Friday, December 11, 2009

Costa Rica's Island of Pirates, Divers and Dinosaurs

There is a lot of mystery surrounding Costa Rica's tiny remote Pacific island called Isla del Coco. Its Jurassic Park affiliation brought it some fame, and its restrictions for entry have increased the level of infatuation to visit it.

Cocos Island is an uninhabited island located off the shore of Costa Rica. This National Park may be a part of the Puntarenas province, but it is approximately 550 km (340 mi) from the Pacific shore of Costa Rica and takes about 35 hours by boat to get there! With an area of approximately 23.85 km (9.2 mi) and a perimeter of around 23.3 km, this island is barely recognizable on a map. The only people allowed to live on Cocos Island are Costa Rican Park Rangers, who have established two encampments, including one at English Bay. Tourists and ship crew members are allowed ashore only with permission of island rangers, and are not permitted to camp, stay overnight or collect any flora, fauna or minerals from the island.

It is not surprising that the famous oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau, called it "the most beautiful island in the world". On average, the island receives between 18 and 24 feet of rain a year contributing to the rich biodiversity and the nearly 200 waterfalls. In fact, everywhere you look along the shore, you can easily spot these beautiful streams tumbling into the ocean along the steep sides of the island.

Surrounded by deep waters with counter-currents, Cocos Island is admired by scuba divers for its populations of Hammerhead sharks, rays, dolphins and other large marine species living up to its PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) status as one of the best 10 scuba diving spots in the world. The largest schools of hammerhead sharks in the World are consistently reported there, and encounters with dozens if not hundreds of these and other large animals are nearly certain in every dive. Smaller and colorful species area also abundant in one of the most extensive and rich reefs of the south eastern Pacific.

Cocos Island was declared a Costa Rican National Park by means of Executive Decree in 1978 and designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. In addition, it is included in the list of "Wetlands of International Importance". Cocos Island was short-listed as a candidate to be one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature by the New Seven Wonders of the World Foundation. As of June 2009 it is ranking second in the islands category.

This island is popular in pirate lore as well. It is said that over 300 expeditions have gone in search of treasure such as the hoard of Benito Bonito, the Treasure of Lima, and many others. Some incidents of small caches have been discovered, leading many to believe the stories of vast pirate treasures to be valid.

The Michael Crichton novel Jurassic Park centers on the fictitious Isla Nublar that is off of the west coast of Costa Rica. Contrary to popular belief, the movie wasn't ACTUALLY filmed here - they couldn't get the proper permits to film on Isla de Coco. Instead, they filmed it in Kauai, Hawaii. Only the distant shots were truly taken around this Costa Rican island.

Intrigued? You can visit this island, but you need 8-10 days and $3,000-5,000.

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