San Lu­cas Is­land "The In­de­pen­dent Repub­lic"

ALONG WITH THE EN­JOY­MENT OF THE EX­CEP­TIONAL NAT­U­RAL CHARMS OF THE SUR­ROUND­INGS, TOURISTS CAN ALSO LEARN ABOUT THE HISTORY OF AN OLD AND FA­MOUS MEN'S PRISON THAT WAS IN OP­ER­A­TION FOR MORE THAN A HUN­DRED YEARS IN THIS IS­LAND TER­RI­TORY

Excelencias from the Caribbean & the Americas - - Sumario - BY JOSÉ CAR­LOS DE SANTIAGO PHO­TOS JOSÉ CAR­LOS DE SANTIAGO AND EX­CE­LEN­CIAS AR­CHIVE

Up to the re­mote and quiet San Lu­cas Is­land, lo­cated in the Gulf of Ni­coya, in Costa Rica, the tourist of the new type ar­rives today, ea­ger to live dif­fer­ent and unique ex­pe­ri­ences. In ad­di­tion to con­tem­plat­ing the won­der­ful na­ture of this in­su­lar ter­ri­tory, the vis­i­tor seeks to know the history of the prison that was in op­er­a­tion there be­tween 1873 and 1991. Dis­cov­er­ing how much leg­end and re­al­ity there is in the sto­ries that are wo­ven about the prison is the main mo­ti­va­tion of many.

De­clared in 2002 Ar­chi­tec­tural His­tor­i­cal Her­itage of Costa Rica, the prison was al­ready known world­wide in the nine­teenth

cen­tury thanks to the novel La isla de los hom­bres so­los (The Is­land of the Lonely Men,) writ­ten by José León Sánchez, who was held there for two decades of his life, when the site only re­ceived thieves and bums. How­ever, over the years, the prison fa­cil­ity was trans­formed un­til it held the most dan­ger­ous crim­i­nals in the coun­try.

Af­ter the de­fin­i­tive clo­sure of the prison in 1991, the Min­istry of Jus­tice trans­ferred its cus­tody to the Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Puntarenas, with the ob­jec­tive of build­ing a his­toric tourist cen­ter that would pro­tect the mem­o­ries and the cen­ten­nial in­fra­struc­ture, which, to­gether with the ex­cep­tional nat­u­ral charms of the is­land, would en­sure the in­flux of vis­i­tors.

When ar­riv­ing at San Lu­cas Is­land, the tourist can now visit the fa­cil­i­ties of the old prison, the med­i­cal clinic and the church. It is shock­ing to know that in each of the seven jail cells, up to 70 peo­ple were sleep­ing on the floor and only en­ti­tled to one hour of sun­shine per day. The graf­fiti on the walls are a graphic tes­ti­mony of the ter­ri­ble con­di­tions in which the in­mates lived: ill­nesses, mur­ders and es­cape at­tempts, al­most all with­out suc­cess.

But, although the prison is the main in­ter­est of the tourists that ar­rive there, the is­land, of 472 hectares, also has gor­geous beaches, an enor­mous bio­di­ver­sity and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites with res­i­den­tial, do­mes­tic and fu­ner­ary char­ac­ter­is­tics.

A walk through the dry trop­i­cal for­est that sur­rounds the old prison, and since 2001 is a Wildlife Shel­ter, al­lows you to dis­cover the amaz­ing and abun­dant veg­e­ta­tion of the is­land, as well as its rich fauna, com­posed of howler mon­keys, squir­rels, ar­madil­los, pheas­ants, deer, rac­coons, anteaters, croc­o­diles and many other rep­tile and bird species, as well as ham­mer­head sharks, stingrays and tur­tles that live in its wa­ters.

Im­pos­ing beauty that con­trasts with the grim prison and its past of crimes and hor­rors, many of which will re­main trapped in the enig­matic si­lence that today is only bro­ken by the com­ing and go­ing of the waves.

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