“I’m from Cuajiniquil and, even so, whenever I go to the island, I don’t want to leave. It’s too beautiful, the water is crystal clear and going up to the island is beautiful,” Geannina Lara said, which sums up how wonderful the Murcielago (Bat) Islands are, in the Guanacaste Conservation Area (ACG).
A year ago, when the country began to reopen tourism in national parks, the ACG made it possible to make online reservations for the marine area, and people started to visit the Murcielago Islands more often.
Geannina and her family have a tour operator business in Cuajiniquil, in La Cruz, and they have observed and promoted the increase in visits, which has also given their family a boost as they started making money again after taking the biggest financial hits from the pandemic.
After Easter this year, word got out about that tour and it became so famous, and they started calling every day. There are about 600 people who want to go per month, but there’s a limit because only 35 people can go per day,” said Geannina.
The ACG announced the temporary closure of San Jose Island starting October 1. This means that if you want to go explore the area soon, you have to schedule your visit for what’s left of August or September with a tour operator since ACG doesn’t offer the service. Tours usually depart from Cuajiniquil, in La Cruz, or from Playas del Coco in Carrillo.
The Voice gathered all of the important information for you to understand ACG’s announcement.
What makes the marine area of Santa Rosa National Park so unique?
The Murcielago Islands archipelago is the only one in the country. In addition, it has an immense wealth of marine biodiversity. In its waters, seeing whales, dolphins, turtles and coral reefs is common.
Along with the rest of the ACG, the site was declared a Natural World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1999. It also has historical significance since it was owned by General Somoza until 1979, when it was expropriated.
Currently the ACG allows three activities in this area: diving, surfing and hiking along the El Nance trail on San Jose Island, which has become popular because the route includes a lookout point with a view of the entire marine sector, the Orosí Volcano, the Murcielago hills and the hills of the Santa Elena Peninsula.
People who usually do the tour that includes the trail also have the opportunity to snorkel somewhere in the sea.
Then I won’t be able to do anything in the park’s marine area?
Of the three activities allowed in the area, only access to San Jose Island (the trail and lookout point) will be closed.
This means that you will still be able to make reservations to surf or snorkel and dive in the area.
Why are they closing it?
On the island, there is an operations post— a two-story house— where ACG personnel conduct monitoring, control and research activities. The institution decided to close access to the island in order to remodel that infrastructure. They’ll also build a wastewater treatment plant to take advantage of the water.
“Since 1995, approximately, we built the operations post with the idea of improving attention to the area’s fishing pressure, but as so many years have passed, it’s been deteriorating due to corrosion, salinity, winds, temperature and other marine conditions,” explained Marco Bustos, from the ACG’s Protected Wild Area Management.
The remodeling will be done with financial support from organizations. The institution didn’t specify who the donors are or the amounts they’ll invest.
When will they open access again?
According to Bustos, from the ACG, they expect the renovations to take three months. “It will be quite expensive because it’s hard to bring people, material and water resources to the island,” said Bustos.
However, he reiterated that the institution constantly evaluates whether continuing to make activities open to the public is sustainable for biodiversity.
It’s the only Pacific beach that has green turtle nesting. The reefs and the coral beach are extremely important. That’s why it’s a very fragile area… Many of the operators think that they’re working just anywhere on the coast, but this site is unique,” explained Bustos.
That’s why the ACG has only allowed 35 people a day to go on the San Jose Island trail.
“We think that each boat brings between eight and 10 people, and so they are boats making noise, dumping oil, gas spills that can happen and that remain in the protected area’s marine area,” he added.