Located in the Gulf of Nicoya, Tortuga Island is actually comprised of two islands with a combined total landmass of only about one square mile. But despite its small size, Isla La Tortuga is one of Costa Rica‘s most popular tourist destinations and a great day-trip. We went with Calypso Cruises in a group of nearly four dozen, but there was also another similarly-sized group with a different excursion company further down on the island.
The island is home to a total of 12 residents. They are native Costa Ricans who subsist entirely off renting out beach chairs, jet-skis, snorkels, and other beach- and water-related goods to the flocking tourists. As such you can expect to pay a nice price for everything. They even offer wifi: $15 for 15 minutes. Undoubtedly these islanders make more than the average Costa Rican citizen, but life there is not as perfect as it seems. As one island tico informed me, it is 9 guys and only 3 girls, so “we need more girls…tell more girls to come visit.”
The beautiful and nearly uninhabited Isla La Tortuga!
The island itself is quite charming. It is comprised of a nice beach area with smooth sand but one end does have a rather a sizable amount of coral chunks and other small rocks mixed in with the sand. There are a couple small wooden structures on the island, one used as a kitchen, another as a bar, and yes of course a final one featuring a pair of restrooms. There is also lots of picnic tables and beach chairs set up in advance, although the beach chairs cost $7-8/hr through the local islanders, not your tour company — but I’ll get back to that shortly. The island is thickly wooded. Supposedly there is a trail you can take that leads through the brush out to a very picturesque area, or so I’ve been told.
We booked the trip through Calypso Cruises and it just so happens that their office/dock is located literally just a few dozen feet from Pearla del Pacifico, the only hostel/hotel in Puntarenas and hands-down the best hostel in all of Central America!
Calypso Cruises will have an air-conditioned van pick you up early in the morning from a few of the nearby towns — San Jose, Jaco, Quepos / Manuel Antonio, Monteverde — and transport you to Puntarenas, where you will be served a traditional Costa Rican breakfast. The CC boat is a two-story 71 ft long catamaran named Manta Raya that is equipped with two giant hammocks stretched between twin hulls and two fresh water pools. The lower deck houses the bar and lounge as well as dual restrooms / changing rooms.
At precisely 9am the ship leaves port and begins the hour-long trek towards Tortuga Island. Along the way you will pass by local fishing boats out on the hunt, have fantastic views of the western coast of Costa Rica, and maybe even glimpse the occasional family of dolphins that will swim alongside the boat during the final stretch before Tortuga Island. They are fast and can be tricky to photograph though. Along the way you will also be served a light snack (most likely pineapple) and have the option of buying alcoholic beverages at the usual inflated tourist rates.
Once disembarking the ship, you will have a couple hours to swim and/or sunbath while the staff prepares lunch. The bartender and booze from the ship is unloaded and set up underneath the trees, so after a brief ten minute or so pause, you can resume killing your liver with booze. For those of you who really like to drink, I recommend smuggling in a little liquor of your own. It is very easy to do and turns what easily could be a $200 on alcohol day down to just $40 or $50.
The warthog and I become fast friends
The first group of snorkelers is also taken out shortly after arriving on the island. The remaining people mingle and drink on the beach, swimming and building sand castles (or at least attempting to). Calypso Cruises provides everyone with a very basic two-piece wooden beach chair, but there are also fancy reclining chairs covered in towels and protected from the sun by umbrellas — those are the ones that cost $7-8/hr and are rented out by the dozen locals that live on the island.
The lunch is served at the picnic tables under the shade of the trees, in the fresh breeze of the ocean. It consists of wine, a ceviche appetizer, salad, vegetables, and bar-b-qued chicken, and will leave you completely satisfied. Be on the lookout for local wildlife that could come wandering by around feeding time, most notably the wild hogs. They are nice critters, surprisingly tame thanks to all the tourists — you can even pet them! They feel a little strange, more bristly than I would have thought, kind of like a porcupine.
After lunch the excursions begin. Included free are snorkeling and the banana boat, but extras like jet-skis are available only upon paying a hefty fee to the islanders. The second snorkeling expedition (provided there is enough demand) sets out after lunch, while meanwhile the banana boat is pulled out and the rides begin.
Finally as the afternoon winds down the catamaran is brought back to the shore and slowly the masses re-assemble on the boat decks. Due to the large group of people combined with the large amounts of alcohol consumed and topped off perfectly by the fact there is only two bathrooms on-board, expect bathroom lines to be in the ten to twenty minute range.
Returning To Puntarenas
Arriving back at the docks, the fun is over. Usually at this point you would take your air-con van back to your city of origin, be it Jaco or Quepos or whatever, but we recommend instead you just walk a couple dozen feet to the east and spend a couple days at the Pearla del Pacifico (view photos). The whole trip, not counting van rides, lasts about eight hours but is definitely worth it — if you don’t mind being surrounded by tourists all day.
Case in point: This nameless individual here on the left kept to himself all day. I don’t even know why he shelled out $125 for a ticket in the first place! I kid you not, this guy’s earplugs never once left his ears! He had them on at the beach, on the boat, even while the band was playing at lunch! Seriously, WTF!?!? People, this is why I started The HoliDaze, this is why I am trying to convince people to open up their eyes and experience the world! It is people like this that confuse and frustrate me, and I’m sorry if that describes you. Get out and live! See and appreciate the world, before its too late.
Here are some more photos from the drunken cruise back to the pier at Puntarenas. And for videos, check out the HoliDaze YouTube page.
What would you say to the guy listening to his iPod all day instead of enjoying the moment?