If you are visiting the Pacific coast near Jaco, one activity you’ll want to add to your list is a catamaran tour to the famous Tortuga Island. This fun boat trip takes you across a wide bay to a secluded island. From the white-sand beach, you can snorkel, swim, hike, or just lay under an umbrella sipping tropical drinks. In this post, we’ll share our experience visiting Tortuga Island aboard the Costa Cat.
About Tortuga Island
Tortuga Island (or Isla Tortuga) is located in the Gulf of Nicoya, which separates Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula and central Pacific coast.
Set off on its own, the 300-acre (120-hectare) island is mostly undeveloped. Among the tall palm trees is one large area with a small gift shop, some bathrooms, and a row of temporary structures put up by tour companies.
Tortuga Island can be visited from several destinations using many different tour operators. Boats of all sizes arrive from the port of Puntarenas, beach towns on the southern Nicoya Peninsula, and the Jaco and Herradura area.
The tour we took with the Costa Cat started at Los Suenos Marina in Playa Herradura, 10 minutes from Jaco.
Costa Cat Catamaran
The Costa Cat catamaran is the most popular choice for Tortuga Island tours from the Jaco area. While a little expensive at first glance (see details below), it really is worth it for such a nice, day-long experience.
About the Boat
The Costa Cat is a 55-foot (17-meter) twin-hull catamaran, making it very stable on the water. It has an indoor area with seating for about 40 guests. Other than the rows of seating, there’s not much room to move around inside, but the space is comfortable, with big glass windows and air conditioning. The staff had music playing too, which was fun.
The outside rear and side decks are small but can still hold about 25 people. The top, open deck where the captain sits, also has room for about five guests. In total, the Costa Cat holds up to 70 passengers and crew.
Because the Tortuga Island cruise is so popular, the company also has the Costa Cat II. This is a smaller, 39-foot (12-meter) twin-hull catamaran with open sides and one bathroom. It can hold up to 49 passengers and staff. When the bigger boat is full, they will use this one too. Costa Cat II can be used for private tours.
Setting Off and Crossing the Bay
Our tour started at 7:15 a.m. when we checked in at the Costa Cat dock at Los Suenos Marina. This marina is one of the biggest in Costa Rica with more than 100 sportfishing boats and yachts.
After a warm greeting from the staff, we boarded the catamaran and found some seats inside by the window. The crew immediately began catering to us, giving us fruit, muffins, coffee, and juice for the kids.
Soon we were motoring out of the marina into open water. The boat picked up speed and we were on our way.
Crossing the Gulf of Nicoya took about 45 minutes. Along the way, we explored the boat with the kids and watched out the windows. We saw a couple of sting rays jump right out of the water and splash back down. We also spotted several sea turtles bobbing along in the currents.
Landing on the Island
As we approached Tortuga Island, the boat slowed as the crew readied us for a beach landing. Once beached, the Costa Cat has a large ramp that extends all the way to the shore. This made getting off the boat very easy.
Walking along the white sand, we saw several tour companies setting up rows and rows of beach chairs and umbrellas. Each company had a different section of beach and different colored chairs and canopies.
Having left the marina early, we were one of the first boats to arrive. Trudging through the soft sand, we found our spot on the far side of the cove.
Tortuga Island Activities
What we liked so much about Tortuga Island is that there is something for everyone. If you’d like to just relax, eat, and drink cocktails, no problem. But if you want to be active, there are options for that as well.
With fluffy white sand, Tortuga Island is an excellent place to just let go and relax. Once you find a place to sit along the rows of beach chairs, the staff will quickly visit you and ask what you need.
Our tour included unlimited rum punch and margaritas as well as any soft drinks or coffee we’d like. Other bar items were available for an extra charge. Some vendors were selling fresh coconut water and granizados (a local shaved ice treat) as well.
Our kids were thrilled when a big bucket of sand toys was brought over for them to play with.
Snorkeling at Tortuga Island
Taking the Boat to the Snorkel Spot
A highlight of Tortuga Island is the snorkeling, since it hosts some of the best conditions in Costa Rica. Often you can snorkel right off the beach since the water is normally very clear. However, for a better experience, there is another small rocky island nearby with coral reef around it.
To get to the snorkel location, you take a short (two minute) boat ride on a panga. You can’t get on the island since it’s small and rocky, so Costa Cat has a large, covered platform moored with swim ladders. This is where you will get geared up with swim fins and snorkel masks. The platform/float is nice in case anyone changes their mind and decides they don’t want to snorkel. They can just hang out here.
What We Saw
As soon as we jumped into the water, we could see big schools of fish swimming around. If you are up for some adventure, you can flipper all the way around the little island in about 15 minutes. Jenn did this on her own while I floated near the platform with the kids.
In the water, we saw a pufferfish, parrot fish, angel fish, sea urchins, and a starfish, as well as tons of sergeant majors and other small schooling fish.
Something important to keep in mind is the volume of people swimming here. You’ll definitely be around a lot of other people from your group and others. For this reason, the tour companies usually stagger the times they go snorkeling.
Tip: Plan your visit to Tortuga Island during the week if you can. Weekends are usually much busier.
You will definitely want to use a good amount of sunscreen on this tour and especially for the snorkeling. You’re in the sun for much of the day, and the sun is very strong in Costa Rica. With the high traffic of snorkelers, we recommend using a reef-safe sunscreen to help protect the marine life. This natural sunscreen that we use is zinc-based but goes on smooth and lasts in the water for a long time.
After some beach time and about 45 minutes of snorkeling, it was time for lunch. While we were having fun, the crew had prepared us a big barbeque of rosemary grilled chicken, sautéed potatoes, yellow rice, and salad.
Everything was served buffet style and our whole boat ate at the picnic tables under the shady tents.
During lunch, the staff was buzzing around making sure nobody went hungry or thirsty. The crew were all so friendly and attentive; they definitely elevated the whole experience.
Banana Boat Rides
Now fueled up, we were told that banana boat rides would be starting soon. Our oldest was definitely up for this and went along with Matt. Jenn and Evan stayed back to play in the water.
For those who have never done it, a banana boat is a long skinny inflatable raft (usually yellow, hence the name) that gets towed behind a speedboat. It’s like tubing but with three to five people sitting in a row.
We had two choices, a leisurely ride or an exciting ride. Of course, we had to go for the exciting version. Geared up with helmets and lifejackets, Sam and Matt along with another family, zigzagged and bounced behind the small boat getting dumped off a couple of times.
Hiking at Tortuga Island
Another included activity you can do on Tortuga Island is hiking. We were especially interested in this because we couldn’t find much information about it online.
The hike was nice, short, and worth the effort. Before you go, make sure to grab a brochure/trail map from the Costa Cat crew members. They also will guide you to the trail entrance.
The brochure has a lot of information about the history of the island and what plant and animal species you may see, as well as a simple guide marking specific species of native plants.
The trail on Tortuga Island is dirt with some rocks and manmade steps. There are also tree roots, but overall, it is not in terrible condition. We hiked with sneakers, but others were getting by with flip-flops.
From behind the bathrooms, the trail climbs to about 500 feet (150 meters) where you will find a couple of nice viewpoints. One overlooks a gorgeous waterway between Tortuga Island and the neighboring Alcatraz Island. The second viewpoint looks out to the main beach of Tortuga Island (see cover photo).
The crew told us that the hike would take about 30-40 minutes, but only took us about 20 minutes.
There was one split around the middle of the trail with a sign. It pointed to an alternative route that was more difficult and would add 35 minutes to the hike. We didn’t go that way because we were short on time, with the boat leaving soon. Hopefully next time we can check it out.
During our hike, the forest was very dry and barren since it was mid-March (the middle of dry season). We heard some birds but didn’t see them close enough to identify them. We did, however, see a couple of mammals.
First, it was a collared peccary. This is sort of wild-boar-type animal. They often travel in big family groups foraging along the forest floor.
We were also lucky to spot a white-tailed deer and her fawn. They were hiding right behind where the bathrooms and grill were set up. They stood there quietly watching all the visitors along the beach.
Besides the snorkel, banana boat, and hiking activities, there are also paddleboard and kayak rentals available.
Kayaks are around $10 per hour and stand up paddleboards are $20 per hour. There is also a beach volleyball court that is free to use.
Our experience going to Tortuga Island aboard the Costa Cat was memorable. We booked this tour for Jenn’s birthday and had so much fun. We’ve already talked as a family about visiting again. From the boat ride there, to the activities on the island and friendly crew, we will most certainly be back soon.
Booking a Tour
We can book this tour for you at no additional cost. Booking through us costs the same and helps support our website.
If you are interested in booking a tour aboard the Costa Cat, email us at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com with your preferred date, number of people (with ages of any children), and your pickup location if transportation is needed. We’ll email you back and make the process smooth and stress free.
Tours are offered daily. Check in is at 7:15 a.m. and the boat departs at 7:45 a.m.
Pick up times at local hotels begin earlier.
You will return to Los Suenos Marina around 3:45 p.m.
Adults: $140 + tax per person
Children (ages 4-13): $115 + tax per person
Children 3 and under are free.
*Private tours are also available. Prices depend on the number of passengers but range from $2,500 to $7,000 + tax for the entire boat.
What’s Included in the Tour
Round-trip transportation from Jaco, Herradura, and Los Suenos
Light breakfast aboard (coffee, juice, water, muffin, and fruit)
Rum punch and margaritas, soft drinks, and water. *Beer is $3 and other drinks are $4-10.
Lunch on the island (rosemary grilled chicken, sautéed potatoes, yellow rice, and 2 kinds of salad)
3 activities on the beach (snorkel tour, banana boat tour, and self-guided hike)
Use of chairs, umbrellas, and beach toys for kids.
Have a question about visiting Tortuga Island from Jaco? Leave us a comment below.
Looking for more information to help you plan your trip? Check out these posts:
Tarcoles River Crocodile Bridge: A Stop to See Crocs – This bridge on the highway north of Jaco has giant crocodiles sunbathing below. It’s worth a quick stop and a few pics.
A Rainforest Tram Ride in Jaco – Just inland from Jaco Beach you can take a relaxing tram ride up the green mountains. This activity is good for everyone, including those with limited mobility.
Birding in Carara National Park – Located in a transition zone between the tropical wet and tropical dry forests, Carara National Park attracts birds from both zones. This special national park is only 30 minutes from downtown Jaco.