15 Things To Know Before Visiting Tortuga Island

Tortuga Island in Santa Teresa is made up of Alcatraz and Tolinga, two small islands. This destination is ideal for a day trip in Puntarenas. Take a boat tour from Montezuma and spot dolphins en route. On the island, snorkel, relax on Isla Tortuga’s beaches, and sip rum cocktails. Are you adventurous? Try kayaking or hiking. Arrive early to avoid crowds.

You must have heard a lot of good things about Tortuga Island (Isla Tortuga or Turtle Island), and you’re curious to know if it’s worth the visit. 

Having embarked on a group tour of this location, I can confidently recommend it to a visitor in Costa Rica.

However, your experience at Tortuga Island can quickly go from excellent to regrettable if you don’t know certain things before going there. 

In this article, I will share with you 15 things you should know before going to this exciting island. Some of these things I’ve had to learn the hard way and wish someone gave me a proper heads-up. So please keep them in mind. 

Key Takeaways

  • The Tortuga Island tour is located on the southeastern shore of the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific coast, and you can only get there by boat. 
  • How do I get to Tortuga Island? Boat trips start from different places like Jaco, Montezuma, Puntarenas, and San Jose. Usually, these trips include snorkeling and meals, and they’ll even pick you up and drop you off at your hotel.
  • You need at least 3 hours to enjoy your stay on this island. 
  • There is no accommodation option, so the island is only ideal for day visits. The best hotels around the island include the Isla Chiquita Glamping Hotel and Resort and Casino.
  • The best Tortuga Island tour options
  • Look out for theft. Go early to avoid crowds. Tortuga Island isn’t an ideal location if you don’t like crowds and beach party environments.

I encourage you to continue reading so you can get more in-depth information about Tortuga Island.

1. Tortuga Island is only accessible by boat.

Tortuga Island sits near the end of the Nicoya Peninsula, not far from the Curu Wildlife Refuge. 

You can only reach it by boat. Boats leave from different places like Jaco, Montezuma, Puntarenas, and San Jose. 

These trips typically include snorkeling, meals, and hotel pickup and drop-off.

It takes around an hour and a half to get to Tortuga Island by boat. 

Typically, a tour package includes the boat ride from your pickup location to the island.

On the boat, you will most probably have fresh fruits, fish, ceviche, coffee, and cookies.

2. Don’t go on weekends to avoid the crowds.

To have a better time, it’s wise to avoid going to Tortuga Island on weekends, especially in December and January when lots of people go there. 

With the crowd, you won’t enjoy the island that much. This is one of the worst experiences I won’t forget while on the island. (More on this later.)

The island is open all year, but it gets hectic during those months. You can only visit for the day because there are no places to stay overnight. 

Even though they say not too many people visit each week, on weekends, and during December and January, the number of visitors goes way up.

3. Don’t limit yourself to staying on the beach.

When people visit Tortuga Island for the first time, they often miss out on a lot of fun stuff. They usually stick to the beach and don’t try other activities. 

But that’s not a good idea because there’s so much more to do there! You’d be missing out and wasting your money.

Here are some cool things you can do on Tortuga Island:

Snorkeling You can see lots of colorful fish and other sea creatures underwater. Just be careful of sea urchins on the rocks.
Scuba Diving There are three shipwrecks you can explore underwater, making it a favorite spot for scuba divers.
Kayaking Rent a kayak and explore the clear waters around the island at your own pace.
Hiking On different trails, you can walk around the island and maybe even see some wildlife. Just ask your guide for the best routes.
Trying local food Most tours include a tasty lunch with Costa Rican dishes like gallo pinto and grilled fish. And if you’re still hungry, there are BBQ places along the beach.

 

So, don’t just stick to the beach when you’re on Tortuga Island. Try these activities and make the most of your visit.

4. Tours to the island can be expensive. 

Day tours in Costa Rica can cost a lot, and it’s rare to see a tour package that will cost less than $100. So, I wouldn’t recommend this trip to someone who is on a tight budget. 

Even when you get to the island, you’ll be surprised by the things you have to pay for. To use the restroom, expect to pay $2; to use the seats, expect to shell out a few dollars as well. 

But in my opinion, the trip, despite the high cost, is still totally worth it. The island is gorgeous, the boat ride was enjoyable, and everything can be well planned. 

Plus, considering all you are likely to get in your tour package—transportation, lunch, etc.—the price would seem fair.

5. Come prepared by bringing the right things along. 

Nobody would tell you beforehand, but there are some things you have to bring along to have a decent experience on this island. 

Some of these things I forgot to bring but here are a few must-carry items:

  • Remember to bring sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses because the sun can be powerful in Costa Rica.
  • Don’t forget to pack a towel and an extra set of clothes, even if you’re not planning to do any water activities. 
  • Wait until you’re back on dry land to change into your clean clothes, as you might get wet on the boat. 
  • Wear comfy shoes for the hike—no flip-flops allowed! Water shoes could be helpful, but you don’t have to have them. 
  • And definitely, don’t leave your camera behind! If you have a GoPro, bring it along, too. 
  • If you tend to get seasick quickly, take some medication before boarding the boat.

6. There are 17 trails for hiking.

Tortuga Island isn’t only for people who love swimming and relaxing on the beach. 

The hiking there is also really great. You can explore 17 different trails that go through dense forests and tropical plants. 

You might see all sorts of animals, like peccaries, which are small, pig-like animals that like to hang out in groups. 

You could also see armadillos, monkeys, deer, and lots of different kinds of birds.

7. Glass-bottom boats are best for spotting marine life. 

Tortuga Island is known for its fantastic snorkeling and scuba diving spots. When the sun shines, you can see up to 30 meters deep into the water, spotting all kinds of sea creatures.

If you don’t want to swim, you can take a glass-bottom boat to see the marine life. Or, if you’re up for it, you can ride a banana boat for some fun in the water.

Around the island, there’s lots of marine life like eagle rays, manta rays, dolphins, octopuses, sharks, and angelfish that you can often see.

8. Don’t skip the BBQ for anything. 

Monday nights at Tortuga Island Beach offer a tasty paella for just $10 per person. On Fridays, there’s a beachside BBQ buffet for $38 per person, with lots of food choices. 

Recently, the Friday BBQ got a makeover. Most meats are seasoned with ‘jerk,’ which can be spicy. The ribs had a kick this time. 

However, there were beef and chicken satays with authentic spices that were delicious—a mix of sweet and saucy flavors.

On the island, there are some restaurants with yummy seafood and lots of veggie options. 

You can also taste famous Costa Rican foods like gallo pinto and plantains, and don’t forget to enjoy some Costa Rican coffee after lunch.

9. Choose wisely the place where to set your camp. 

Pick a good spot to set up your camp. You can reach the island from various towns on the mainland. 

If you want to visit the Nicoya Peninsula, stay in Montezuma. 

But if you’re going to San Jose and really want to visit the island, spend a night in Jaco or Puntarenas and take a boat trip from there.

10. There is no lodging on Tortuga.

Tortuga Island, in Costa Rica, is a place where no one can live. There are no hotels, so you can’t stay overnight. 

Instead, you can stay in a hotel in Puntarenas or Jaco and take a boat to the island the next day.

In Puntarenas, I recommend the Isla Chiquita Glamping Hotel Costa Rica, a unique hotel with fancy tents, private bathrooms, and great views from sun terraces. The staff and services are excellent, so it’s worth a try.

In Jaco, there are many options. But I’ve had the best experience at Croc Resort and Casino in Costa Rica. It’s close to the city center and has four restaurants, an outdoor pool, two bars, and a casino.

11. The tour you pick, make, or mar your trip

There are lots of trips you can take to Isla Tortuga in Costa Rica. No matter where you are in Costa Rica, you can find a trip to this pretty island.

But you have to be careful about the tour package you pick. 

If you don’t want stress, you can take the tour that starts in Puntarenas and lasts all day. During the trip, you can see colorful fish in the coral reefs, have lunch on a tropical beach, and watch monkeys and dolphins in their natural homes.

Surprisingly, there are tours to Tortuga Island from Manuel Antonio and the Paquera area, too. And you can even take a daily trip from San Jose, the capital city, to visit the most beautiful islands in Costa Rica.

The San Jose Tortuga Island Tour includes hotel pick-up and drop-off, so you don’t have to worry about getting there. You’ll spend 5 hours on the beach, snorkel, see dolphins, and work on your tan. The tour price covers snorkeling gear, lunch, drinks, a guide, and coffee.

Lush rainforests surround Tortuga’s main beach in Costa Rica, where most tours on the island begin.

You can explore the island on foot and maybe spot some wild animals, or you can go for a swim with snorkeling or scuba gear.

12. On a tight budget? Go between April and November.

If you don’t have much money to spend, consider going to the island in Costa Rica when it rains, which is from late April to November. 

You’ll probably find cheaper prices, and there won’t be as many people there as there are at the busiest times.

13. The crowd can be a problem. 

On my very first visit to Tortuga Island, I thought I’d find a calm place to relax, but the beach was tiny and packed with noisy people blasting music and drinking alcohol. 

There was nowhere to escape the noise and crowds. The hiking trails might have been a better option. 

Compared to other boat trips I’ve taken in places like Cayman and the Bahamas for $40–$50 with small groups, this one is quite pricey at over $100 per person. 

They even charged extra for basic things like water and beach chairs. The worst part was the huge crowd and the long lines for food. 

Some might enjoy the party vibe, but I was disappointed to see such a beautiful place spoiled by the Bay Island Cruises boat.

So, if you’re going during peak seasons, prepare your mind for the crowd. This leads us to the next point.

14. Tortuga Island is not really for people who want to connect with nature or local culture.

The island has a lively atmosphere with loud music, and people are mostly looking to have a good time. 

It’s not really for those seeking a natural or cultural experience. If you’re okay with that, you can still enjoy yourself. 

The boat ride is pleasant, but don’t expect to spot much wildlife. Snorkeling is enjoyable, but the coral reef is mostly dead. You’ll see fish but not much else, sadly reflecting the state of coral reefs worldwide. 

The coastal scenery is beautiful, and you might spot deer and iguanas on the forest trail. 

15. Eyes peeled for local souvenir stores

Once you’ve had a blast exploring Isla Tortuga, enjoying yummy food on the beach, relaxing, and soaking up the day, it’s time to go shopping.

Visit the nearby souvenir shops to find something special to remember your fun day. 

They also offer snacks, drinks, and WiFi, so you can relax and enjoy yourself after a busy day.

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About 

Born in California, Michelle traveled extensively through the USA and Europe before moving to South Florida during the pandemic. Her career in Marketing has taken her all across the world. Her favorite country is France but she'll never turn down a beach vacation!

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