A Pedacito of Isla Tortuga in Costa Rica
Updated: Jul 1, 2021
My boyfriend and I were in Malpais, Costa Rica for three months and hadn’t seen one of the top attractions in the area—Isla Tortuga—until his dad came to visit. Man, I wish we would’ve visited sooner. We could’ve gone twice!
We booked a private tour for $100 a person; it included door-to-door transportation, snorkel equipment, fruit, lunch on the beach, beer, and soft drinks. The taxi driver picked us up and brought us to Tambor Beach, about forty-five minutes away, where we met Captain Clever.
Why his name was Clever, I’m not sure. But he definitely knew all of the best snorkeling spots. We stopped at a small shipwreck, where half of a small, rusty, metal tube stuck out of the water. Apparently, the boat had crashed during WWII. Although this wasn’t a designated snorkeling spot, Clever let us jump in and explore. We saw a couple of schools of fish, but the most exciting part was the wreck; it was small, but it was covered in corals and other brightly colored sea-beings. Beneath the water, there was no rust or metal grey insight.
The high-adrenaline adventurer inside me wanted to swim through it. Towards the bottom, the structure opened up widely; but it’d take a while to dive that deep, let alone pass through it and back up for air. When I told my boyfriend about my goal, he was all in. He took off before I could look for another route.
He dove about 20 feet deep and disappeared beneath the structure. Holy shit! I swam to the other side of the and saw him underwater, on the other side at the bottom. Phew. His legs kicked fast as he swam towards the surface; I could tell he was out of breath. The trip took about 15 seconds, but I’m sure the physical exertion depleted his oxygen levels quicker than usual.
I opted for a shallower swim through smaller holes; I dove about 10 feet down to enter the structure. On the inside, currents swayed my body around. I was a bit nervous—the structure was completely coated in sharp corals. Why did I decide to do this again?!
I managed to sway towards the coral-fringed opening; I needled through the hole with my arms over my head and palms together. My backside lightly brushed an outcropping and it burned, but—Freeedommm! I was out almost scratch-free. Back on the boat, my boyfriend bled from a few scratches on his calf and thigh, but he said it was worth it.
Our next stop was snorkeling near Tortuga Island, so we had to pull ourselves together for the main event. Nursing his wounds and a 24-hour tattoo, my boyfriend decided to stay in the boat. The rest of the family and I jumped in. We swam around a huge volcanic rock, jutting out from the ocean. Swimming slowly, you could circle the rock in about 20 minutes.
There was so much to see! We saw a needle-nosed fish, fluorescent blue starfish, and countless schools. The biodiversity was amazing; the number of tourists was not. For a while, there were so many people that the water visibility decreased; we couldn’t see past the bubbles caused by someone else’s fins. That was when we knew—it was time to relax on Isla Tortuga.
Captain Clever helped us back on board and made way for the island. We docked in our own private corner—with our own patch of white sand, rocky cliffside, and palm trees. We wandered around the island and although it was small and touristy, it was still so beautiful. The souvenir shop sold handmade art—tribal-looking wooden masks, sculptures, and other clothing. Captain Clever told us to try a Coco Loco so when we stumbled across (what seemed to be) the only bar on the island, we placed an order.
Each of us walked away with a huge coconut in hand—filled with coconut water, cream, and rum. It was delicious and refreshing. Without towels or a place to sit, we had no choice but to rent beach chairs for an additional $7 each. It was a steep price to pay for a chair, but we didn’t have another option. At least it was the perfect place to enjoy our Coco Locos, and stayed long enough for a second round.
Our Costa Rican lunch was prepared on the shore at noon. In our private corner, there was a small shack with a kitchen in the back. A woman cooked us a fresh meal of grilled fish, rice, beans, salad, fried plantains, and cooked vegetables soaked in butter. Que rico, or so delicious, we muttered as we ate.
The woman in the kitchen handed Captain Clever a handful of lettuce and he walked behind the shack—I saw him bend down and feed some kind of animal… it was the size of a small mammal… An iguana! I couldn’t believe the size of him. I ran over for a closer look.
Clever could see that I was excited; he gave me little pieces of lettuce to feed him. If I held out my hand for too long after the food was gone, the lizard would lick my fingers. I looked for teeth and didn’t see any, so I let him keep doing it; he got a little more confident and strong, and finally, I felt a hard row of chompers. I decided to stop letting him nibble on me. Thankfully, he was gentle.
We had a couple of hours left on the island to relax. We sat in our beach chairs and went in and out of the crystal water as we pleased. There was something about swimming in that clear and turquoise blue water; I wanted to believe that the minerals, cleanliness, and purity were seeping into my own skin. Just as we were about to fade into a nap, Captain Clever called us to the boat.
As we made way for the mainland, I kept my eyes on the horizon; the thickest entanglement of vines, trees, and plants covered the mountainous landscapes that flew by. I couldn’t believe the vast amount of jungle. As I stared into the overgrowth, something obstructed my gaze—A white-bellied-diamond-shaped-tailed creature flew out of the water! It was a ray! I’m assuming it was a manta ray because we’d seen some in a nearby national park the other day. Apparently, they jump out of the water to get rid of parasites. It was the most beautiful goodbye to a day of ocean adventure.
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