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Isla San Lucas, Costa Rica / Photo credit to Jonathan Bonilla Almanza

Costa Rica Designates Isla San Lucas as its 30th National Park

Costa Rica welcomes its 30th (or 29th if you count La Amistad) National Park with Isla San Lucas joining the club. This article contains a link (or links) to Amazon, from which, as an Amazon Associate, this website will earn a small commission if you make any purchases.

On Monday the Costa Rican legislature approved a bill to turn Isla San Lucas into a national park.

The bill, proposed by PLN Diputado Carlos Ricardo Benavides, creates the first new national park in Costa Rica since the designation of Guanacaste’s Miravalles Jorge Manuel Dengo National Park in June 2019.

Isla San Lucas is an island in the Gulf of Nicoya.

Between 1873 and 1991, it was a prison, home of some of Costa Rica’s most notorious and dangerous criminals.

Conditions on Isla San Lucas were brutal. Torture, malnutrition, overcrowding, and disease were common. Visitors today can still see the graffiti on cell walls depicting the abject misery of life in the prison.

One prisoner, Jose Leon Sanchez, wrote the book La Isla de Hombres Solos (The Island of Lonely Men) about his experiences on Isla San Lucas.

After the last prisoners left in the early 90s, Isla San Lucas spent years rotting and decaying away, a curiosity viewed mostly from the ferries crossing the Gulf of Nicoya.

Then in 2012, Costa Rican tourism authorities took over the upkeep of the island.                                            

It became a wildlife refuge while the government worked to convert the island into a tropical Alcatraz.

“Our intention is to turn Isla San Lucas into the tourist hub of the Gulf of Nicoya,” said Diputado Benevides.

“It’ll become a hub for tourism in the Gulf of Nicoya. This will enhance tourist activity of other islands and communities around the gulf, starting with the port of Puntarenas. Visitors will enjoy a visit to the past while appreciating the natural wealth of an island in the sea with top quality tourist services.”

Aside from the prison, the 500-hectare Isla San Lucas is home to monkeys, deer, snakes, and crocodiles. It’s easily accessible on a day-trip out of Puntarenas, a 30-to-40-minute boat ride.

James Dyde is the editor of He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.

James Dyde

James Dyde

James Dyde is a British immigrant to Costa Rica and the editor of this website. He has lived in Central America since 2000 and retains a deep love for the region. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.