WORLD Costa Rica converts island prison into tourist attraction


Costa Rica converts island prison into tourist attraction


19:02, October 08, 2020

Despite the country's coronavirus lockdown, Costa Rica's island of San Lucas, a former penal colony with a dark history, has been newly converted into a tourist paradise, albeit with strict pandemic protocols in place.

View of the former prisoners cells in Isla San Lucas in Puntarenas province, Costa Rica, on September 27. Photo: AFP

Something of Costa Rica's own version of Alcatraz, the island was once home to one of the most notorious prisons in the country's history.

Since its August reopening however, it has also become a picturesque destination for hiking, wild beaches and abundant fauna - thanks in no small part to several government agencies opening up walking trails and renovating infrastructure to the tune of $2.4 million.

Located in the Gulf of Nicoya off the country's Pacific coast, the formerly abandoned San Lucas served as a penitentiary between 1873 and 1991, and was known for its torture and subhuman conditions. In 1995 the island was declared to be of architectural interest and in 2001 named a wild sanctuary.

"San Lucas is a spectacular destination. It has culture, history, architecture, beaches, biodiversity," First Lady Claudia Dobles, who was behind the project, said in a video sent to AFP.

"It's the best kept treasure in the Pacific."

Visitors can see the ruins of the earliest buildings on the 500-hectare island as monkeys screech in the forest.

"Here there's a very green and rich biodiversity," Giovany Mora, a park ranger with 14 years of experience on the island, told AFP.

"You see a lot of white-tailed deer, squirrels, iguanas, agoutis, tepezcuintles," he added, listing a number of local rodents.

Boats to the island leave from the port city of Puntarenas but coronavirus restrictions limit the number of tourists.

Visitors are only allowed on the weekend in three groups of a maximum of 40 people, and beaches are off-limits. Even so, the island received 920 visitors during its first month, according to the Puntarenas tourism chamber.

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