Thirty miles off the north Pacific coast of Costa Rica near the border with Nicaragua, a string of five remote, uninhabited islands remain a mystery to many—even Costa Ricans. Part of Santa Rosa National Park, the Bat Islands themselves aren’t known for bats, although there are 40 species of these flying mammals within the conservation area.
This “visually dramatic landscape mosaic is home to an extraordinary variety of life-forms,” according to UNESCO, which states that it is “globally important for the conservation of tropical biological diversity.”
The protected region, which lies within the Guanacaste Conservation Area, boasts 7,000 species of plants and 900 vertebrate species within its 363,000 acres of land and sea. It also notably includes Mesoamerica’s only tropical dry forest, “an often overlooked, highly vulnerable global conservation priority.”
On our “Wild Costa Rica Escape: Guanacaste’s Coral Reefs & Volcanic Peaks,” we spend the morning on Isla Catalina, the main island of “The Bats." It qualifies as the “main island” since it’s the only one that’s inhabited—by one person, a friendly park ranger.
“We usually have the place to ourselves,” says Ted Kenefick, an expedition development manager for Lindblad Expeditionsmain. Since Catalina is “compact,” guests have time to experience the thrilling marine life as well as to hike or walk on the beach where the scrub forest meets the ocean.
Outstanding marine diversity
What Kenefick calls Isla Catalina’s “outstanding marine biodiversity” is described here in a Daily Expedition Report from a previous voyage: “Nurse reef sharks, king angel, damsel, trumpet, guineafowl and puffer among other fish species; manta rays, a starry moray, a colorful blenny, hawksbill and olive ridley turtles filled these underwater gardens with color. Even a beautiful octopus showed its capacity to camouflage as it fed on small crustaceans and mollusks.”
Upwelling, the rise of deep nutrient-rich water, is a factor in attracting this incredible marine life. That, plus an area where the ocean current meets a reef, create the offshore site of an advanced diving location called the Big Scare on account of a reliable congregation of bull sharks. Not to worry though—these massive creatures do not wander where we snorkel.
Memorable views of cliffs and arches
Thanks to some outstanding views, “this is one of the best hikes I’ve ever been on, and I’ve been on a lot of trails around the world,” Kenefick says. “Walking on the upper parts—the spine of the island—you can see the whole length of the archipelago and on to the mainland.” You’ll also be able to spot the amazing arch formed by the interaction of seismic activity and marine erosion.
But it’s not necessary to ascend for the full 45 minutes to the top to take in panoramic views that include a postcard-perfect scene of our ship in the turquoise waters. Kenefick recommends a beach walk as a relaxing way to explore; at the far end, guests on different occasions have spotted tracks left by baby turtles making their way to the water and even the newly hatched turtles themselves.
A geologist’s dream destination
The Bat Islands—which in addition to Catalina also include San Pedrito, Las Golondrinas, San Jose, and Cocinera—are geologically significant. They were formed more than 85 million years ago by the crust of the ocean, exposed ophiolitic rock that is rare to observe above water.
As one of our naturalists explains it, “the geological complexity of our land is quite easy to see, where the fingerprints of our tectonic and volcanic history are in every single corner."
In this unique and off-the-beaten-track archipelago, you'll venture where few have gone before and truly experience Wild Costa Rica.