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Charm of Samara's Desolate Island

written By Arianna McKinney
Photos by Pinar Istek

Ticos Surf and Tours Guide Sandro Obando reported that as he was kayaking to the island with a tour group on January 17th they had a rare sighting of 15 dolphins and two small whales right in front of the island.

Day after day I would look across the ocean toward the little island off Samara beach and wonder what it would be like to be there, until I just had to go check it out myself.

It turns out the tiny island is significant enough to have been declared a National Wildlife Refuge (Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre) on May 20, 2002. Isla Chora lies some 300 meters off Punta Indio (Indian Point) at the southern end of Samara Beach toward Carrillo. It encompasses four hectares or 40,000 square meters (9.884 acres). Gerardo Martinez, Head of Minaet’s Nicoya office, said that the island is home to at least six species of trees and eleven types of birds as well as various reptiles, snakes and raccoons.

It’s all well and good to see it from a distance and let the curiosity rise for its mystery. However, I still wanted to actually go there. Thus, I made arrangements to kayak out to the island one morning with Sandro Obando, a guide from Ticos Surf and Tours. As we set out, the first couple of waves splashed on us. Past the break, we were finally paddling out toward our designated destination.

Stony beach of Isla Chora

Pablo Sanchez of Ticos Surf and Tours mentioned the island is 1.3 miles (about 2km) from central Samara beach, a trip that takes about a half-hour kayaking trip. The time passed quickly and the island loomed larger as we got closer. Waves swell in front of it and I wondered if we would kayak through them, but instead we paddled beyond their reach around the back of the island. Large rocks jut up around the island and waves crashing against them with a creation a dramatic performance of intense water ballet.

Obando spotted a whale as we rounded the backside of the island. When I turned around, hoping to see it, it was already too late. He saw the shadow of it passing underwater and said it’s a good thing that it didn’t surface or it might have knocked us over. I don’t know how seriously to take him, but I wouldn’t have minded getting dumped for the chance to see a whale up close in the ocean.

He then told me that in January he saw fifteen dolphins and two small whales while taking a group to the island, but that was unusual. However, he said it isn’t unusual to see sea turtles while snorkeling in the reefs around the island.

As we came up along the south side of the island, I saw two boats, one crossing to the other side of the channel and another anchored just offshore from the island with people getting ready to snorkel. Isla Chora is surrounded by reefs, making it an ideal place to snorkel when the ocean is calm and clear. Sanchez estimates that you can see at least 20 types of colorful fish around the island, along with shellfish, lobsters and octopus.

The island’s small beach of white sand stretched out before us and we pulled the kayak onto the island. Round gray stones were shining wet in the sun along the edge of the beach. I stepped back into the water to take a picture of the island and saw dozens of little fish swimming in unison around my ankles. Beyond the white sand, the interior of the island rises sharply, dotted with tall straight trees.

Additionally, if you can take a careful look at the beach, you will be amazed with the number of small crabs, conquering Isla Chora in and out of their shells. While the population is concentrated around the rocks, it is still a good to watch your step all over the beach.


Sandy part of the beach is quite small. The rest is covered with rocks. They are not too sharp that you can actually walk on them and explore the island more.

Going for a walk around the beach might get you find some hidden tunnels like this. It can be fun place to play around with you infants.

Some might dare to climb onto the rocky interior of the island. However, Sanchez warned that people should dress appropriately and use gloves since snakes hide in the rocks. From the top, he said you can see as far as Malpais and also can find the remains of a water tank and the foundation where a house stood there some 20 years ago. Because there was no water on the island in the summer, the house was abandoned. As much as I would love to see the panoramic views from the top, I wasn’t dressed for hiking. I had to be stuck at the beach.

Sometimes people camp on Isla Chora’s beach when the tides are low during dry season, generally December through April. Furthermore, Sanchez said that visitors sometimes make arrangements to swim the 1.3 miles distance to the island with someone kayaking along with them. Those who have done it claim it’s easy because there are usually no currents. Whether you decide to take a boat, kayak or swim, an a visit to Isla Chora is certainly refreshing.


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