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Costa Rican Island Prison To Become Tourist Destination

San Lucas Prison will be Opened to Tourists.
Tourists to Costa Rica may soon find themselves behind bars.

The island of San Lucas, 40 minutes away from the Port City of Puntarenas, in the Gulf of Nicoya, is soon to become a popular tourist destination. The San Lucas prison was created by the Costa Rican dictator Tomás Guardia and was Costa Rica’s most feared prison from 1873 to 1991. The prison’s conditions were so infamous that it was said that to be sent to San Lucas was equivalent to receiving a death sentence. La isla de los hombres solos (The Island of Lonely Men), a novel by Costa Rican writer and former prisoner José León Sánchez, is based on San Lucas and the experiences of its residents.


The prison’s buildings are considered to be National Heritage Sites (Patrimonio de Cultura) and the island is a national wildlife reserve. To allow for the project’s development, the government changed the wildlife refuge status of 25 of the island’s 540 hectares. The tourism development plan includes an investment of nearly $3 million (1,500 million colones) to restore the prison’s cells, chapel and administrative buildings, among others. The establishment of restaurants, and a pier are also planned to serve the needs of visitors within the next 5 years. The idea is that once the infrastructure is improved and basic services are made available, tourists will be able to start taking day trips to this new beach side historical site.

This project is the culmination of efforts started in early 2007 by the Ministerio del Ambiente y Energía (Ministry of Environment and Energy), the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (Costa Rica’s Board of Tourism) and the local government of Puntarenas.

About San Lucas Island

San Lucas Island has five beaches and is home to a dry forest and a diverse ecosystem. There are two mangrove forests in which 6 species of mollusks are found. There are 17 species of reptiles, among them are boa constrictors, guardacaminos (Conophis lineatus) and the Mexican Python (Loxocemus bicolor).

There are 40 bird species, 9 of which are migratory. Resident bird species include the Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens), Pelican (Pelecanus occidentales), Inca Dove (Columbina inca), and the American Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus). The San Lucas Island National Wildlife Reserve is also home to 8 species of medium and large mammals. The most common of these are the squirrel, armadillo, white tailed deer and the howler monkey. Less common mammals include the raccoon, anteater, feral pig and the skunk.

The greatest concentration of species is said to be located near the prison infrastructure as there they can easily find a variety of resources they require (i.e. food, water, and shelter). If and when the island is opened to tourism, it will be imperative to provide alternate sources of fresh water for the local species. San Lucas Island lacks a good source of fresh water so this is to become a major concern if the tourism industry and the local flora & fauna are to coexist and flourish. It will also be important to increase the number of park rangers so that the natural habitats are not invaded or damaged. Let us hope this new project lives up to Costa Rica’s environmentally friendly policies.

Image courtesy of La Nacion.

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Written by JohnK

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