Isla Del Coco
Located offshore 330 miles southwest of Cabo Blanco, the island paradise of Isla del Coco, also called Cocos Island, is the most distant and isolated of Costa Rica's provinces. Its colorful and mysterious history, natural splendor, and reputed status as one of the world's best diving spots make the journey a truly unforgettable experience. Still, only several hundred visitors take the relatively costly voyage to Cocos Island annually, either by cruise or chartered yacht, and a significant portion of them come to use this natural laboratory for scientific endeavors.
The island is geologically immature, formed progressively over two millions years by the ejection of molten magma along the Cocos and Pacific tectonic plates. This is, in fact, the same tectonic interaction that has created the Galapagos archipelago. Its summit, 2,000 feet above sea level at Cerro Iglesias, is covered with dense coniferous forest, and the steep cliffs which frame the perimeter of the island stand tall at up to 300 feet. Spouting out from these craggy headlands are waterfalls, many of which dump straight into the ocean. In fact, considering the island's heavy annual rainfall, and its subsequent freshwater sources of significant volume, it's no wonder that Isla del Coco has over 200 magnificent waterfalls.
The island is truly a natural wonderland. Its seclusion has helped to generate a distinct and unique micro-environment, illustrated by the Cocos Island Cuckoo, the Cocos Flycatcher, and hundreds of other endemic, or natively evolved, species of flora and fauna. In addition, it is an important rookery and nesting site for countless bird species, including noddies, boobies, and seagulls. The only mammals on the island, which include deer, goats, rats, and pigs, were introduced by explorers. On their return voyages, these animal populations provided a useful meat source for the hungry seamen. Unfortunately, the pig population continues to ravage and ransack its surroundings, presenting an environmental threat to the delicate balance of the island.
Isla del Cocos was first discovered by Juan Cabezas, a Spanish explorer, in 1526. Soon after, explorers and pirates were using the island as a place to rest and restock on food and fresh water. From this site, they would also stage their incursions, plundering Spanish settlements and vying for control in the area. Today, the presence of pirates still lingers on the island, part of which is manifested by the prospect of unearthing caches of buried treasure, which allegedly still exist. As legend has it, between the years 1684 and 1821, three famous treasures were hidden here by three infamous pirates: William Davis, William Thompson, and Benito "Bloody Sword" Bonito. The most valuable of the three treasures was allegedly hidden by Thompson. Dubbed the Lima Booty, it consists of large gold leaf sheets, pilfered from domes and cupolas of churches in Lima, Peru. In addition, there are supposedly tons of gold and silver bars, church ornaments, and a life-sized statue of the Virgin Mary made of solid gold.
The legends of Isla del Coco and the prospect of uncovering hidden treasure have enticed opportunists and fueled the imagination for centuries. In fact, no where else in the world has there been so much evidence of the existence of a pirate's concealed booty. It's no wonder that more than 500 loot-pursuing expeditions in the past century, and the most renowned adventure book about the subject, Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, were inspired by the legends of Cocos Island. To date, none of the treasures have been found.
While the Indiana Jones' of the world still search for their big break, most visitors to Isla del Coco come for a different sort of treasure - that of natural magnificence. In addition to its terrestrial beauty, the underwater world surrounding the island is deemed the most superlative in the area. Divers enjoy swimming among 200 species of fish, 18 distinct classes of coral, and 11 varieties of sharks, including hammerheads, white-tipped and whale sharks.
How to Get There
Permission to Cocos Island National Park must be granted by the park service to enter (admission: US$15; 506/283-0022). There are no overnight accommodations on the island, and camping is strictly prohibited. To get there, most tourists acquire the services of a tour company that places emphasis on diving, hiking, or both.