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Isla Tortuga Day Tour in Costa Rica: Full Visitors Guide

Isla Tortuga in Costa Rica is an uninhabited tropical island with palm tree lined white sand beaches and calm turquoise waters. This island is located on the Pacific Ocean off of the Gulf of Nicoya. The only way to visit this place is with a fun-filled day tour with boat ride, snorkeling, and the freedom to explore the island at your own pace. 

We have taken day trips out to Tortuga Island on numerous occasions. Some experiences were excellent and some were just OK. 

We created this guide to fill you in on the best tour options, let you know what to expect on your day trip, give you info on what to bring and pack, and more! 

Isla Tortuga at a Glance

  • Location: Off the Nicoya Peninsula near Curu Reserve
  • How to Get Here: The island is only accessible as a full-day boat trip.
  • Best Day Tour from San Jose: Tortuga Island Full Day Tour with Lunch
  • Best Day Tour from Jaco: Isla Tortuga Adventure Tour
  • Best Day Tour from Montezuma: Tortuga Island Snorkeling Tour
  • Features of the Island: Great snorkeling nearby, beautiful white sand beach, clear waters that are great for swimming
  • Criticisms of the Island: It is very touristy. You have to pay extra for all activities on the island.

What is Isla Tortuga?

isla tortuga shore view from the ocean

Isla Tortuga is an uninhabited island with white sand beaches lined with palm trees and calm turquoise waters.

The island is actually two small islands next to eachother. These are called Alcatraz and Tolinga.

This destination is located off the Nicoya Peninsula very close to the Curu Reserve. You can find it on Google Maps here.

Despite being called “turtle Island” you likely won’t actually see sea turtles here.

However, during the snorkel portion of your tour you will get to the chance to see other marine life in the clear water. 

Isla Tortuga Tour Options

isla tortuga costa rica

There are multiple tour companies that offer day trips to Isla Tortuga.

Here are our favorite tour operators from around the country that offer an exceptional tour experience. 

From the Nicoya Peninsula

The best tour operator for the Tortuga Island tour from the Nicoya Peninsula is Zuma Tours which operates out of Montezuma.

If you are coming from Santa Teresa or Mal Pais you can either drive yourself and park in the parking lot in downtown Montezuma or pay extra for hotel pick-up. 

They also offer you the option to add on a scuba diving or scuba diving discovery option (for un-certified divers). This is awesome, but it means you won’t get much time on the island because the diving occurs during the island relaxation time.

Tour Itinerary:

  1. Pick-up and Departure:
    • Shuttle pick-up from hotels in Mal Pais and Santa Teresa (starting at 7:45 AM).
    • Optional pick-up from Tambor Bay by boat or shuttle (8:15 AM).
  2. Boat Ride to Isla Tortuga: 45-minute scenic boat ride with potential sightings of dolphins, manta rays, turtles, and whales.
  3. Snorkeling Session: Snorkel at volcanic rock reef with diverse marine life (10:00 AM to 12:00 PM).
  4. Beach Time and Lunch:
    • Relax on Tortuga Island beach with drinks and fruits.
    • Enjoy a BBQ lunch with options of fresh fish, chicken, or vegetarian meals (12:00 PM to 12:30 PM).
  5. Afternoon Free Time: Free time for hiking, swimming, kayaking, or relaxing (1:00 PM to 3:00 PM).
  6. Return to Montezuma: Boat ride back to Montezuma town, arriving around 4:00 PM.

They also offer private day tours to the island. You can get more details on that here.

Check Availability and Book the Best Day Tour from Nicoya

From Jaco

This tour is put on by Turismo Marítimo del Pacífico. Typically, Veronica will be your guide and she is excellent! 

Tour Itinerary:

  • Pick Up: This tour includes pick-up and drop-off from Jaco and Puntarenas area hotels. 
  • Tarcoles Bridge: Observe crocodiles from the bridge (20 minutes).
  • Puntarenas Lighthouse: Quick stop to view the lighthouse (10 minutes).
  • Islas Negritos: Start your boat ride out to the island with a visit the wildlife refuge and watch spider monkeys (20 minutes).
  • Tortuga Island: Spend 5 hours enjoying the island with a snorkeling tour, fresh fruit, non-alcoholic drinks, lunch, and coffee.
  • Gulf of Nicoya: Visit the famous stone arch, a 300-year-old rock formation sculpted by waves.

Customer Reviews:

  • Positive: “Veronica was knowledgeable and ensured our safety. Excellent food and beautiful islands. One of the best experiences in Costa Rica!”
  • Negative: “Rough weather made snorkeling impossible. Spent the day avoiding wind. Good lunch, but $25 refund didn’t compensate for missing the main activity.”

Check Availability and Book the Best Day Tour from Jaco

From San Jose

This day tour from San Jose is a true full day experience. 

Tour Itinerary:

  1. Travel from San José to Puntarenas: Hotel pickup is included from most San Jose area hotels. 
  2. Board the boat to visit Tortuga Island: Possibly observe dolphins and the islands during the boat journey (2 hours).
  3. Snorkeling at Tortuga Island: 45-minute snorkeling activity with provided equipment (45 minutes).
  4. Beach Time at Tortuga Island: Relax for 5 hours under palm trees or sunbathe, and enjoy the turquoise sea (5 hours).
  5. Return to San José from Puntarenas: Travel back to San José after the tour (2 hours).

Customer Reviews:

  • Positive: “Full day experience with lots of sights, beautiful views, and wildlife! Lunch options of fish or chicken, with assorted fruits. Great for a day excursion!”
  • Negative: “Tour felt rushed and had many extra costs for basic amenities. No cell phone connection on the beach, but Wi-Fi available for $2. No turtles, but there were wild pigs.”

Check Availability and Book the Best Day Tour from San Jose

The Boat Trip to the Island

isla tortuga boat

The type of boat that will take you out to the island varies by tour company. You might be on a large catamaran like the one pictured above or a smaller vessel.

The travel time also varies depending on if you are coming from Puntarenas or Nicoya. Generally, the ride is about an hour to two hours long.

During your boat ride you might get lucky and see dolphins, jumping manta rays, and sea turtles. If you are very lucky you can even enjoy watching humpback & pilot whales. 

If you are prone to seasickness I highly recommend taking some motion sickness medicine before you board the boat. This can be purchased at almost any grocery store (you will likely need to ask for it at the register and it is sold as individual pills) or you can come prepared and bring some with you from home.

Also, keep in mind that even though your boat is likely covered, it might be difficult to block your skin from the sun depending on the sun’s angle. Wear as much sun blocking clothing as possible and load up on reef safe sunblock that is SPF 50+.

Snorkeling Near the Island

isla tortuga snorkel

On all day tours you will have the chance to go on an amazing snorkeling experience before arriving at Isla Tortuga. Snorkel masks are provided for your enjoyment.

This experience typically lasts between 45 minutes and one hour. You are always welcome to stay on the boat if you prefer not to snorkel. 

In our experience, the water is very calm and you can see a variety of fish and coral reefs.

What to Do on the Island

Isla Tortuga Day Tour in Costa Rica: Full Visitors Guide

The island has many fun activities that you can enjoy after eating a delicious lunch provided by your tour company.

The last time we took this tour we had an option of chicken, fish (tuna), or a vegetarian meal. We both opted for the fish and we were pleasantly surprised. It was a filling and good meal. The fish was nicely marinated and paired with roasted potatoes and roasted vegetables.

After lunch, we had free time to do whatever we wanted for two hours. 

Just note that a lot of the activities on the island cost an extra fee. 

The activity options include:

Rent Lounge Chairs and Umbrellas

isla tortuga beach chairs

For about $5 you can rent a chair with an umbrella to relax in with direct views of the ocean.

In our experience, the people monitoring the beach chairs are typically very attentive and adjust people’s umbrellas as necessary.

Rent a Kayak, Paddleboard, or Go on a Banana Boat Ride

boats isla tortuga

The prices ranged for this depending on activity and time. However, if you want to explore the calm waters surrounding the island, this is a great way to do it.

Go Swimming

The water are usually perfectly calm and clear. Swimming is much needed because it is usually very warm here.

Play Beach Volleyball

There is a beach volleyball net set up on the main beach that you can use. The only negative is that the beach can get somewhat busy. On very busy days it can be difficult to avoid hitting other people.  

Go for a Hike

Isla Tortuga Day Tour in Costa Rica: Full Visitors Guide

You can pay $5 per person to take a nice hike as a way of exploring the island. This departs from the gift shop. They will give you a nice map with information about various plants you will see along the way, and you are good to go. 

The hike took us about 45 minutes and was miserable. No, in all honesty, I’m super happy we did it because the view was great but you will be going straight uphill and there are some parts with absolutely no shade.

Hang at the Beach Bar

isla tortuga beach bar

There were two beach bars that we spotted on the island. Here you can buy snacks, cocktails, beers, juices, and more!

Check Out the Island Store

Isla Tortuga Day Tour in Costa Rica: Full Visitors Guide

The island store sells basic souvenirs and some snack items. This is also where you will gp to pay for the bathfroom. Yes, you even have to pay for the bathroom.

Travel Tips for Visiting Isla Tortuga

isla tortuga viewpoint

Here are all the things you should know before booking your island adventure. 

What to Bring

  • Waterproof backpack: We swear by this backpack for Costa Rica travel. Great for the rainy season and for water activities.
  • Sunblock (SPF 50): We like Sunbum because it works well and is reef-safe.
  • Motion sickness pills: For the boat ride.
  • Microfiber towel: Beach towels are not provided. We like microfiber towels because they easily fit in your luggage and dry quickly.
  • Cash: In US dollars or Costa Rican colones. This is for purchasing things on the island.
  • Waterproof sleeve for your phone: This is great for if you want to try and take pictures while snorkeling.
  • Sneakers: If you want to do the hike.
  • A change of clothes: For your car ride home or if you plan to go out after. You will likely get wet on the boat ride.
  • An extra bottle of water or electrolyte drink: Most tours provide drinks, but I like to always be a bit extra prepared.

What to Wear

  • Bathing suit
  • Long sleeve UV blocking swim shirt: I think this is a must-have. It is so easy to get sunburned on this adventure.
  • Quick drying shorts
  • A sun-blocking hat: I love my slightly nerdy Columbia hat.
  • Sunglasses
  • Glasses Strap: Great to keep sunglasses on during a bumpy boat ride or any adventures.
  • Flip Flops that can get wet

Best Time of Year for the Tour

The best time of year for this tour is during the dry season. This is best because you won’t have to contend with afternoon rain storms.

However, keep in mind that this is also the warmest time of year and the heat can be a bit overwhelming.

The dry season is also the busiest time of year. Because this is a popular day trip option the island can become very full with other tourists who all seem to culminate on the island at the same time due to tour schedules. 

In the rainy season, you will have fewer tourists on the island, but you run the risk of having to find shelter during the afternoon rain shower, the water can be a bit more choppy (which isn’t fun for snorkeling or for the boat ride), and visibility is not as great for snorkeling. 

Safety Info

As I mentioned above, your biggest safety concern here should be the sun and the heat. This is a full-day tour, so you will likely be spending several hours in the elements.

The last time we did this tour everyone else on our boat had just arrived in Costa Rica in the past few days. This was in the month of March, so most people were pale from northern winters.

Despite that, Thomas and I were the only people wearing long-sleeved water shirts and sun-blocking hats throughout the day.

On our boat ride back I noticed every other person was very sunburned. I felt bad because they were likely all going to be in a lot of pain for the next day or two.

The sun is no joke here! Be prepared!

Is It Worth Visiting Isla Tortuga?

isla tortuga costa rica

Isla Tortuga has very mixed reviews online, so the first time we took a tour out to the island we were unsure about what we could expect. We worried it would be way too touristy. 

In actuality, it is touristy. The entire island is designed for tourists. It is a bit annoying that you are likely paying a lot of money for a tour to then arrive at a place where every extra activity (including using the bathroom) costs extra. 

However, that doesn’t mean that it is not worth a visit. I think if you are aware of this fact going into the experience you will still enjoy it a lot. 

The other common criticism of the experience is the sometimes choppy sea conditions. As someone who is prone to bad sea sickness, I will agree with this assessment.

It is so hard to predict exactly how the water will be during your boat tour. In my experience, it tends to be worse when you are heading back to the mainland at the end of the day. 

So, yes, I think it is worth a visit as a fun day trip. But, just go into it expecting that you will need to pay extra for things on the island.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a visit to Isla Tortuga is the perfect way to spend a special day in Costa Rica. Despite some negatives, there are several reasons why this is a top destination for tourists exploring the Pacific Coast. You won’t find many beaches in Costa Rica with such fine white sand and crystalline waters as this location has. 

If you have any questions about visiting Isla Tortuga, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you plan. 

Costa Rica Travel Details: What You Need to Know

🚗 Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?

Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will also allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

🏄🏽 How can I book things to do?

We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

🍍 I’m overwhelmed with planning. Can you help?

Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

✈️ What is the best way to book a flight?

Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner. Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).

🛏️ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?

We highly suggest Booking.com for hotel bookings and typically use VRBO for Costa Rica vacation rentals.

🗣️What is the main language in Costa Rica?

The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.

💰 What is the currency in Costa Rica?

The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas

📞 What is the best way to stay connected?

An eSIM from Airalo is the easiest way to get 4G data while traveling in Costa Rica.

🌴 Is Costa Rica safe?

Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.

🛂 Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.

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