San Lucas Island

San Lucas Island National Park
Parque Nacional Isla San Lucas
IUCN category II ( national park)
Isla San Lucas.JPG
San Lucas as seen from the Gulf of Nicoya
San Lucas Island National Park area.
Location Costa Rica
Coordinates 9°56′20″N 84°54′22″W / 9.939°N 84.906°W / 9.939; -84.906Coordinates: 9°56′20″N 84°54′22″W / 9.939°N 84.906°W / 9.939; -84.906
Area 4.49 square kilometres (1.73 sq mi) (terrestrial), 9.95 square kilometres (3.84 sq mi) (marine)
Established 24 August 2020
Governing body National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC)
San Lucas Island is located in Costa Rica
San Lucas Island
Location in Costa Rica

San Lucas Island National Park (Spanish: Parque Nacional Isla San Lucas) is an island located off the Pacific shore of Costa Rica in the Gulf of Nicoya. It is part of the Puntarenas district[1] of Puntarenas Canton of the province of Puntarenas.

Formerly housing a brutal prison, now abandoned, the island was designated as a National Park on August 2020[2] by decree 9892[3] and managed under the Central Pacific Conservation Area.[4][5][6]


Named for Luke the Evangelist.


San Lucas Island located in the Gulf of Nicoya off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, about 40 minutes by boat from Puntarenas. The island has an area of approximately 4.6 km2 (1.8 sq mi)

Indigenous culture

Indigenous groups lived on San Lucas and the surrounding islands. There are eight known archeological sites on the island, including apparent houses where stone tools and a metal object were found in the late 1970s. The excavation sites date to between 1,000 and 1,500 AD.[7]


Main dock and administrative offices, 2008

From 1873 to 1991, San Lucas Island was a penal island for some of the worst criminals in Costa Rica. It is often erroneously cited as the largest prison in Costa Rican history. It was founded by the dictator Tomás Miguel Guardia Gutiérrez.[8] Being sent to San Lucas Island was a terrible prospect as prisoners' lives were short and often spent in torture. Ironically, Guardia abolished the death penalty a year after establishing the prison.

The former buildings of the penal island are considered "Patrimonio de Cultura," or cultural heritage sites.[8] The buildings include a historic dock that is still in use after the first dock was destroyed, a church, a medical building, temporary holding cells, a three-story main office, a large concrete disc used to hold a water tank, and water pumps. In addition, there are prison cells of varying security levels depending on the prisoners' crimes. The prison cells contain the typical graffiti of older Latin American prisons, such as religious phrases, pornographic images, signatures and drawings. There are also several water pumps and a cemetery under excavation on the island.[7]

José León Sánchez, a prisoner of the island, wrote La Isla de Hombres Solos, translated into English as "The Island of Lonely Men", based on his time in the prison at San Lucas Island. León claimed that he was unjustly imprisoned for a robbery that he did not commit. Other prisoners included Beltrán Cortés Carvajal, the famous killer of the doctors Carlos Manuel Echandi Lahmann and Ricardo Moreno Cañas.

National Park

It was first designated as a Wildlife Refuge as created in 2002 by decree 29277-MINAE.

On August 10 2020 it was designated as the 30th National Park of Costa Rica by record 21287[2] of the Legislative Assembly and also as a Historical-Architectural Heritage (Spanish: Patrimonio Histórico-Arquitectónico) by record 21789.[9]


The island includes a wide variety of wildlife, such as howler monkeys, spiders, snakes, deer, and pheasants. There are also at least 8 species of bats on the island. The waters surrounding the island are home to hammerhead sharks, rays, and turtles.[10]


The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo began planning to invest money into tourism on the island by developing commercial spaces for restaurants, beaches, and tour operators.[11] The volunteer organization Raleigh International occasionally sends young volunteers to help rangers clear beaches to make the island more attractive for tourism.

Now it is a full-fledged tourist destination, with several companies offering charters to the island.[8] There is great concern that the tourist activities are destroying pre-Columbian sites and the prison's archeological significance, as well as the wildlife habitats of the area.[citation needed]

There are plans to develop more sustainable tourist activities on the island.[12]

Volunteer work

The island benefits from volunteers of the charity Raleigh International, who work with the rangers on the island to improve the surrounding area.

See also


  1. ^ "Decreto Nº 30714-C" (PDF).
  2. ^ a b "Declaran Isla San Lucas Parque Nacional". 10 August 2020. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  3. ^ Zúñiga, Alejandro (24 August 2020). "At San Lucas Island, Costa Rica creates its 30th national park". Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  4. ^ "Refugio de Vida Silvestre San Lucas Map". SINAC. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  5. ^ "Refugio de Vida Silvestre San Lucas". Protected Planet. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  6. ^ "Gigante Bay Area Attractions". PlanetWare. Archived from the original on 2011-05-19. Retrieved 2013-10-06.
  7. ^ a b "Museo Nacional de Costa Rica - Reinician excavaciones en la Isla de San Lucas". 2006-05-01. Archived from the original on 22 February 2012. Retrieved 2013-10-06.
  8. ^ a b c "Costa Rican Prison Island To Become Tourist Destination | Costa Rica Travel News". 2008-03-26. Archived from the original on 2013-01-02. Retrieved 2013-10-06.
  9. ^ Madriz, Allan (11 August 2020). "Diputados aprueban creación del Parque Nacional Isla San Lucas". Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  10. ^ "Costa Rica - San Lucas Island wildlife Refuge". 2011-02-09. Archived from the original on 2012-02-26. Retrieved 2013-10-06.
  11. ^ "San Lucas Island will undergo tourism development". Archived from the original on 2014-10-13.
  12. ^ Mora, Carlos (11 August 2020). "Isla San Lucas será parque nacional, pero diputados discrepan por financiamiento". Retrieved 11 August 2020.