Cabuya Island Cemetery – Cabuya, Costa Rica - Atlas Obscura
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Cabuya, Costa Rica

Cabuya Island Cemetery

There is a small island in the Gulf of Nicoya where the only human inhabitants are dead.  

The only way to reach the cemetery of Cabuya Island, also known as “Cemetery Island,” is to walk across the rocks of the sea floor at low tide. Twice each day, the ocean will part to allow visitors to take the 15-minute excursion from the mainland beach of Cabuya to the island. Where the rocky seafloor trail meets the island, there is a signposted entryway on the right. Those that venture through it will be met by a wooded pathway that leads to the tombs and gravestones of those buried there.

It is truly like an opening sequence from a horror movie. As you proceed on the narrow path, you’ll likely be beckoned by a couple of stray dogs who call the island home, or you may be encircled overhead by loitering buzzards. The locals believe the island is haunted, as many of them swear they have heard voices coming from it in the night.

Most of Cemetery Island’s dead are entombed, but there are two noteworthy gravesites. The first is that of a man named Frank Jaeger. His untraditional tombstone depicts a sculpture of a fist, while its other side has a plane propeller stuck to it. There is also a tombstone that is little more than a mysterious sculpture of two inscrutable heads looking in opposite directions. Little is known about either of these grave markers beyond local lore. Visitors will notice, however, that the burials are well kept and attended. Many display the artifacts and care of recent visitors; fresh flowers, stones, and shell arrangements dress many of the tombs.

While the indigenous peoples of Cabuya have been using the island as a burial site since the 1700s, it’s only in the past 100 years that foreigners have also been buried there. The legend says that 100 years ago, local fishermen found a drowned body in the sea near Cabuya Island. Having no idea who the person was, they decided to bury him on the island where they found him. This began a tradition of burying the dead there, which continues today.

Know Before You Go

Anyone venturing out to the island should be aware of the tidal charts. There is no way to return to the mainland once the pathway is covered by the sea until the next low tide. There are no amenities on the island.

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