The small town of Tortuguero, on the northern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, attracts wildlife enthusiasts from around the world. It owes its name to the famous sea turtles that come here to nest.
The maze of channels in the dense jungle of Tortuguero is the main attraction and it is well worth it!
Navigating these beautiful waters is an incredible adventure, as you are sure to hear the howling of monkeys and the calls of birds along the way. You'll really get a change of scenery here! So, hop on a plane, bus or your rental 4WD and head out for the adventure!
1. See the turtles
The northern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is a massive turtle nesting area. Four different species of sea turtles come to Tortuguero each year.
Visit Tortuguero to see the green, leatherback, carey and lora turtles return to the place where they hatched to lay the next generation of eggs. You'll be amazed by these creatures - the leatherback turtle, the largest living turtle species, averages 2-3 metres in length and can weigh up to 1500 kg! A true giant monster.
The nesting periods of the turtles vary according to the species of turtle but are mainly between the beginning of March and mid-October. The most common of the four turtle species is the green turtle which is famous for its huge annual nesting from June to mid-October.
Turtle nesting tours can be arranged with a local guide from your lodge. Tours are conducted at night and last approximately 2 hours. Cameras and lights are not allowed on the beach and tourists should wear dark clothing to avoid disturbing the turtles.
2. Visit the village of Tortuguero
The village of Tortuguero is a small town located on a sandbar backed by the rainforest where sea turtles come to nest.
Tortuguero has a fairly simple lifestyle, representing the "Pura Vida" of Costa Rica. A picturesque village, laundry hangs from the trees, and children play as if tablets did not exist.
There are no cars in the island town of Tortuguero. There are a few bicycles and some nice shops and restaurants in Tortuguero, so be sure to wander through the little paths between the houses. These paths are the roads of the town. All in all, this village has a lot of charm!
3. Kayaking on the canals of Tortuguero
Start the day early with a canoe or kayak trip along the canals that run through the rainforest around Tortuguero. This has the advantage of being quiet and non-polluting!
Among the wildlife you are likely to see are caimans and crocodiles floating in the water, green and blue kingfishers at the water's edge, cormorants drying their wings, black river turtles relaxing on the branches of mangroves and iguanas lazing on tree trunks.
The guides have the eye and flair to show you animals you might not otherwise see.
4. Tortuguero National Park
The wildlife of Tortuguero is amazingly diverse due to the different types of habitats. On the land trails and along the mangroves in the canals, you are likely to see several different types of monkeys.
Howler monkeys, white-faced capuchins and, most importantly, the rarer spider monkey can all be seen in the park among other wildlife.
The national park trail takes about 2 hours and starts in town where you can find a place to rent waterproof boots. These are essential for walking along the Jaguar Trail.
It stretches for about two and a half kilometers, parallel to the park's beach. During the egg-laying season, you will find turtle tracks and nests, and if you have a lucky star, you may be lucky enough to see crocodiles, the Mexican tamandua, sloths, white-tailed deer, green macaws, horned toucans, Swainson's toucans, the jaguar, the manatee, various species of frogs and snakes.
Marine trails (canals)
Probably the easiest way to see the park is to take a boat ride through the canals. The larger hotels usually have their own motorboats.
For those who choose to stay in the village at one of the smaller hotels, you can easily arrange a tour through the local guide association, Asociacion de Guias de Tortuguero, for about $20 per person.
Schedules and rates
In Tortuguero, you will only need one ticket to visit the entire national park. This single ticket costs 15 US$ for an adult and 5 US$ for a child. You can book your ticket in advance on the official Tortuguero website.
The national park is open to visitors every day from 6am to 12pm and from 1pm to 4pm.
Go on a night safari!
If you are not tired of seeing wildlife, end your day in Tortuguero with a night tour.
On this walking tour, you'll have the chance to see nocturnal creatures that you wouldn't get to see in the daytime. Walking through the rainforest at night offers a completely different and unexpected perspective.
5. Tortuguero Hill
Cerro Tortuguero is an ancient volcano that is now extinct, which is why the beaches are made of black volcanic sand. The visit starts with a short boat ride. The ascent of the mountain is sportive.
At the first stop, near the top of the mountain, you can see the island where the town of Tortuguero is located.
The Tortuguero River and the Caribbean Sea that surround the island can be seen far below. At the top of the mountain, you will have a breathtaking view of the jungle channels.
6. The beaches
If you like long walks on deserted beaches, go to the east of Tortuguero.
Tourists are advised to avoid swimming due to strong currents and sharks. As a whole, Tortuguero Beach is 35 km of ocean, sand and tropical bliss.
How to get to Tortuguero
The fastest way to get to Tortuguero is by plane. Tortuguero has its own domestic airport in the village. Sansa Airlines flies to Tortuguero and costs between 75 and 100 USD per person one way, depending on the season. The flight takes about 30 minutes for a direct flight, 1 hour with a stopover.
Even though flying to Tortuguero is the most expensive option, it saves a lot of time because the bus and boat trip can be very long.
The Tortuguero airport is only a 5 minute boat ride from the village and hotels in the area. There are water taxis at the airport that cost about 3 USD per person one way from the airport to the village and a little more to the hotels.
If you are coming from another destination, you will have to go to San Jose first. So, if the schedule doesn't work out, you may have to spend a night in San Jose.
The most popular way to get to Tortuguero is by boat. There are two places where you can take a boat to Tortuguero: the docks of La Pavona and Moin.
Which one you choose depends on where you are coming from. La Pavona is best for La Fortuna and San Jose. Moin is best from Puerto Viejo, Cahuita or Limon.
The two boat rides cross the mangroves and rivers to Tortuguero, offering panoramic views and plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities. It's a visit in itself!
Boats leave La Pavona for Tortuguero every day at 7:30am, 1pm and 4:30pm.
The boat trip takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes through the channels of the Rio La Suerte and the Tortuguero River.
Route San José- Tortuguero
If you rent a car, you can make the 2.5 hour drive from San Jose to La Pavona, leave your rental car in a secure parking lot (for a fee), and then take a public water taxi from the pier to Tortuguero.
The 2.5 hour drive takes you on a winding road with views of the cloud forest. Boats leave four times a day, the last one leaving La Pavona at 4:30 pm.
Bus San José- Tortuguero
Be patient because it is a 3 step trip.
First of all, take the bus from San José to Cariari. There is a bus every day at 6:30am, 9am, 10:30am, 1pm, 3pm, 4:30pm, 6pm, 7pm and 8:30pm. The bus ride takes 2 hours and costs 2,100 colones. It leaves from San Jose Gran Terminal del Caribe, Calle Central Ave 15 in the downtown area.
Then get off at the bus station in Cariari, the terminus.
Finally, you have to take another bus to La Pavona pier from Cariari. This bus runs every day at 6am, 9:30am, 12pm and 3pm, costs 1100 colones and takes about 1.5 hours.
The bus station you need to get to is Terminal de Buses Coopetraca, 500 meters north of where you get off the bus from Cariari. It goes to the La Pavona pier.