Costa RicaCosta Rica

Curu, Snorkeling at Isla Tortuga, and the Ferry

Destination: Tambor

We awoke early to the sound of rain. I looked at my watch: 6 a.m. We had a boat tour to Turtle Island (Isla Tortuga) planned in three hours with Turismo Curu tour company. We were departing one hour east of Mal Pais, from Curu National Wildlife Refuge.

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The wildlife refuge is home to countless species of animals, and runs a number of conservation projects (such as caring for scarlet macaws, coral reefs, spider monkeys, parrots and other migratory birds) crucial to preserving Costa Rica's natural beauty.

Since it was on the way home, we had decided to pack up our things and continue on to Liberia directly after the tour. This way we wouldn't have to backtrack. We left Mal Pais about an hour later. After a quick coffee we were on the road. Traveling inland to Cobano and then east toward Paquera, the 22 miles took about an hour and 15 minutes.

As we entered the refuge, it became obvious that we were going to see wildlife. The area was some of the greenest and cleanest land I've ever seen. A deer nibbled on a patch of grass as we turned toward the beach. The SUV was slowed down when we approached an old oxcart filled with rocks and stones being towed by two large oxen. Pulling into a free parking spot, I sighted a large orange iguana on the branch of a nearby tree. I parked and raced out with my camera, but it had already disappeared.

Luis, the owner and primary tour guide of the tour company, greeted us with a warm smile. We introduced ourselves and prepared to board the boat. We chose high quality goggles, snorkels and flippers from his wide variety of snorkeling equipment, and began the 15-minute journey to Turtle Island, or Isla Tortuga. The island is named not because sea turtles often visit it, but because many of its rock formations are reminiscent of the majestic marine creatures. We disembarked and explored the island for about an hour.

On the far side, we came across a friendly peccary (native wild pig), also known as a javelina. She was domesticated and friendly, begging to be petted the minute we approached. We stroked her spiky fur, and she plopped down on the sand in ecstasy. My hand would stop moving for a few seconds, and she would promptly stand up and hobble over to Tim or Jess for more affection. I wanted to ask the peccary's owner if I could trade my dog for the prickly pig, but the animal seemed to belong to the island.

We headed back toward the speedboat, where Luis had cut up fresh pineapple, watermelon, and coconut for our group to enjoy. He had treated a class of ten-year old schoolchildren to a boat ride earlier that day, and one of the boys kindly offered to climb a tree to fetch a coconut for me to drink. It was the sweetest, most refreshing coconut I'd ever tasted.

A few minutes later, Luis called us back to the boat. We headed out to a smaller island a half-mile away. There the water was crystal clear, all shades of blue and green. As we snorkeled, we were able to see a number of different species of animal life. I spotted yellow and green fish with electric blue outlines, and fat bottom-feeders that looked like large polka-dotted purses. I saw flat white fish, light blue rectangular ones, and even a white eel with a long pointed nose. I glimpsed schools of angelfish and exotic, unbroken seashells. Best of all, I saw no jellyfish.

Some of our group remained on the island to feast on barbequed chicken, fish, and potatoes wrapped in banana leaves, but Tim, Jess and I had a ferry to catch. The schoolchildren rode back to the mainland with us. Intrigued by three young foreigners, they began asking me questions: How old was I? Where was I from? Had I ever been to the zoo? If so, did I see giraffes there? They were disappointed that my friends did not speak their language.

Once we reached land, we were greeted by a large family of 25-30 white-faced capuchin monkeys. They were adorable and extremely acrobatic, playing and bounding effortlessly through the trees. They raced one another to empty coconut shells, and groomed bugs out of each other's fur. Capuchin monkeys are extremely intelligent, known for their large brains and impressive problem solving skills. I could tell they got a kick out of how obviously intrigued we were with them. With smiles plastered on our faces, we and the monkeys studied one other for about a half an hour, before I realized that time was running out.

Luis recommended we check out Curu's famed monkey sanctuary on the way out. The refuge is a place where wounded monkeys go to recover before being reintroduced into the wild. We were pressed for time, but figured we'd pop in for a few minutes on the way out. After 15 minutes of hiking on the trail toward the monkey farm, we'd seen interesting birds, lizards, and a mysterious brown animal about the size of a small dog or large house cat -- but no monkeys. Perplexed, we decided it must have been an armadillo or a peccary, perhaps Farasmina's cousin. We gave up and headed back to the car, vowing to return someday.

We raced to Paquera, a coastal city on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula a few miles east, where we could grab the ferry to Puntarenas. Then it would be a straight shot, about 90 miles north, back to Liberia. I was dreading how much it would cost for us to put the rental car on the boat: $50? $100? By the time we got to the loading dock, a short line of cars had formed. We bought coconuts and straws from a man who loved bargaining. Luckily, he had a good sense of humor and ended up selling them for a reasonable price, three for one dollar. As we inched closer I learned that it would only cost about $12 to transport the car on the ferry, and another $1.25 each per person. What an incredibly cheap way to travel.

The ferry was gigantic. It was composed of three floors, each more fun and exciting than the next. We ended up on the uppermost level, where a dance party was forming. Music played, and beer and snacks were served up left and right. We floated eastward and watched the sunset, chatting with each other and watching fellow passengers dance and be merry. It was hard to believe that such a highlight of the trip had cost less than lunch.

Curu, Snorkeling at Isla Tortuga, and the Ferry in Pictures

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