora & Fauna:
A domesticated peccary roams the beaches, amusing visitors with its amicable personality. Scarlet macaws, monkeys, and other wildlife may be spotted on hikes across the island’s interior trails.
Snorkelers can expect to see angelfish, parrotfish, sea anemone, starfish, damsels, gobies and puffer fish, while scuba divers may observe white tip reef sharks, yellowtails, grunt, spotted eagle rays, octopi, frog fish and many species of eels. Lucky divers may also see whale sharks as well as false killer whales and large schools of cow-nosed rays.
Facilities are somewhat basic and consist of picnic tables, restrooms and a small gift shop. Beach chairs and umbrellas may be rented by the hour for a small fee.
Day tours to the island depart from San Jose, Puntarenas, Jaco, Playa Herradura, Tambor, Mal Pais, Montezuma and from Curu Wildlife Refuge. Travel time varies by destination and means of transport – the slow but scenic catamaran cruise versus speedboat – but all promise a day of exceptional beauty at the picture-perfect Isla Tortuga.