Site logo

Isla San Lucas

Nestled in the heart of Central America, Costa Rica is a treasure trove of natural wonders and historical sites. Perhaps none so intriguing as Isla San Lucas, an island that whispers tales of its storied past to all who visit.

Many travelers seek adventures that blend the beauty of nature with echoes of history, yearning for experiences that resonate long after they’ve returned home.

In August 2020, Isla San Lucas turned a new page in its rich history by becoming Costa Rica’s 30th national park. Once known for being one of the most dreaded prisons in the world—housing infamous criminals such as Beltran Cortez Carvajal—it has now opened its arms to explorers eager to uncover its secrets.

This blog post will guide you through time-worn paths into lush habitats, shedding light on how this former penitentiary transformed into a beacon for eco-tourism and conservation.

Discover with us how visiting Isla San Lucas can contribute to preserving Costa Rican heritage while offering an unforgettable travel adventure. Let’s set sail on this historical journey together!

Key Takeaways

  • Isla San Lucas in Costa Rica transformed from a notorious prison to the nation’s 30th national park on August 24, 2020.
  • The island boasts rich biodiversity, with species like howler monkeys, pheasant populations, deer, anteaters, and sea turtles thriving in the protected environment.
  • Visitors can engage with eco – tourism that supports conservation by taking guided tours that focus on both the natural habitat and its historical significance.
  • To visit San Lucas Island National Park for an adventure combining history with nature exploration, travelers should book through certified tour operators and respect guidelines set to protect wildlife and ecosystems.
  • The revenue from tourism activities at San Lucas Island helps fund preservation projects crucial for maintaining the island’s cultural landmarks and diverse wildlife habitats for future generations.

The History of San Lucas Island

San Lucas Island reveals a past marked by fear and tales of endurance. Founded in 1873 by dictator Tomás Miguel Guardia Gutiérrez, its prison walls confined some of the most notorious criminals in Costa Rica’s history.

Life on the island was severe; inmates faced harsh conditions that often led to torture or even death. The prison earned a grim reputation akin to Alcatraz, symbolizing punishment and isolation amidst the Gulf of Nicoya’s otherwise serene waters.

Despite this dark legacy, San Lucas holds layers of cultural heritage beyond its penal history. Eight known archaeological sites whisper older stories from before the island became a dreaded detainment center.

These relics speak silently but powerfully, providing glimpses into ancient lives once thriving on this secluded piece of land off Costa Rica’s Pacific shore. Through years where it was known as “the island of lonely men,” San Lucas has endured and evolved, mirroring changes within society itself until its closure in 1991 turned over a new leaf for conservation and remembrance.

Transformation from Prison to National Park

The dark legacy of Isla de San Lucas took a dramatic turn when the infamous prison closed its doors in 1991, and a new chapter was written for the island. With bars and cells left behind, nature began to reclaim the land that once echoed with the sorrows of its former inmates.

The metamorphosis culminated on August 24, 2020, as this secluded corner off Costa Rica’s Pacific shore received official status as San Lucas Island National Park.

Visitors stepping onto what is now protected ground walk through abandoned corridors that have shifted from places of confinement to passages of reflection. Every stone and wall whispers tales from an era bygone but not forgotten, serving as somber reminders while also offering sanctuary for diverse wildlife who have made their home among historical ruins.

Recognizing the value beyond its grim past, conservationists are diligently working to preserve both history and habitat within this national treasure nestled in the Nicoya Gulf.

Exploring the Island: A Journey into Biodiversity

Having shed its dark past, San Lucas Island now beckons as a haven for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts. The island’s transformation reveals a tapestry of biodiversity awaiting discovery by those who venture onto its shores.

With habitats ranging from tropical dry forests to pristine beaches, this National Park is an ecological treasure featuring species that thrill both amateur naturalists and seasoned biologists.

Visitors might find themselves enchanted by the cacophony of howler monkeys declaring their presence or mesmerized by delicate spider dances among leafy canopies. Trekking across rugged trails, one may encounter shimmering beetles scuttling through underbrush or spot rare birds flitting above.

This immersive experience solidifies San Lucas Island’s role as a vital wildlife refuge within Costa Rica’s rich mosaic of ecosystems.

The Role of Eco-Tourism in Preserving San Lucas

Eco-tourism plays a vital role in the conservation of San Lucas National Park by promoting sustainable travel practices that respect the island’s unique environment and history. Tourists flock to this sanctuary for an immersive experience, engaging with nature while minimizing their impact on the ecosystem.

Guided tours led by knowledgeable locals provide deeper insight into the park’s efforts to protect wildlife habitats and cultural landmarks. Revenue from these eco-tours directly funds preservation projects and contributes to community development, ensuring that both nature and local heritage remain intact for future generations.

Developing eco-friendly facilities within the national park further assists in maintaining ecological balances, such as creating designated walking paths to prevent damage to off-trail areas.

Visitors leave with a heightened awareness of environmental responsibility, inspired by Isla de San Lucas’ transformation from notorious prison to natural paradise. This shift towards responsible tourism not only safeguards biodiversity but also educates travelers on the importance of preserving Costa Rica’s rich history.

As tourists prepare for their next adventure among howler monkeys and historic ruins, they now step into Wildlife: The Island’s Inhabitants with a new appreciation for conservation efforts spearheaded by eco-tourism initiatives.

Wildlife: The Island’s Inhabitants

San Lucas Island bursts with life, hosting species that range from the skies to the forest floor. This biodiversity hotspot is a crucial sanctuary for wildlife native to Costa Rica.

  • Howler monkeys fill the treetops of San Lucas, their loud calls echoing across the island. These vocal primates play a key role in seed dispersal, aiding in forest regeneration.
  • Pheasant populations strut through underbrush, showcasing their vibrant plumage. They contribute to the balance of plant life by feeding on seeds and insects.
  • Deer tread softly among the foliage, ever-watchful for predators. Their presence signals a healthy ecosystem as they serve as prey for larger carnivores.
  • Anteaters roam San Lucas in search of ants and termites, maintaining insect populations and protecting local flora.
  • Snakes slither silently, blending into their surroundings as both predators and prey within this complex food web.
  • Turkeys add to the island’s diversity with their distinct gobbling sounds and striking appearances; they play an essential part in spreading plant seeds.
  • Spiders craft intricate webs between trees, controlling pest populations and displaying nature’s delicate balance.
  • Sharks patrol the surrounding waters of San Lucas Island Wildlife Refuge, including hammerhead sharks well-known off the Pacific shore of Costa Rica.
  • Sea turtles navigate the coastal areas around Isla de los Hombres Solos, using its sandy beaches to lay their precious eggs under cover of darkness.

How to Visit San Lucas Island

Visiting San Lucas Island offers a blend of adventure and history. To experience this unique destination, here is what you need to know:

  • Begin your journey in Puntarenas, where you will take an 8 km boat ride to reach the island.
  • Make sure to book your trip through a certified tour operator, such as Costa Cat Cruise, by using their email or their WhatsApp number +506 8390 7070.
  • Plan your visit between May and November when the weather is most favorable for exploring and wildlife viewing.
  • Secure park entrance tickets in advance, as the National Park has a limit on daily visitors to protect its ecosystem.
  • Dress comfortably with sturdy shoes for hiking; bring water and sun protection due to the tropical climate.
  • Set aside enough time to explore historical sites like old prison buildings and learn about the lives of inmates through guided tours.
  • Take advantage of guided nature walks to see the variety of wildlife, including birds and bats native to Costa Rica.
  • Choose from several eco – friendly activities available on the island, which contribute to sustainable tourism practices.
  • Remember that while on the island, follow all guidelines provided by tour guides and park rangers to ensure not only your safety but also the preservation of natural habitats.


Your adventure on San Lucas Island offers a unique glimpse into Costa Rica’s rich history and vibrant ecosystem. Explore the haunting remains of a former brutal prison and witness how nature reclaims man-made structures, creating an environment teeming with life.

Imagine walking the trails, surrounded by exotic wildlife, where once stood only confinement and desolation. Consider how your visit contributes not just to your own memories but also to conservation efforts that protect such crucial habitats.

Take this journey as more than a tourist; become a part of the island’s ongoing story of transformation and hope.


1. What can you tell me about Isla San Lucas in Costa Rica?

Isla San Lucas is a historical island located off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica that was once home to one of the country’s most brutal prisons for its worst criminals.

2. Why is Isla San Lucas famous?

The island is famous because it used to be a prison island known as “La Isla de los Hombres Solos,” where lives were short and often spent in harsh conditions, as José León Sánchez described in his novel.

3. What has become of the former prison on Isla San Lucas?

The former prison on Isla San Lucas has been closed since 1991 and now serves as a tourist attraction rich with Costa Rican history, featuring hiking trails, graffiti from past inmates, and buildings of the penal colony.

4. Can visitors see wildlife on Isla San Lucas?

Yes, visitors can explore natural beauty where the island includes a wide variety of wildlife such as at least eight species of bats, forty species of birds, and marine life like hammerhead sharks around its waters.

5. Are there any cultural sites to visit on Isla San Lucas?

Isla San Lucas showcases not just natural wonders but also cultural significance with eight known archaeological sites that reflect the rich history lived on this picturesque yet storied locale.

6. When did Isla San Lucas become protected as part of Costa Rica’s heritage?

San Lucas Island was declared a national park and national wildlife refuge protecting both its ecological treasures and poignant historical narrative for future generations to learn from and appreciate.



Monteverde Cloud Forest


Santa Elena


Curi-Cancha Reserve


Selvatura Park


Carara National Park


Tarcoles Crocodile Bridge


Isla Tortuga




Montezuma Waterfalls


Puntarenas City


Isla San Lucas


Santa Teresa




Jacó Beach


Playa Blanca (Punta Leona)


Herradura Beach


Esterillos Oeste


Playa Hermosa (Puntarenas)


Manuel Antonio National Park




Bejuco Beach








Marino Ballena National Park

South Puntarenas

Cabo Matapalo

South Puntarenas

Drake Bay


For Sale