As Legend Would Have It

The spellbinding remoteness of Cocos Island has been captivating imaginations for centuries, in overlapping layers of literary legends or mixtures of fact, fable and science fiction. It’s not hard to understand for anyone fortunate enough to visit the island, a place of wonder at almost every turn.


Thar’ be pirates!


Some claim that the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island came from Cocos Island. Whether true or not, treasure and pirate lore abounds there. Chatham Bay is a rugged beach filled with rock carvings etched by pirates and others, depicting ancient sailing ships, names and symbols. It is said that Captain Henry Morgan buried treasure in the bay.


Among the many carved rocks on the beach you can see one by a woman pirate named Mary Welsh, with a famous map of treasure she said was buried where “X marks the spot.” Mary later returned to not find the treasure. 


Another famous example is the Treasure of Lima, hijacked by pirates and said to be worth $1 billion today. Untold hundreds of people and expeditions have come to Cocos Island over the course of as many years. It is said that the founder of Las Vegas, the mobster Bugsy Siegel, came to Cocos in 1938 searching for buried treasure. When the island was created as a Costa Rican national park in 1978, treasure hunting was finally prohibited. 


In Wafer Bay, we accidentally crawled up the wrong trail — incredibly rough and steep — to find the tunnel carved deeply into the hill by the German adventurer August Gissler at the dawn of the 20th century, looking for the Treasure of Lima. This was a massive and deep excavation. Using our phones as flashlights, we quickly turned around as the entire cave roof was covered in giant grasshoppers and spiders. Having seen too many horror movies, we retreated. 


Lost World


Cocos Island was also the inspiration for Isla Nublar in Michael Crichton’s book Jurassic Park. 


Our tropical immersion while hiking the island did have all the Lost World trappings of Crichton’s story: waterfalls cutting into every slope, endemic hibiscus flowers and orchids, antediluvian tree ferns and giant bromeliads, endemic crabs and dinosaur-like anole lizards. Add moss-draped trees and the constant mist shrouding our cloud forest trek.


We all felt there were hiding velociraptors in the tall grass. Queue up the John Williams music!


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