Isla del Coco National Park
Size: 73.100 hectares.
Distance from San José: 650 kilometers.
Dry season: January through March.
Camping: Not permitted.
This national park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, owing to is unparalleled natural beauty and biological wealth. At 24 square kilometers, the island features cliffs reaching 183 meters tall and an infinite number of underwater caves. Created in 1978, the park has two main bays, Wafer and Chatham, at its north end, which feature the only two sandy beaches on the island. The extraordinarily clear turquoise waters, added to the large number of rock formations, make outstanding habitat for the abundance of fish, sharks (hammerhead and white-fin), dolphins, mantas, mollusks and the many other marine species that make this island one of the world’s most spectacular dive sites.
Thanks to its climatic patterns, the island also boasts beautiful, always green forests. Numerous impressive waterfalls and legendary tales of pirates and seekers of treasure “reputedly hidden on the island” make Isla del Coco an ecologically and historically priceless place to visit. Visitor services include information, a park ranger station, trails, signage, restrooms, drinking water and several natural viewpoints.
This island was discovered in 1526. Because of the islands wealth of coconut trees and plentiful drinking water, the island became very well known and served as a good hide-away for the pirates and privateers who flourished along the Pacific coasts of Spanish America in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Cocos Island often called Costa Rica’s Galapagos. The similarities are its great distance from the mainland, the endemic species, and the great expense involved in getting there. This isolated island, located more than 500 kilometers from Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, is of volcanic origin. Its great distance from possible sources of colonizing plants and animals has made it a natural laboratory for evolutionary biologists.
The two lizard species must have arrived on rafts of vegetation. Both species have close relatives living in Central and South America. There is also at least one endemic species of freshwater fish, Cotylopus cocoensis. It too has relatives on the mainland, in Panama to be exact, but the only conceivable way that its ancestors arrived here would be as eggs on the feet of birds.
The island is famous for three buried treasures which were hidden here by William Davies, Benito “Bloody Sword” Bonito and William Thompson between 1684 and 1821. The Lima Booty, hidden by Thompson, is without a doubt the most valuable of all three. It consisted of tons of gold and silver bars, sheets of gold that covered the domes of churches and church adornments, sacred articles and statues, in particular a life size statue of the Virgin and Child in pure gold. Treasure hunters have conducted over 500 expeditions to date but according to the information available, they have only produced a few doubloons. In September of 1869, the government of Costa Rica organized an official expedition claimed to search for the treasures and on September 15th, the Costa Rican flag flew on a mast of balsa wood and the expedition claimed the island for Costa Rica.
The island is covered with extremely dense premontane rain forest, in which almost every tree is covered with bromelias and other epiphytes. On the upper elevations of Cerro Iglesias the vegetation is considered to be of the montane rain forest life zone. All this luxuriant growth is supported by more than 7,000 millimeters of rain a year. One of the interesting endemic plants here is the Roosevelt palm, named after the former president of the United States who visited the island four times between 1934 and 1940. It grows dense stands on the drier slopes near the rocky cliffs that form most of the perimeter of the island.
Many visitors who are lucky enough t be able to come to Isla del Coco do so to dive its turquoise waters and reefs. Cocos Island is the only outcrop of the Cocos ridge that reaches a height of 3,000 meters from the ocean floor. Cocos Island is the result of a hot spot on the Cocos Plate. The ridge is made up of a chain of volcanoes which stretch from Costa Rica almost to the Galapagos Islands in a southwesterly direction. The island is made up of volcanic rocks, mainly lava and tufa that are 2 million years old.
The Island has serious problems with the animals introduced by the people that arrived there: pigs, cats, goats, and white-tailed deer have all done considerable damage. Pigs loose so much soil in the process of rooting for food that they have been implicated in causing the death of coral on some of the reefs. Cats are also a problem, as they kill and eat anything that moves. Less obvious but serious threats nonetheless are introduced plants such as coffee and guavas, which replace the less aggressive native under story plants. Illegal fishing has been terrible problem, depriving nesting seabirds of food and causing other disruptions to the marine ecosystem. Compounding all of this is the lack of money for enforcement, and the difficulty of doing even cursory patrols from the mainland. Perhaps the best bet fort the preservation of Cocos would be if treasure was found here, and a portion set aside for the management of the island.
Cocos Island has: 235 species of plants (70 endemic), 97 of birds (3 endemic), 2 endemic species of lizards, 3 species of spiders, and 450 of insects (65 endemic), 57 crustacean, 518 marine mollusks, 18 of coral, 300 of fish, 175 of vascular plants.
Animals and fish seen here: Cocos Island flycatcher (endemic), Cocos Island finch (endemic), Cocos Island cuckoo (endemic), Cocos gecko (endemic), Cocos Anole(endemic), whale sharks, white-tipped sharks, hammerhead sharks,
Tree species: copey, palm, guarumo (endemic), iron wood(endemic).