Often described as heaven on earth, an Isla Tortuga day cruise is one of the most rewarding excursions you can plan when visiting the Nicoya Peninsula
Floating in the Gulf of Nicoya and part of a fervently-protected nature and marine reserve, Turtle Island is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful islands in Central America. Yet beyond the obvious drop-dead-gorgeous looks and the world-class snorkeling (perhaps Tortuga’s biggest enticement), the island also offers a myriad of different activities. This is what makes a day-visit so rewarding for families, couples and solo travelers alike.
Boasting postcard-worthy white sandy beaches framed with palm trees and a core that’s dense and verdant, Turtle Island is an ideal day-trip destination no matter what Costa Rica highlights you want to experience. Want to spend a full day snorkeling, SCUBA diving and swimming in calm turquoise waters or join a glass-bottom boat or kayaking tour? You can do that here. Fancy hiking in tropical jungles, spotting wildlife and immersing yourself in pristine wilderness? Yes, you can do that too. Prefer a little more action on zip-line and canopy tours? You guessed it, Isla Tortuga offers these as well.
Easy to reach from both the mainland coast and the Nicoya Peninsula, Isla Tortuga is an easy and fun destination for a day cruise with a difference.
Here’s how you can include an Isla Tortuga day cruise in your Costa Rica adventure vacation itinerary:
Where is Isla Tortuga?
Just a short boat-ride away from Playa Naranjo, on the south-eastern coast of the Nicoya Peninsula, Tortuga is one of two islands that make up the Negritos Islands Biological Reserve, itself part of the greater Guayabo Reserve, a protected archipelago whose exotic islands attract an array of migratory bird colonies every year. Aside from the many birds that fly to the islands annually to nest (among them brown pelicans and frigates), these spectacular islands host a wealth of other wildlife and, considering Isla Tortuga has the densest and most luscious wilderness, it is also the one that boasts a greater concentration of animals.
Thanks to the waters of the Gulf of Nicoya being so nutrient-dense, Isla Tortuga day cruise passengers often spot dolphins, migrating whales and other marine life on their boat trip to the island, yet another stellar reason to visit.
Isla Tortuga – Best Activities & Highlights
Given the protected status of the Guayabo Reserve islands, most of the islands are blissfully unspoiled and boast no public facilities at all – this means day visitors aren’t allowed to set foot on land. Bird-watchers eager for a close-up excursion should consider chartered boat trips instead, which allow closer cruising along coastlines – the best way to spot nesting bird colonies.
Isla Tortuga, on the other hand, is the one island that does allow day visitors, offering an array of services that get you close to the nature and wildlife.
Enjoy world-class snorkeling & SCUBA diving – Tortuga offers some of the best snorkeling in all of Costa Rica and this is, by far, the most popular reason for visiting. From manta rays to moray eels, dolphins, reef sharks and a stunning array of tropical fish, the waters lapping the islands offer snorkelers and divers a treasure trove of delights. SCUBA lovers ought to book a dedicated diving trip as there are several wrecks you can visit and most regular day cruises only cater to snorkelers. Since the waters are so calm and warm, we rate this as the very best family snorkeling destination in the whole country – see where else you can go snorkeling in Costa Rica.
Spend your day on a pristine beach – If you’re after a relaxing seaside day out then Tortuga quite perfect. The beach here is absolutely divine and you’ll find beach chairs and umbrellas for rent, plenty of refreshments on offer and even a sweet little souvenir stall to pick up a memento or two. Even if you do nothing else on your day-trip to Turtle Island, spending a few hours soaking up the rays and swimming is certainly a worthwhile reason to visit.
Beach-side activities – If you (or the kids) start to get a little antsy lying on the glistening sand, you can always join a game of beach volleyball, rent a kayak for an hour or join a glass-bottom boat tour to soak up the delights of the underwater world in even greater comfort (particularly ideal for families with very young children).
Hiking – Isla Tortuga boasts a few great walking trails that take you deep into the island’s core, meandering through the lush jungle and hiking to the very top to enjoy magnificent views. Take a guide with you (who’ll know the best place to look for wildlife) and you’ll undoubtedly get a lot more out of your hike. If you’d love this option, we suggest you start your walk as soon as you arrive, so you can have a refreshing swim and have plenty of time to rest when you return to the beach.
The Best Isla Tortuga Day Cruise Options
Being such a popular tourist destination means competition is fierce amongst Isla Tortuga day cruise operators. Popular departure ports on the mainland’s Pacific coast include Puntarenas, Jaco and Montezuma, whilst other shorter transfers can also be booked directly from the Nicoya Peninsula. The latter is a better choice if you are already on the peninsula as you can reach Tortuga in just half an hour. From the mainland, sailing times can last up to 1,5 hours one way (primarily from Montezuma) which can turn a half-day outing into a tiring and drawn-out full-day trip.
There are two types of Tortuga cay cruises you can choose from: half or full-day cruises. On half-day cruises, which last about 6 hours, you can enjoy your boat transfer, stop for snorkeling on Alcatraz Island’s rocky shores and then have about 4 to 5 hours to really soak up the best of Tortuga. Most cruise operators have their own beach corner, with sunlongers and beach umbrellas and all offer some kind of refreshments depending on tour price, be it a full-on BBQ lunch or snacks of sandwiches and fruits. Cruises like these should cost around 100 USD if taken from Nicoya, almost double that if from the mainland.
Dedicated SCUBA diving trips and luxury catamaran cruises will cost much more but if you’re wishing to share your trip with fewer people, in a more intimate setting, these are arguably a better choice.
Insider Tips on Isla Tortuga Cruises
- Over the last few years, Isla Tortuga has swiftly become one of the Nicoya Peninsula’s most popular destinations, thanks in huge part to its accessibility from the mainland as well. As such, the beach here can get crowded during the most popular tourist months (Jan-March) although do note you have the option of other beaches on the island if you’re happy to make-do without all the facilities of the main beach.
- When seeking the ideal day cruise for you, make sure you know all that’s included. Sometimes, it’s simply worth paying more for bigger meals, smaller boats or more snorkeling time along the way. Some of the luxury catamarans offer amazing deals, a bevy of inflatable water toys and more exclusive service.
- Don’t forget to pack a beach towel, a fresh change of clothes, sunscreen, hat and sunglasses, as well as your camera and spending money for drinks/souvenirs/snacks/kayak rental at the beach.
- Most companies include pick-up from your hotel, either on the Nicoya Peninsula or the mainland – so don’t forget to ask!
- Isla Tortuga may indeed be unmissable but you probably should fight the urge to visit if you are staying too far from the coast. Instead, plan other activities and excursions nearer the Nicoya Peninsula and simply spend more time in this astonishing corner of Costa Rica. Not only is there SO much to see and do in Nicoya itself but it’ll also make an Isla Tortuga day-trip all the more enjoyable if you don’t have to spend hours on end on a bus in order to reach the coast.
Exploring the Nicoya Peninsula
Part of the Puntarenas Province, jutting out of Costa Rica’s Pacific coastline, the Nicoya Peninsula offers an impressive array of highlights. This is one of the country’s wildest corners where nature-based adventures, stunning eco-lodges and wildlife-spotting adventures are absolutely world-class. Find out more about the Nicoya Peninsula and, if you’d love to know how this compares with the Papagayo and Osa peninsulas, read our guide to Costa Rica’s Peninsulas – Which One Should You Visit?
An Isla Tortuga day cruise is only one of many exceptional snorkeling and SCUBA diving activities you can enjoy in Costa Rica. Need some help figuring out which one you’d enjoy most? Then let us know if you’d love to plan an island day-trip, either before or after your Costa Rica adventure vacation, and we’d be more than happy to help hone in on the island destination that’ll make your trip unforgettable.
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