Tortuga Island Costa Rica: 20 Things You Should Know

Tortuga Island is an uninhabited island in Costa Rica. You can do many activities, from snorkeling, fishing, swimming, and kayaking, all to see marine life. There are several animal species on land, and guides will help you see them. 

I was amazed by all the lush vegetation on Tortuga Island. The guides inform us that the island has thriving vegetation since no humans live there. Hence, in this article, I highlight what makes Tortuga Island a must-visit and all the activities you can do there. 

Key Takeaways From This Article

While Tortuga Island is small compared to other islands, there are so many activities to do. A few key takeaways from this article include:. 

  • No humans live on Tortuga Island, so you cannot find accommodation. 
  • Tortuga Island is a combination of two smaller islands: Tolinga and Alcatraz. 
  • On the island, you can explore three different shipwrecks. 
  • Centuries ago, Tortuga Island was a favorite of pirates. 

Where is Tortuga Island in Costa Rica? 

Tortuga Island, also known as Isla Tortuga, is just off the coast of Puntarenas province. The province is situated on the southeastern coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. Tortuga Island is a combination of two small islands: Tolinga and Alcatraz. 

The two islands, known as the Turtle Islands, are abundant in caves, corals, and rocky pinnacles, making them favorites of professional divers. 

Clear-crystal waters surround the island, which is home to a lot of marine life. The only way to access Tortuga Island is by boat. The duration of the trip will depend on which beach town you’re starting your journey from. There are no villas, vacation rentals, or hotels on the island, and the local authorities do not allow camping.

On Tortuga Island, the Costa Rican government has restricted the construction of any permanent structures. That’s why booking a day trip is better since no accommodations exist. There are basic facilities, such as picnic benches, gift shops, and restrooms. Along the beach are some BBQ and refreshment-selling establishments.

What are the geographical features and climatic conditions? 

A large white sand beach, forests, and hills are some of the geographical features of Tortuga Island off the Gulf of Nicoya. Lush foliage covers most of the forest land. The island has an area of 120 hectares, most of which is a protected forest. 

The best time to visit Tortuga Island is during Costa Rica’s dry weather (December to April). However, if you’re in Costa Rica during the other months of the year, you can still travel to the island. Why visit during the dry season

  • The benefit of the dry season is that there will be sun every day, unlike during the wet season, where it’s unpredictable. 
  • The waters are also clearer during the dry season, making it easy to snorkel and see marine life. 

Unfortunately, traveling during the dry season means there will be crowds, higher prices, and dry forests. 

Visiting Tortuga Island, Costa Rica, during the wet season (May to November) has advantages too. 

  • The forest cover will be greener.
  • July to November is the best time to see whales on the island during their migration and mating season. 
  • Because fewer people visit the island, prices are lower. 

Things to do on Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

On a day trip, the best way to experience Tortuga Island, Costa Rica, is to book tours and excursions from tour operators. You can book a day trip to the island with a tour company. Most tours cost $110, depending on your departure location. The tour cost includes lunch, a snorkel tour, and your passage to and from the island. 

A Tortuga Island, Costa Rica, a day trip is enough to squeeze in a lot of activities. 

Marine Life

On the way to the island, you will see a lot of dolphins, whales, sea turtles, eels, sharks, and marine life. Sea turtles and various sea birds are a common sight in the deep blue waters of Tortuga Island. You can also reach the island and decide to go snorkeling, kayaking, or scuba diving. 

Explore the La Cueva (cave) site; you might be lucky to see white-tip reef sharks. Along the eastern edge of Tortuga Island are some volcanic rocks where plenty of eagles and manta rays live. There are no currents in the island’s water, which makes it safe to snorkel and dive. 

Hiking

The island has fantastic views. Hence, instead of spending the whole day on or in the water, why not spend some time on dry land? Along the trails around the island, you might spot some wildlife. Ziplining is another way to enjoy a canopy tour. 

Hiking to the peak will also allow you to spot monkeys, white-tailed deer, armadillos, peccaries (tiny pig-like animals), and iguanas. The trees on the island hold a variety of bugs, sloths, and birds. The island has 17 hiking trails. 

Explore shipwrecks.

If you are an experienced diver and visit the island during the dry season, you can explore the shipwrecks at the edge of Tortuga Island. There are three sunken shipwrecks in Tortuga’s waters. 

  • The Franklin Chang wreck lies between 17 and 23 meters in the waters. 
  • The Coronel Alfonso Monge wreck lies 10–16 meters in the water. Explore the lower bottom; you might be lucky to see spadefish and damselfish. 
  • The Caroline Star wreckage is the deepest, at 30 meters. If you shine your light toward the ship’s hull. 

Tortuga Island’s Local Way of Life

Centuries ago, Tortuga Island was a favorite of the pirates. The island’s original name was “the Islas Tortugas.” The island was initially public, but after nearly falling into ruins, someone bought it and turned it private.

The only residents on the island are those who run restaurants and gift shops. The number of people is 15 at most.

You can get to Tortuga Island from different locations. Enquire if there are any tours to the island from wherever you’re staying. Here are several places where you can get a tour of the island.

Departure Locations to Tortuga Island
Puntarenas Manuel Antonio Mal Pais
Jaco Tamarindo Tambor
San Jose Papagayo Santa Teresa
Quepos Montezuma
Paquera Cabuya

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can you book a night trip to Tortuga Island, Costa Rica?

The best tours to the island are during the day. However, you can still choose the bioluminescence tour. The tour starts at 5 p.m. from the Curú Wildlife Refuge to the island. You can watch the beautiful sunset before taking a swim. After night falls, you can observe some marine life that lights up due to movement. Sharks, sea stars, worms, and various fish species luminesce.

  1. What should I pack for the trip to Tortuga Island? 

You’ll need good, biodegradable sunscreen, a reusable water bottle, a waterproof bag for your wallet and phone, and enough cash. There are restaurants and gift shops on the island that only accept cash. 

Depending on the type of activity you want to participate in, carry binoculars, good hiking shoes, beach towels, water shoes, a hat, a swimsuit, a camera, and an extra pair of clothes. 

Conclusion

Visiting Tortuga Island, Costa Rica, is one of the best trips you can make during your vacation. One day is enough to visit the island and hike or see marine life. You can book a tour from various locations. 

Have you ever visited Tortuga Island? Please share with us how you spent your day and recommend the tour company you used. 

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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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