Visiting Isla San Lucas National Park is much more than a boat ride and a visit to an old prison. Isla San Lucas has also regenerated its dry forest and become a powerful lung for the Gulf of Nicoya, where, along with other islands that can also be visited on a trip to the area, it is contributing to the environmental health of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.
At press time, and probably until the beginning of 2022, the island’s infamous prison facilities are being restored and can be viewed only from the outside. However, this gives visitors an excuse to explore the island twice: a first visit to enjoy the outdoors spaces, the chapel, and the dispensary that were once part of the community that inhabited the island, and a second visit once restoration is complete to dive deep into the history of the former prison, which is long, complex, and fascinating.
The park has four beaches, each with a trail named after it—Coco, Bella Vista, Hacienda Vieja, and Tumbabotes—and a fifth trail that connects Hacienda Vieja with Tumbabotes. However, the trails are being renovated as well, so that at the time of this writing, only Cocos trail, Playa Cocos, and the Tumbabotes trail are open.
The park has new signage that includes a QR scanning system with which you can download all kinds of information about the social and natural history of the island to your phone.
The national park is open to the public every day from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm and can receive up to 150 visitors per day, divided among three time slots.
Your first step in planning any visit to Isla San Lucas is to make a reservation in the SINAC reservation system. Three time slots are available: 8:30 am, 11 am, and 1:30 pm. Visitors can stay in the park until the next group enters (or, in the case of the final time slot of the day, until the park closes).
Once you have secured your reservation, the next step is to contact a guide and captain who will take you to the island and accompany you during your visit.
Loca guides and boats
To get to the island, you must travel 30 minutes by boat from the tourist pier in Puntarenas to the pier of the old prison. It is very important to note that many boats and captains offer their services to tourists, including those who arrive without any contacts or reservations, but for your safety we recommend hiring an authorized service with all of the operating permits and safety standards established by Costa Rican law.
Groups that visit the island must be accompanied by a guide certified by the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT).
El Colectivo 506 interviewed two companies that offer transportation and guided tours of the island as a part of our reporting: Viajes Turisticos Osiris (8624-2643 and 8881-8103) and Cocos Tours (8876 9354). For more information online about these and other transportation and guide services in Puntarenas, we recommend the
Chamber of Tourism of Puntarenas (CaTuP) Facebook page.
With your reservation, transportation and guide services all lined up, your next step is to head to the Puntarenas tourist pier. Ask your tour operator for parking options for your vehicle near the pier.
When to go
Isla San Lucas National Park operates all year round, and the climate and characteristics of the port allow it to be visited at any time of the year. The captains with whom El Colectivo 506 spoke recommend reserving morning slots in order to enjoy a quieter boat trip.
What to pack
The island ranges from 0 to a little more than 200 meters above sea level, so the climate is hot and humid; the trails are rocky and sandy. Wear clothing that protects you from the sun and dehydration due to sweating (lightweight and light in color, covering your neck and arms, and quick-drying). Avoid sandals or flip-flops: wear good walking shoes.
There is NO drinking water on the island, so take a bottle of water or another drink with you.
Don’t forget to bring protection against the rain (coat and/or umbrella, which can also protect you from the sun), sunscreen and insect repellent.
Single-use plastic is not allowed on the island, so if you have any type of food with you, pack accordingly; if you generate any garbage on the island, you’ll need to take it back to Puntarenas with you when you leave. At press time there was no food and beverage service for visitors in the park.
Room and board
Want to extend your visit? Consider staying in Puntarenas the night before or after your visit to Isla San Lucas. “El Puerto” has a large number of lodging and food options. Consult with the tour operator that will accompany you on your trip to the island for suggestions of restaurants and accommodation.
Park entrance costs are as follows:
- Resident adults: 1000 colones
- Resident children between 2-12 years old: 500 colones.
- Children under 2: free
- Non-resident adults: US $12
- Non-resident children between 2-12 years old: US $5
The cost of transportation to the island and guide services depend on each tour operator, but it is important to mention that each boat must pay an anchorage fee that varies depending on whether the visitors are residents or international visitors. The crew and guide must also pay for their park entrance.
Why take the trip?
Isla San Lucas National Park has been open to the public since it was a penitentiary, but in 2020 it was declared a national park, unlocking significant resources to improve the island To learn more, read “How San Lucas Island was reborn,” part of our August edition.
To learn more about the island’s natural and cultural history, as well as official information about the park, visit the official site of the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC)..