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Visiting Costa Rica’s Tortuguero National Park

May 23, 2021

In the northeastern region of Costa Rica on its Caribbean coast is the small village of Tortuguero, meaning region of turtles. Here lies Tortuguero National Park in the province of Limón, where its purpose is to protect the population of green turtles. In 1970 it was officially proclaimed a national park and has become a sanctuary of safety for wildlife like the jaguar, monkeys, tapirs, and vibrant green macaws.

Getting To Tortuguero

To reach this remote fishing village, you must take a boat or plane, as there are no roads to Tortuguero. The boats are small and long with a canopy above to protect you from the rains and hold up to 20 people. Depending on the tide, the trek is approximately an hour. The closest dock is in La Pavona, where you can purchase your ride ticket from one of the vendors in the area and pay to leave your vehicle in the parking lot.

There is not a designated booth, so ask around and someone will be able to help and direct you. There are several different departure times to and from the village. Many hotels and tour companies offer packages to take this added planning out of your trip and include shuttles from your original location so you don’t have to take the risk of leaving your vehicle.

If price is not a factor in your adventure, then there is the option to take a plane into Tortuguero from San José; currently, SANSA is the only airline with regularly scheduled service.

Visiting Tortuguero

Once you are in Tortuguero village, make your way to the south end of the town. Tortuguero National Park gives you several options of exploring either by canoe, kayak, motorboat, or land trail.

If you choose to canoe or kayak, you can take the 2.3 km Caño Chiquero- Mora Trail through the mangroves and hear the deep silence — except for the echoes of wildlife — as motorized boats are not permitted on this route.

Paddling through the narrow canals is a nature lover’s dream, bringing you up close alongside unspoiled nature and into a water trail of lush trees. Deep within these mangroves, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and white-faced capuchins swing within the trees and call this unique habitat home.

There are also different motorized boat tours to choose from to venture into the jungle maze of the park, which is the most popular and if staying at one of the hotels is usually part of your package. However, you can purchase one of these must-do boat tours if visiting on your own within the village.

The Trails of Tortuguero

The Rio Tortuguero Trail is a little over 4 kilometers and is the gateway to the canals. The Caño Harold Trail is slightly shorter at 3.5 kilometers. Hiring a guided tour is a worthy investment, as they are the experts within these swamps and know the ins and outs of all the flora and fauna and waterways. The earlier you explore the better, as the wildlife hidden within is active and the guides have the trained eyes to help you spot them whether it be a sloth or the small green basilisk lizard.

There are many routes within this network of crisscrossing swamps and canals. However, there is one land trail that is primarily used by visitors as well. The Jaguar trail is a popular route to explore during turtle season. It is typically a loop trail, but due to the rains at times expect some portions to be unpassable or closed off.

It runs parallel to Tortuguero National Park’s beach and is approximately 2 to 2. 5 kilometers in length. The beach is best for walking on but not for swimming as the waves are strong. This trail has access to the beach where during the turtle nesting season you can see their markings to and from their nests. This trail is rich in wildlife of monkeys, parrots, hawks, and butterflies.

Turtle Nesting

This national park is one of the most important places for green turtles to nest worldwide. You will want to see these majestic creatures in action! Several species of turtles make their journey here to lay their eggs on this protected beach. The Green Leatherback turtle, Hawksbill, and Loggerhead sea turtle return here annually.

July to October is a great time to visit to see the green turtles nesting on the beach, and night walks with a trained guide are an inexpensive way to have this rare opportunity. Seeing this amazing, slow-moving turtle make her way from the ocean, creating her sand nest, and laying her eggs can be truly emotional and an overwhelming experience.  If you visit during hatching season, watching such tiny little creatures make their way into the strong waters will have you cheering to encourage their perseverance and survival.

Park Details

Tortuguero National Park is situated in the dense rainforest and experiences rainy weather all year round as it is one of the rainiest areas within the country. It goes without saying to bring rain attire, whether it be a poncho or rain jacket. You may want to bring rubber boots, especially for the land trail; however, you can find someone renting them outside the park if you forgot to bring them.

Bug repellant is an absolute must for this area, and do not forget sunscreen and a hat. Ensure you have plenty of water in a reusable container, as single-use plastics are banned from Costa Rican national parks. The most important item to bring on this truly authentic Costa Rican experience is your camera; you will want to capture every moment of this dream trip.

The park is open every day from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., but there is a closure break for entrance from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.  The cost is 1,000 colones for nationals and residents and $15 for foreign non-residents.

They accept all credit and debit cards, U.S. dollars, and Costa Rican colones. There are limited ATMs within the town so you may want to bring cash with you to ensure you can enjoy your time here.

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