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San Lucas Prison

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San Lucas Prison

San Lucas Prison plays an important part in Costa Rican penitentiary history and has a great historical and cultural value: it houses the remains of the biggest criminal centre in the country.

The prison operated for over 100 years from 1873 to 1882. It was located on an area of 50 acres, and was built on an island to keep the bandits and murderers away from the people. The island is approximately 8 KM's over water from Puntarenas, the nearest centre of habitation.

San Lucas was famous for the injustices and totures that took place-- truth or not it is difficult to learn the facts. There are official reports acknowledging that boys of 14 and 15 years old were sent to the island for offences such as robbery.

Because of the awful conditions in which the inmates used to live (and die) there are a lot of stories about the horrors the convicts endured, the diseases, the hunger and the escape attempts.

The seas around the island were rumoured to be full of sharks. We have fished there for several years without any sightings of sharks. whether the sharks were attracted to the offcuts from the meat processing operation on the island or the stories were just a rumour to discourage escape attempts will probably never be fully known.

The graffiti on the walls expresses the faith, sadness, and the hopes and frustrations of the prisoners at the time

From 1958, the prison operated as an agricultural centre, where slaughtered and butchered cattle for the surrounding area and grow some crops. It is believed that the off cuts from the butchery operation may have atrracted a large number of sharks to the island (if they did exist).

Old records show that in 1922 it
was possible for families to visit the island, but that they could travel only on the second and seventeenth day of the month. Any other passenger wishing to go must pay one colon, and wait for approval to land.

The structures of the buidings that still stand is typical of the buildings of the 1930's and 40's. The main building was declared part of the Architectural Historical Heritage of Costa Rica in 2002, but neglect, even since that date has made the building dangerous to enter.

Now San Lucas is a National Wildlife Shelter, populated by congo monkeys, white tail deer, many bats, non poisonous snakes, iguanas, turkeys, skunks and anteaters.
The remains of the prison stand above the landing site as a sad and silent reminder of more brutal times.

Some places of interest

The dock:

The dock that we use is actually the second to be built on the island, but the only one still in use. An earlier dock at Playa el Ingles has all but disappeared. From the dock looking up towards the prison, you see in front of you, two temporary holding cells, one on either side of the pathway. these were supposed to be used for incoming prisoners until the could be "processed" and allocated cells, however many stories tell of prisoners being held here for many days or even weeks. 


The Entrance:

The entrance walkway runs in a straight line from the dock up to the main administration building. It is a pleasant tree-lined walkway that gives little indication of what is to come. On the way you pass the dispensary, built in the second half of 1950, and the church, which was built in the 1920's. There are stories of a priest killed there.

The main offices are a three story building made of wood, and which date back to the 1930' to 40's. This housed the guards, and in later years teachers and other helpers on the island. From the uppe rear of the buildings, guards could watch over prisoners in the main yard.
San Lucas Prison Costa Rica Church and admin building

The high, medium and low security cells:

Behind the administration building is a courtyard with the cells in a semi-circle. These were the high medium and low security cells, with prisoners allocated to the appropriate cell. Many of the cells have graffiti, some of which is artistic, some mere inscriptions of names and much which is grotesque.

The Circle:

The circle is located in the centre of the courtyard. It was constructed in 1927 as a water tank. There are many tales of prisoners being forced to stay underground in this tank. We are inclined to believe that these stories are false. The guards used the same drinking water and it is unlikely that they would enjoy the idea of prisoners urinating and defacating in their water for days on end. There is a small hole immediately ajacent to the main tank access, which is just large enough to contain one person standing, and we believe that this was the punishment hole. 

San Lucas Prison Costa Rica central courtyard

"La Plancha":

Underneath one of the cells is a small group of solitary confinemant cells called "la plancha" One of them was used to contain prisoner Beltran Cortes, convicted of murdering Dr. Ricardo Moreno Canas. Canas was considered a great humanitarian and Cortes spent his entire sentence in solitary confinement.

Water Wells:

Around the island there are remains of old water wells; 16 in total, all of which are 8 meters deep. These were used to provide water to the prison.

Don't miss the opportunity of enjoying a day full of Costa Rican history, sun and beach!
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