SAN LUCAS ISLAND, Costa Rica – This former prison colony, located just off Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast, is now a tourist attraction. The island prison, which operated between 1873 and 1991, first housed political prisoners and later, dangerous, common criminals.
Costa Rica’s San Lucas Island Prison
Tourists interested in knowing the history of the prison and the torture and inhumane conditions prisoners faced there will be able to visit the 472-acre island soon. Officials hope to reopen it after restoration of the buildings and construction of new facilities in about a year and a half.
San Lucas Island sits three kilometers off the coast of Puntarenas.
The island prison is not yet open to tourists as the buildings are undergoing renovation, after decades of neglect. Tourism officials hope to complete the restoration project and open the island to visitors by spring 2014.
According to Juan Carlos Bourbon, the general manager of the Costa Rican Tourism Institute, the country hopes to restore the chapel site in the next 18 months with a $2 million investment. A Japanese donation made possible restoration of the central penal captaincy building last year.
The grant includes future works, such as rebuilding the dock and construction of housing for park rangers, an environmental education center for tourists, as well as sanitation and water treatment facilities.
When completed, San Lucas Island will be able to handle up to 800 tourists per day, said Bourbon. A wildlife refuge surrounds the prison grounds and there are trails for walking through the tropical rainforest. Hikers will find many archaeological sites, pristine beaches and wondrous biodiversity on the island.
According to a tour guide on the island, the prison began operating under the orders of Dictator Tomas Guardia (1831-1882).
At first, the site was home to “unwanted politicians.” Later, the island prison became home to the most violent offenders in the country.
One of the main attractions is hundreds of prison writings and drawings appearing on cell walls. Each of the prison’s seven units held up to 70 prisoners, who would sleep on the ground and receive only one hour of sunlight per day.
The novel “The Island of Lonely Men,” by Costa Rican Jose Leon Sanchez, imprisoned there from 1950 to 1988, documents the harrowing ordeals faced by the prisoners.