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Insider's Guide to Jaco

Major attractions, tips and our top things to see and do.

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Just off the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, close to beautiful Curu Wildlife Refuge, lies idyllic Isla Tortuga, Costa Rica’s most popular island escape. It actually comprises two islands, Alcatraz and Tolinga, but just about everyone refers to them as just “Isla Tortuga,” or Turtle Island.

A postcard-perfect paradise of white sand beaches, gently swaying coconut palms, and sapphire blue water, this is the perfect spot to swim, snorkel, or simply enjoy the sunshine.

While there’s plenty to do on land—eat, drink, take a canopy tour, play volleyball, or even hike a short but lovely little nature trail through the heart of the island—most people come to snorkel or dive. The volcanic reef, featuring three shipwrecks, which surrounds the island, shelters spinner dolphins, angelfish, porcupine fish, octopi, eagle rays, moray eels, and if you’re lucky, the sea turtles for which the island is named.

It’s not the most spectacular snorkeling in Central America, but certainly lovely enough for a fine afternoon. Glass-bottomed boats let you take in the undersea scenery without getting wet. And afterward, relax on the shore with a fresh, cold coconut and contemplate the journey home, passing some of the other 23 gorgeous islands scattered throughout the Gulf of Nicoya.

Practical Info

This is a very popular tour, offered not only from Jaco, but also Montezuma, Puntarenas, and San Jose. Though official average of 120 visitors per week seems delightfully low, be aware that during peak season (late December through January) and on weekends, those numbers spike.

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