The prison of the island San Lucas, stories that prevail for Costa Rica


The jail of San Lucas Island, is a part of the collective memory of the Costa Rican society either by people who were locked there or by visitors taking  their holidays in Puntarenas.


The jail is also world wide known by the novel The Lonely Men’s Island written by José León Sánchez who was detained there for several years. .

In the 19th century the island was used at times as a place of exile and apparently for quarantines of foreign ships arriving at the port of Puntarenas.

In 1847, it was a port for free trade.

The San Lucas island was one of the largest prisons in the country for 117 years. It was built and established by Tomás Guardia Gutiérrez in order to keep criminals and killers out of the city. It began to operate as a jail in 1873; when the concept of treating prisoners was transformed.


The history of the San Lucas jail comes to life in its architecture, with the remains the graffiti of the pavilions. San Lucas was famous for the injustices and tortures that took place inside its walls. There are official reports that adolescents of only 14 or 15 years old were sent to the island for robbery. Because of the terrible conditions in which the inmates lived, there are a lot of stories about the horrors they were suffering such as : diseases, hunger, murders. There are also official reports about successful escapes.

Beltran Cortés Carvajal
Beltran Cortés Carvajal

The most famouse prisoners were Beltrán Cortés Carvajal for the murder of Ricardo Moreno Cañas and the writer José León Sánchez, for the theft of jewelry from the Virgin of Los Ángeles who was acquitted, in 1988 after his father-in-law  was convicted in committing the robbery. During  his stay in prison  he suffered tortures: hot matches  were stuck in his ears and gum carious. Both prisoners had a negative reputation and  were locked  in a cell next to the chapel.

In 1958 The jail became an agricultural Penal Colony until 1991 when it was officially shut down.

The dark past of the island must not be forgotten or hidden, because its understanding can help us to have a greater social sensitivity towards the current world of imprisonment.

More to explorer

Costa Rica Culture

Costa Rica Culture. The culture of Costa Rica, located in the center of the American Continent, is strongly influenced by Spain, as a result of

Talk to our travel expert

Our Managing Director, Alon, has been to over 40 countries in his quest for the perfect adventure. He has biked the death road in Boiliva, trekked 500 miles across northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago, cycled from Brussels to Florence and hiked the five sacred mountains of China. Pygmy Elephant is how he spreads his love for adventure and self discovery in the world.

Let's Talk!