Turtles and Tourists
Ah, 5:00 a.m.
Not an ideal time to start the day, but necessary if you want to trek to Isla Tortuga in time to embrace the sunshine. With its sugary sand beaches, emerald waters and swaying coconut canopies, Tortuga provides a perfect landing point for one of the most sought-after destinations in the world: a tropical island paradise.
From San José, it’s a two-hour drive — if traffic permits — then a 90-minute boat ride through the Gulf of Nicoya.
Depending which fisherman you ask, you’ll learn there are roughly twelve islands nestled in the gulf. Most are small, and some are only inhabited by seabirds and other wildlife. Isla Tortuga and its sister, Isla Alcatraz, are the last two islands separating boaters from the open ocean. Uninhabited, Isla Tortuga is easily the most popular and receives the highest number of ecotourism visitors of all the islands.
Monopolizing the Industry
Various tour companies offer day trips from Montezuma, Jacó, and San José. Most include round-trip transportation and a winding exploration through the other islands before stopping at the paradisiacal destination.
For me, the day was a surprising mix of luxury and tranquility.
Clearly catering to tourists, the pristine beach was occupied by sun chairs, boat rentals, and a gift shop. The staff shuffled through their duties with an ease of familiarity. A sheltered picnic area quickly transformed into a cozy canopy kitchen, and the bar moved silently from the boat to the beach before anyone could go thirsty. Fresh fruit and soft drinks were complimentary throughout the day, and the bar was stocked with ice cold beers and ingredients to make the best island cocktails, all for a reasonable price.
Once you step foot on the soft white sand, the day is yours.
Famous for its spectacular dive sites and crystal clear water, most visitors take advantage of snorkel rentals and dive in to see what the underwater world has to offer. Others choose to spend the day swimming in the shallow waters, hiking forested hills, playing volleyball or simply soaking up the warmth of the sun and the beauty of the area.
About midday, mouth-watering aromas drift down from various camps and lunch is served. Take a seat at the linen-covered picnic tables for what only can be described as an elegantly casual travel feast. Lunch varies slightly depending on the tour you choose, but fresh fish and chicken, salad bars, steamed rice and different desserts are visible across the beach.
After lunch a lazy boar strolls by, hoping to scrounge up some leftovers; an iguana scrambles along the hill behind. Delightful chirping drifts down from the trees and mingles with the assortment of accents you hear as you walk along the beach. Then four o’clock rolls around, and the little island all but clears out. As tourists grab their belongings and climb back onboard, the beach is reassembled and ready for another day.
The afternoon in paradise flies by, but the boat ride back is nothing to complain about. As the sun sets across the Pacific it morphs into a spitting fireball, beaming through the distant mountains. Keep an eye out for hungry pelicans, playful dolphins, flying fish and even humpback whales as you cruise back to shore. And if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll even spot a turtle.
The original Isla Tortuga tour is run by Calypso Cruises.