- Activities: Bird & wildlife watching, nature tours, turtle tours
- Landscape: Beaches, lowland rainforest, rainforest, river canals, river
- Summary: Popular destination for turtle nesting tours; picturesque network of river canals; top-notch wildlife watching.
- Caters to: Couples/honeymooners, families, wildlife enthusiasts
- Attractions: Nesting sea turtles, Tortuguero National Park
- Quick Facts: 68-88 degrees ; 140 miles northeast of San Jose ; Sea level
The last vestiges of sawmills sit idly along the main path through Tortuguero village overgrown with ferns and flowers. In the distance, you can hear the roar of the waves where sea turtles emerge in the moonlight to lay their eggs in sandy craters near the top of the beach. On the other side of town, across Tortuguero River, a wall of thick foliage stands 100-feet tall, impenetrable to the naked eye. Inside, Jaguars stalk Costa Rica's largest land animal, the tapir; while howler, capuchin and spider monkeys swing through the canopy, toucans snatch fruit off the trees with their colorful, elongated bills and three-toed sloths sleep the day away.read more close
Every year, thousands visit Tortuguero to float through the canals searching for wildlife inside its national park and walk along the beach looking for sea turtles on the shores of the western Atlantic Ocean’s largest nesting site.
Leatherback, loggerhead, hawksbill and green sea turtles make up four of the world's seven species of sea turtles all four find their way back to Tortuguero to lay their eggs on a 22-mile stretch of sandy beach. July 1 to September 30 mark the beginning of the largest migration, when green sea turtles visit nightly to crawl up the beach, dig holes and lay approximately 100 eggs in the sand before returning to the ocean. Turtle nesting tours offer visitors a chance to watch the nesting ritual at night while on turtle hatching tours, visitors watch baby sea turtles scamper toward the ocean, flippers slapping across the sand in a mad dash to the water.
Towering trees border narrow waterways forming the trails that weave through Tortuguero National Park. Boat, kayak and canoe expeditions to the national park depart at all times of the day, but those leaving at dawn have the best opportunity to see the abundance of wildlife that lives inside the national park. Float through the brackish water looking for the more than 375 different bird species and 125 different mammals living in the national park. These include common animals like caimans, sloths, emerald basilisk lizards, tiger herons and green iguanas, as well as threatened and endangered species like great green macaws, manatees, jaguars and tapirs.
Tortuguero village sits between the Tortuguero River and Beach. Walking streets interconnect brightly colored houses built on stilts with small cafes, restaurants and souvenir stores – with not a single ATM or bank in town. Most of Tortuguero's 1,700 people work in tourism: driving boats, guiding tours, owning restaurants, cabinas, lodges and bed and breakfasts.
Places to stay
For low- and mid-range lodging, scout the cabins (called cabinas in Costa Rica) and hotels around Tortuguero village. Outside the village, mid- to high-range lodges offer all-inclusive package deals with transportation, rooms, meals and tours for two- to three-night stays. Tours included in the packages vary from lodge to lodge, but most include a tour of Tortuguero village, a tour into Tortuguero National Park and either afternoon or night tours in the canals that surround the park. Optional tours at these lodges often include kayaking/canoeing and turtle nesting tours from July 1 to September 30.
Like all Caribbean destinations in Costa Rica Tortuguero doesn't have a dry season, but February to March and September through October are the driest months of the year. Make sure to pack a raincoat if you plan on visiting, it may come in handy, though often they are provided by the lodges.