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If you’ve ever fantasized about visiting a deserted island in the middle of a tropical paradise, spending some time on Tortuga Island comes pretty close! This small island lies off the coast of Costa Rica along the southeastern part of the Nicoya Peninsula.
Tortuga Island is known for its breathtaking scenery, amazing snorkeling, and calm bays perfect for swimming. From the moment the island comes into view, you’ll be in awe of the white sand beaches and sparkling turquoise water.
The snorkeling here is the absolute best I have experienced in Costa Rica! The water is so clear, and it’s easy to see all the incredible fish and sea creatures within it. It’s one of the best places in the country to see turtles and we even saw a small shark (that was totally harmless, don’t worry).
While a trip to Tortuga Island is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica, it’s not the easiest. This is an island in the middle of the ocean after all… there’s no walking or driving here! You’ll need to take a boat or join a tour and make sure you’re prepared for this mini-island getaway.
After traveling to Tortuga Island while living in Costa Rica, we’ve come up with our best tips and tricks so you have a great time making your own memories here. Check out our guide to Tortuga Island with the 15 things you need to know before you go!
Don’t have time to read the full article? The only way to access Tortuga Island is by boat, so you’ll need to book a tour to visit. You can browse all the options here. Popular spots to leave from include Montezuma, Santa Teresa, Jaco, Paquera, and San Jose.
1. About Tortuga Island
Tortuga Island is also known as Turtle Island (“tortuga” means turtle in Spanish). It’s a popular day-trip destination while you’re in Costa Rica as there are no hotels here. This is an ideal spot to escape the crowds and find a quiet place to relax and see some incredible Costa Rican wildlife.
One of the most popular things to do on Tortuga Island is go snorkeling or scuba diving. Some of the creatures here you might see include turtles, angelfish, manta rays, dolphins and maybe an octopus or two! You can also swim or kayak around here as I’ve found the waves aren’t too rough.
But it isn’t all water activities! Rent an umbrella on the beach to soak up the sunshine with the coconut trees swaying behind you and enjoy a rum cocktail served in a coconut … my personal favorite! Or bring some good walking shoes along and take on a hike through the forested trails of the island for a more adventurous afternoon.
2. Where is Tortuga Island
Tortuga Island is off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica along the southeastern shoreline of the Nicoya Peninsula. It’s an excellent day trip if you’re visiting the Nicoya Peninsula and looking for a new place to explore.
Tortuga Island is located within the Islas Negritos Biological Reserve. This is a protected area of flora and fauna, so the diversity of the plants and animals here is amazing – especially the ones you’ll spot in the water!
To get here, you’ll need to take a boat tour (you can browse all of the options here or read more on that below!). Popular spots to leave from include Montezuma, Santa Teresa, Jaco, Paquera, and San Jose.
3. Do you need to visit Tortuga Island on a tour?
Yes! Tortuga Island, Costa Rica is only accessible by boat and requires a tour to visit. Typically you’ll book a full-day Tortuga Island tour that will leave from wherever you’re staying in the morning, have you spend the day on the island, and then bring you back in the evening.
You can expect a 45-minute boat ride from Jaco and more like 20 minutes from Paquera. From destinations like San Jose, you’ll have to first drive to the coast (also included in the tour) before getting on the boat.
What I love about the boat ride out to Tortuga Island is how scenic it is! Truly, this is an enjoyable experience all on its own before you even set foot on the island. You’ll see fantastic views from the boat including Cocalito Falls (one of the nicest waterfalls in Costa Rica), and you might even spot some dolphins!
It’s important you pack all you’ll need for a full day away – think beachy things like sunscreen and a towel, hiking gear like bug spray, and good shoes and snorkeling gear if you have it or it’s not included already on your tour.
4. Where can you do tours to Tortuga Island from?
Tortuga Island is often considered one of the best tours in all of Costa Rica! Tortuga Island tours leave from a variety of destinations including Montezuma, Santa Teresa, Paquera, Jaco, San Jose, and Puntarenas. If you’re in staying in one of those areas, I have tour recommendations for each of them! We personally went with Zuma Tours from Montezuma and highly recommend them.
While there are often last-minute spots to Tortuga Island and you don’t need to book too far in advance, tours can fill up. If you’re going to be here in the super popular times to visit Costa Rica around Christmas, New Year’s, or Spring Break, make sure you grab a ticket at least a week in advance.
Departing from Montezuma Beach, this full-day snorkeling tour to Tortuga Island starts with a 45-minute boat ride – keep an eye out for dolphins, turtles, and humpback whales. The boat will anchor near the island for two hours of snorkeling among volcanic rock reefs before you head to shore for fresh BBQ fish lunch. Enjoy a free afternoon to hike, swim, rent a kayak or relax at the beach before taking a boat back to Montezuma. The total tour cost is $80 USD.
Your Tortuga Island tour starts with a shuttle pick-up from your hotel in Santa Teresa at 8 am. You’ll then head to Montezuma Beach to hop aboard a boat to the island. Enjoy the scenery as you cruise to the best snorkeling spots in the area, and add on a scuba diving excursion if you’re interested (and certified!). Lunch is included as well as some free time to explore the island. The cost is $99 USD per person, increasing to $160 USD if you want to scuba dive.
The closest spot to leave from, this small-group snorkeling tour departs from the beach in nearby Paquera. It’s only a 20-minute boat ride before you’re at the beautiful volcanic rock reef surrounded by stunning blue waters. Snorkel around angelfish, needlefish, spotted eagle rays, and more! Then, trade in your snorkeling mask for your sunglasses and enjoy some time on the beach. Fresh fruits and drinks are included along with all snorkeling equipment for this tour costing $55 USD per person – the cheapest of all the Tortuga Island tours!
Because Tortuga Island is a bit further from Jaco, make sure you book a tour like this one that has a speed boat. That means you’ll still get lots of time to enjoy the island during your day trip. The tour also includes a stop at Tarcoles River to see crocodiles (the famous Crocodile Bridge), a visit to Negritos Island Wildlife Reserve to see spider monkeys, a stop at the impressive Nicoya stone arch, and snorkeling. Lunch is included in the $115 USD tour, but there is an additional transportation cost of $25 USD.
If you’re going to be around Costa Rica’s capital city, you’re not too far to journey to make one of the best day trips from San Jose to the island. Join this full-day tour to be whisked away to a private island paradise. You’ll be aboard a large cruise ship and get to enjoy views of the island before you arrive. Once you’re here, you can swim or relax on the beach and enjoy the lunch that is provided. The cost of the tour is $133 USD and doesn’t include snorkeling equipment, but you can rent that once you arrive on the island.
Join this private Tortuga Island tour to escape the crowds and personalize your experience on this magical island. You’ll leave from Puntarenas by boat and see dolphins swimming nearby as you pass a spectacular stone arch. Snorkeling is included once you arrive at the island along with a yummy lunch of ceviche or grilled chicken. It’s $115 USD to book your spot.
Why We Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
5. When is the best time to visit Tortuga Island?
As you’re planning a trip here, one of the most important things to keep in mind is when to go. We’ve found the best time to visit Costa Rica is during the dry season. This is also true for Tortuga Island!
You’ll ideally want to come here between December and April. You’re more likely to have days full of sunshine, good visibility in the water, and not much rain.
Because this is purely an outdoor day trip, you’re going to want the best shot at clear skies and good weather, which you’ll find during the dry season.
If you are here outside of those months, don’t count out a trip here. The water temperature and visibility around Tortuga Island are pretty consistent, so snorkeling is good year-round. Just bring a rain jacket in case you need it on the boat.
6. What do most tours to Tortuga Island include?
All tours to Tortuga Island include a boat trip out where you’ll enjoy some incredible views along the way. The boat ride itself is really enjoyable, and that’s before you even get to the island! Make sure you keep an eye out for playful dolphins and if you’re really lucky, you might spot a whale.
A lot of tours also include some type of BBQ-style lunch. Often there’s a fish or chicken option along with non-alcoholic drinks (some tours include beer, too, though!) If your tour doesn’t include lunch or you get hungry after lunch, pack snacks or grab something to eat at one of the local spots on the island. Bring cash in this case.
A lot of tours will also offer snorkeling – which I highly recommend. Make sure to check what’s included in your tour though as not all tours include snorkeling equipment. If you do book a tour that doesn’t include snorkeling, don’t worry. You can easily rent snorkeling equipment on the island for $20 USD.
What’s nice about day trips to Tortuga Island is that most tour companies leave the afternoon for you to have free time here. You’ll have a few hours to relax, play volleyball, snorkel, kayak, or drink lots of coco locos!
7. Facilities on Tortuga Island
While there aren’t any hotels on the island, there are still plenty of facilities to make this a comfortable day trip. You won’t be roughing it, I promise!
There are washrooms, a little gift shop, and picnic tables along the beach. You’ll also find beach bars and restaurants so you can eat and drink to your heart’s delight. There’s everything from delicious seafood dishes to some of the best traditional Costa Rican food like Gallo Pinto. A lot of the tours will include lunch, so you may just need to buy yourself snacks and drinks if you get hungry after that.
For activities, there are rental shops for things like kayaks, standup paddleboards, jet skis, and snorkeling gear. There’s a volleyball court and if you’re craving beach time, you can also rent things like beach umbrellas and chairs. Be aware that the prices here tend to be a little on the higher side (no competition on a tiny island!), so bring cash with you.
8. Things to do on Tortuga Island
Once you’re on Tortuga Island, Costa Rica there are so many fun things to do in such a small space!
My personal favorite and truly a must if you’ve come all the way here is to go snorkeling. The crystal-clear waters have incredible visibility of 100 feet (30 meters) on sunny days. You’ll be able to see tons of fish and some pretty cool creatures like manta rays or an octopus – we LOVED the snorkeling here. If your tour doesn’t include snorkeling, you can book a snorkeling tour on the island for $20 USD, or if you just want the equipment, it’s $6 USD for an hour.
There are also some nice trails through the forested part of the island that are good for hiking. The paths wind through the lush jungle that’s home to a ton of wildlife and some beautiful scenery as you can hike to a nice lookout spot.
Try a SUP to gently paddle through the waters around the island. It’s $10 USD for 30 minutes or $20 USD for an hour. They also have group SUP boards (which are larger and wider) so you can fit an entire family on one! Those are $40 for one hour.
Going kayaking is also really nice on the calm waters here. I love gliding along and seeing the sunlight sparkle off the waves! They are single kayaks available for $5 USD for 30 minutes or $10 USD for an hour or double kayaks for $8 USD for 30 minutes and $15 USD for a full hour.
The best free activity on Tortuga Island is to relax on the beach. Soak in the incredible views in this tropical paradise or take a dip in the shimmering blue waters. There is a swimming zone for anyone interested in jumping in.
Other beach activities include volleyball or renting a beach chair to sit and read or suntan. Beach chair rentals are available for $7 USD for the entire day. Use of the volleyball nets is free.
One of the best things to have in hand while you’re relaxing on the beach is a cold drink. The bar here has some great options – whether you’re looking for something with alcohol or not. A lot of the drinks can be served in coconuts too, which is really fun. The coco locos here are $6 USD with rum (they are generous with it, too) or only $2 USD without.
If heading out on the water is in your plans, there are a ton of options. You can go on a banana boat ride where you’ll be towed behind a boat on an inflatable boat that’s yellow and shaped like a banana. This is $6 USD for the 15-minute ride. Or, use your own power (it’s a workout for the legs!) aboard a pedal boat. These are $12 USD for 30 minutes or $20 USD for an hour.
You can go a bit faster on the water with a jet ski! These are super fun to drive. Rentals here are $30 USD for 15 minutes, $50 USD for 30 minutes, and $100 USD for an hour.
Related Read: Keep the beach vibes going after you leave Tortuga Island and check out some of the best beaches in Costa Rica during your trip!
9. Is the snorkeling on Tortuga Island good?
If you’re only able to go snorkeling in one place in Costa Rica, do it here! This is some of the best snorkeling we’ve done in the entire country.
The reefs around Tortuga Island are stunning and you’ll be able to swim amongst angelfish, parrot fish, green sea turtles, puffer fish, coral fish, reef sharks (not dangerous sharks, just curious ones!), manta rays, octopus, and more. The water is so clear on sunny days here that you can easily see 100 feet (30 meters) ahead of you.
Pack a camera that can go underwater so you can capture just a bit of what you see. But pictures don’t do it justice!
10. What should I bring to Tortuga Island?
One of the most important things to bring is cash! There’s a wide variety of things to do here and lots require some type of rental fee. You’ll also want cash for drinks or food.
You’ll also want to pack all the essentials you’ll need for a beachy day trip. That means have a beach bag with a swimsuit, towel, reef-safe sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses. It’s also good to have some snacks in case you get hungry and motion sickness tablets to take for the boat ride here and back if you tend to get seasick.
A dry bag isn’t a bad idea either for the boat ride in case it gets rough. You’ll also have to wade in the water to get on and off the boat, so a dry bag is smart in case you get splashed or slip (this actually happened to a guy on our tour…when he was getting off the boat he slipped and ended up completely submerged under the water! Don’t worry, he was fine, just very wet.)
11. Is Tortuga Island suitable for kids?
Yes, kids of all ages can have fun on Tortuga Island. If you want to go snorkeling, the tours include life jackets. However, it’s best if kids and adults are strong swimmers as the water is deep.
The beach on the island is great for little ones as the water is calm, so it’s perfect for splashing and the sand here is great for making sand castles!
If your kids are a bit older, they’ll love some of the activities like a banana boat ride or paddling in a kayak. With younger kids, have them help you spot wildlife on the boat ride over – they’ll LOVE seeing the dolphins.
12. Is the boat ride to Tortuga Island rough?
On most days, the boat ride over isn’t too rough. Most tour boats will hug the coast for as long as they can before heading out.
However, the ocean around here can get swells large enough to bump the boat around a bit. If you are prone to getting sea sick, have some motion sickness tablets with you and pick a tour destination closer to the island.
The shortest boat ride is from Paquera which is only 20 minutes. The longest boat ride is from Jaco at 1.5 hours.
With that said, I (Bailey) am somebody who does often get seasick, and I didn’t even the least bit on our Totruga Island tour because the water was that calm.
13. Can you see wildlife on the boat to Tortuga Island?
Yes, the boat ride over is a great opportunity to enjoy some time on the open ocean and spot wildlife. Dolphins are really common and will sometimes catch a ride on the waves your boat creates. If you happen to see spinner dolphins, they might even put on a show jumping out of the waves and twirling for you!
Sometimes you can also spot turtles and manta rays swimming in the waters beside the boat as well.
If you’re really lucky and here during whale watching season, you might even spot a humpback whale. The most likely time to spot whales here is from July to November (the best time to go whale watching in Costa Rica!) or from December to March. If you’re here in August and September, that’s when the whales are raising their babies near Costa Rica!
Related Read: If you have your heart set on seeing whales, visit Marino Ballena National Park near Uvita – one of the best national parks in Costa Rica! It even has an unbelievable sandbar shaped like a whale’s tail.
14. Can you stay overnight on Tortuga Island?
No, there are no hotels or accommodations on the island.
If getting out to Tortuga Island is a must, stay in a location where you can easily book a day trip to the island. We have recommendations for where to stay in Jaco, accommodations in Santa Teresa, and the best hotels in Montezuma.
15. Do we recommend visiting Tortuga Island?
YES!! This is a fantastic mini-getaway to an island with some of the best snorkeling spots we’ve found. It’s a protected area where there’s plenty of wildlife and a gorgeous beach to relax on.
Plus, we’ve found that booking a tour means so many of the details are taken care of for you. No need to stress about transportation or what you’ll do once you’re here – there are so many different activities to try!
A trip to Tortuga Island, Costa Rica is a nice day trip to schedule partway through your vacation. Then you’re ready to explore a new place, but you’ll still be able to return back to your hotel at the end of the day.
Getting Around Costa Rica
How you choose to get around Costa Rica is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make when planning your holiday here! How you do it depends on your budget, travel style, and comfort level.
Renting a Car
Without a doubt, the number one way to explore Costa Rica is in a rental car. We book rental cars on the Discover Cars website as we have had good experiences with them in the past.
One of the things you need to watch for when renting a car in Costa Rica is the mandatory insurance that the government requires you to have. There are a lot of very cheap rentals that don’t include this mandatory insurance (TPL) in the original booking price, but there are also ones that do. To avoid additional surprise charges when you pick up your rental car, be sure to rent a car that includes the mandatory insurance when you book.
Thankfully, on Discover Cars it’s easy to tell apart the companies that include the mandatory insurance and those that don’t. The trick is you can’t pick any car on their website. In the picture below, you can see this rental car, with pick up in Jaco, includes the TPL. That means the mandatory insurance is included in the price. Any cover you get above that is extra.
Of course, I still suggest getting the full coverage offered by Discover Cars, which covers you even more.
You can browse cars on Discover Cars here.
If renting a car isn’t in your budget, you don’t feel comfortable driving in Costa Rica, or you just don’t like driving, shuttles are the next best option. There are hundreds of shuttle routes available all over the country, and they are very affordable.
Shuttles in Costa Rica are specifically for tourists and often include pick up and drop off at your selected hotels and airports. The drivers also speak some English, and the vehicles have air conditioning. You’ll also be guaranteed a seat when you book a shuttle (which isn’t the case with the public bus system.)
To get the best price, use the website Bookaway. They compare all the offers and prices of shuttle companies in Costa Rica so you get the best price! Honestly, we have saved so much money using Bookaway!
You can search for shuttles online on Bookaway here.
Lastly, you can use the public bus system. On short journeys, such as from San Jose to La Fortuna or Uvita to Manuel Antonio, this system is great. However, the longer the journey the more hassle and time spent on a bus. It’s undoubtedly best to save the public bus in Costa Rica for short and straightforward trips!
The public buses are definitely the cheapest way to get around Costa Rica, but they are not always very reliable and schedules often change without notice and delays are to be expected. The buses can also be very crowded and hot – so just be prepared!
It’s also good to speak some Spanish if you plan on riding the public bus since most drivers and ticket booth operators don’t speak English.
Invest in Travel Insurance
Paying out of pocket for trip interruptions or medical treatment will add to what might already be a stressful situation. We always travel with SafetyWing travel medical insurance.
The best part is that it costs only a fraction of what most insurance policies charge, which makes it perfect for digital nomads, long-term travelers (like us), and budget travelers. It only costs $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country. We usually purchase it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada from Colombia before the border closed!
Thanks so much for reading our guide to Tortuga Island and all the things to do before visiting this beautiful place. Heading out to this small island is a great day trip destination that feels like escaping to a whole new place! If you have any questions or are curious about our travels to Costa Rica, feel free to comment or send us a message.
Don’t forget to check out some of our other Costa Rica blogs as you plan your dream trip to this beautiful part of the world: