The most popular island escape off Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast is this idyllic spot—actually two neighboring islets, Alcatraz and Tolinga—known as Isla Tortuga, or Turtle Island. Its rugged, rocky interior, carpeted in rainforest, is fringed with palm trees and perfect white beaches, themselves a clue to the real attraction.
The volcanic isle is surrounded with gorgeous snorkel sites—nothing compared to what you’d find in, say, Belize or Honduras’ Bay Islands, but home to thousands of fish, including dolphins, puffers, octopi, all sorts of rays and eels and of course sea turtles, all swimming through three shipwrecks just offshore. Dry out onshore with a picnic lunch (usually packed by your tour operator), or by enjoying the island’s short hiking trails and canopy tour. Plenty of wildlife (including one semi-domesticated peccary, or pig that currently enjoys mascot status among tour guides) awaits.
The island is a popular spot, attracting hundreds of people per day during high season (mid-December through mid-January), with the weekly average dropping steeply during rainy (“green”) season. Note that underwater visibility usually drops during rainy season. Weekends are when Costa Ricans have a chance to visit this national treasure, so they tend to be more crowded as well.
To get to Isla Tortuga, located just off the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, most people book a tour from Montezuma, Puntarenas, or the popular surf town of Jaco. You can also book day trips from San Jose.
Tours differ, but generally include transportation, lunch, snorkel equipment and several hours on the island to do what you wish—hike, swim, zip-line or simply relax on the flawless beach. Chairs, umbrellas, banana boats, horseback rides, bathroom access and other amenities and activities are available on the island for an extra fee. The beautiful scenery and sapphire-blue ocean are both included in the price.