COCOS ISLAND, Costa Rica
GOOD FOR: Underwater adventures
As a former pirate stronghold, surrounded by shark-infested waters and rumoured to hide a fortune in buried gold, Cocos seems like the kind of island a giddy eight-year-old might conjure. Today, Costa Rica’s eccentric outpost, located 550km off its Pacific coast, is favoured mostly by divers; overnight stays on land are prohibited so liveaboard boat trips are the only way to visit.
The tiny Unesco-listed speck is home to just a few park rangers. Access is limited and a guide is mandatory if you want to explore – a legacy of over-eager treasure seekers. A handful of trails lead over the hills, through wonderfully vibrant rainforests a-whistle with endemic finches, cuckoos and other species, and via some of the island’s 200 waterfalls.
However, the real treasure is found beneath the waves. The seas here are teeming: you might spot huge schools of hammerhead sharks, white-tip reef sharks, graceful manta rays, dolphin pods, whale sharks, orca and humpbacks. If you’re not confident in scuba gear, opt for a trip that includes dives in a submersible for widescreen views of this unforgettable underwater world.
GETTING THERE: A handful of tour companies run liveaboard boat trips to Cocos Island from Puntarenas (two hours’ drive from San José). The boat journey takes around 36 hours.