A Guide To Exploring the Islands of Costa Rica

Island dreams
Island dreams | © Iqbal Osman / Flickr
Jenn Parker

While a surprising number of people think that Costa Rica is itself an island, it is actually home to quite a few islands. Many of the islands of Costa Rica are uninhabited nature reserves, national parks, and sea bird sanctuaries. There are also a few that are home to indigenous tribes and local fishing communities. There are multiple tours and boat trips available for those interested in checking out some of these beautiful tropical islands. Here’s what you need to know about Costa Rica’s most famous islands.

Islas Murciélagos

The Bat Islands are part of the Santa Rosa National Park in northern Guanacaste. These islands are especially famous for their bull shark populations, among other predatory marine life. While this is not a novice diving spot, for more experienced and adventurous divers, the Bat Islands should definitely make your scuba diving destination bucket list. The marine part of the Santa Rosa National Park is also home to humpback whales, pilot whales, dolphins, rays, and sea turtles.

Brave the bulls

Islas Catalinas

Graceful giants

The islands in the Gulf of Nicoya

The Gulf of Nicoya is home to upwards of a dozen named islands. The most popular islands to visit are Isla Tolinga, the main island of the Tortuga Islands, and Isla San Lucas, home to an infamous old prison and beautiful nature reserve. Isla Chira is the second largest island in Costa Rica and is inhabited by about 3,500 fishermen and farmers. The Negritos Islands, Guayaboo, and Pajaros are off limits to visitors because they are protected as seabird sanctuaries. Snorkeling, kayaking, catamaran cruises, and island tours are readily available to those who want to check out some of these beautiful spots.

Caño Island Biological Reserve

Caño Island Biological Reserve is located just off the coast near Drake Bay in the southern Pacific region of Costa Rica. A 45-minute boat ride from the coast will take you to an exquisite scuba diving and snorkeling destination. Whale sharks, dolphins, rays, whales, sharks, turtles, and more tropical fish than you can imagine frequent the waters around this island and reserve. You can also set foot on Caño Island and explore its pristine beaches and forests.

You never know who you are going to encounter in the sea

Isla Uvita

On the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, just three kilometers off the coast of Limón, is Isla Uvita. Christopher Columbus actually first reached this island in 1502 and named it La Huerta. This small island is an important nesting site for the rare and beautiful hawksbill sea turtle, as well as home to the brown bobby and many other sea birds. A beautiful coral reef surrounds this island, which makes it an incredible diving spot, too.

Uvita Island visitor

Isla Pajaros

Bird Island is a small mangrove island in the Tempisque River in the Palo Verde National Park. This unique island is a safe haven for an astonishing diversity of tropical wetland birds. Many of the Tempisque River resident birds nest on this island. A guided boat tour through Palo Verde National Park is a bird lover’s dream excursion, and this island is definitely a bird lover’s dream scene. You can also expect to see a large concentration of crocodiles, iguanas, and small mammals on your tour.

1. Cocos Island National Park

Natural Feature, Park

View over Wafers Bay Cocos Island Costa Rica.
© HakBak / Shutterstock
Located 550 kilometers off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Cocos Island is known as the only eastern Pacific island with a tropical rainforest. Surrounded by deep waters and counter-currents, it is a mecca for scuba divers, who travel the globe to visit one of the twenty dive sites and to come face-to-face with scalloped hammerhead sharks, rays, moray eels and dolphins. You can only explore this uninhabited island and national park aboard a live-aboard dive boat.
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article