There are only few places on earth that remain untouched after being discovered. One such remarkable example is the unpopulated Isla del Coco in the midst of the pacific ocean. A broad tropical vegetation, beautiful waterfalls dropping directly into the sea from many hundred metres high and a breathtaking underwater world are all waiting to be discovered. Since 1978 the Isla del Coco is a national park of Costa Rica, and in 1997 it was added to the UNESCO list of world heritages.
An island made of volcanic rocks
With a size of 24 square kilometres Coco island stands out on the so-called Coco's Ridge, an undersea structure in the pacific ocean. The nearest mainland is Costa Rica (around 500 kilometres to the east), the nearest islands are the Galapagos islands (300 kilometres south-west). The coast line is made up mostly of steep cliffs raising up to 200 metres out of the sea. Narrow beaches and small bays have emerged in a very few places. Access to the island is given by the two bigger bays in the north: Chatham bay (Bahía Chatham) and Wafer bay (Bahía Wafer). From these bays, broad valleys lead to the middle of the island. Around the Isla del Coco four even smaller islands can be found, as well as some offshore rocks.
The animal and plant world on Coco Island
The broad vegetation that lies in the tropical climate zone, is often blessed with rich downpours of rain. Covered densely with rain forest, the island is home to thousands of animal and plant species, which partly even only exist here. Through the dense, unspoiled rain forest territory of this rugged island, hiking paths lead to the highest point of the island, the Cerro Iglesias (at 635 metres), which offers a fantastic view. On your way up you can discover a diversity of bird species and smaller animals, such as lizards and turtles.
Paradisical underwater world for divers
All around the island you will find unique, breathtaking diving grounds. It is not for nothing that these waters account for one of the most attractive diving spots in the world. As these diving grounds aren't exactly for beginners, however, only experienced divers should book a diving cruise to the Isla del Coco. Underwater you have an incredibly clear view and will be able to see one of the most untouched and intact marine eco systems, in the world, rich in species, with large swarms of bronze-hammerheads, whitetip reef sharks and other shark species, as they swim by the island. You will see dolphins, marine turtles, rays and manta rays, and will swim over extensive coral reefs where you can gaze various crab species and over 300 species of fish that pass by in huge swarms. You can generally dive here all around the year. The best time for observing sharks though, is from mid May until the end of September. In this period you can marvel at the swarms of bronze-hammerhead sharks passing by the island. The water temperatures lie between 22°C and 28°C, the outside temperatures lie around 35°C all year round.
Important information about the Isla del Coco
It rains here all around the year. The best time to travel is between March and May. You can book an island visit with a local tour provider who knows and settles the necessary formalities, because tourists are only allowed to enter the island with permission of the park' administration. It is not allowed to stay overnight on the island, which is why you sleep on the boats located off shore. There are however huts for shelter against the weather as well as sanitary facilities on the island. The only inhabitants on the Isla del Coco are the wardens of the national park.
Good to know: Do you know the beginning scene of the movie „Jurassic Park“? From a bird's eye perspective the movie shows an evergreen and densely forested tropical landscape with rocks slanting into the sea. This scene was filmed on the Isla del Coco, Costa Rica's most secluded national park.
Whether Coco Island was inhabited before its discovery by the Europeans is unknown until today. Also not clear is, who discovered Isla de Coco for Europe, as its position could often not be clearly determined. Therefore it was „newly“ discovered several times by fishermen, pirates and sea tradesmen. In 1869 president Jesús Jiménez Zamora integrated the island to the state of Costa Rica. After several unsuccessful attempts to inhabit the island, the government in 1898 sent out an expedition to find out, whether a prison could be established on it. The leaders of the expedition though suggested something completely different: the establishment of a nature resort, which was only implemented in later years, in 1978.
Of treasures and treasure hunters – the history of the Isla del Coco
The history of the island is characterised by many legendary tales about treasures and treasure hunters. The island allegedly buries more than one treasure, but none have ever been found. In the centuries before the islands integration to the state of Costa Rica, the Isla del Coco served as an ideal hiding place for pirates and buccaneers. Stories tell of pirates like William Dampier, Benito Bonito or Henry Morgan, who allegedly hid their treasures on the island. Also the legendary treasure of Lima is supposed to be hidden on the island. Numerous expeditions have tried to find the treasures, but did not find anything except the tremendous, untouched nature of the island. Nowadays it is forbidden to treasure hunt on the island.
How to get there
Coco Island can be reached by seafaring ships, leaving the harbour of Puntarena on the mainland of Costa Rica. A trip there takes about 35 hours. If you want to travel with your own boat, you first need permission from the Área de Conservación de la Isla del Coco. Anchoring places can be found near the two ranger stations in the Bahía Wafer and the Bahía Chatham.