Ten Reasons to Visit Tortuguero
The Caribbean hamlet of Tortuguero is a world apart from the rest of the country. Wholly surrounded by water, this remote locale is accessed only by boat or plane, and the journey there is half the adventure! Framed by the rainforest of Tortuguero National Park and its verdant dark water canals, the area enchants nature lovers. You can wake to the chorus of howler monkeys, view sea turtles nesting at night, and delight in the local Afro-Caribbean culture and cuisine.
1. Sea Turtle Nesting
Tortuguero is most famous for nesting sea turtles, and its national park is home to four species: loggerhead, leatherback, Olive Ridley and green sea turtles. Green sea turtles, the area’s most prevalent visitors, nest from July 1 to October 31, and you’re invited on an evening turtle tour to watch them lay eggs. It is a moving experience to watch a 400-pound mother lumber up the beach, laboriously dig a hole with her flippers, and deposit more than 100 eggs – and Tortuguero is one the world’s only destinations to offer such tours while protecting the nesting sites.
2. Tortuguero National Park
Host to more than 100,000 visitors each year, Tortuguero National Park is incredibly rich in biodiversity. The park’s protected rainforests, beaches and network of canals and lagoons provide safe habitats for several endangered species, including the jaguar, great green macaw and manatee. Take a jungle hike or boat tour with a trained naturalist guide and the wildlife will reveal itself around you. Your visit here truly makes a difference, and your park entrance fee helps preserve this natural habitat.
Tortuguero’s navigable canals are home to an incredible number of waterfowl and other avian species. You’re almost guaranteed to spot anhinga, tiger herons, green herons, great blue and little blue herons, while eagles and osprey are occasionally observed. If you’re even casually interested in birdwatching, be sure to take a Costa Rica birding book – you’ll find yourself flipping through the pages almost constantly to discover what bird you’ve just sighted. Don’t forget your camera!
4. Caribbean Cuisine
Tease your taste buds with some delectable Caribbean dishes. Jamaican immigrants, who brought their culinary heritage to Costa Rican shores, populate much of the country’s Caribbean coast. The area’s unique cuisine features many coconut-infused meals, including “rice and peas,” a delicious concoction of red beans, rice and allspice simmered in coconut milk. Spicy jerk chicken, coconut curried crayfish and slow-stewed chicken are other local delicacies worth trying.
Tortuguero is far removed from typical tourist fare – you won’t find upscale clubs, late-night discos or fancy restaurants here. Instead, the small village and surrounding national park cater to quiet adventures and peaceful afternoons. Walk through dense jungle, tuning in to nothing but the sounds of the forest, or spend the afternoon strolling the beach, where turtle tracks and driftwood dot the smooth sand. Tortuguero is quiet and serene, offering you the perfect opportunity to disconnect and get back to nature.
6. Wildlife Watching
Animal encounters are one of Tortuguero’s main highlights; whether by boat or on foot, you’re likely to see much of the Caribbean’s native wildlife. Spot giant male iguanas sunning themselves on branches, caiman lurking in dark waters, and sloths languidly hanging about the treetops. Other common species include basilisk lizards, tree frogs, river turtles, spider and white-faced monkeys.
7. Canal Tours
Flat-bottomed boats ferry visitors through Tortuguero’s web of waterways. Naturalist guides are experienced at spotting camouflaged animals, and you’ll likely see a wide variety of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles during your tour. Don’t miss the area’s black canals, which are filled with tannic acid – similar to the compounds that make wine red – from riverside palm trees. The water is obsidian black and completely opaque – creating perfect mirror reflections along the canals.
8. Cerro Tortuguero
Cerro Tortuguero, or Tortuguero Hill, is one of the village’s most popular hikes. The 500-foot climb can be a challenge, but the view from the top is spectacular. Most hikes leave before dawn, and you’ll reach the summit just in time to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean, curling its rays over the forest and town below.
9. Sport Fishing
Troll the canals or brave the Atlantic’s waves in search of hard-fighting tarpon – Tortuguero’s specialty – that often weigh in at more than 80 pounds. You can also ply the ocean for barracuda, grouper, kingfish, mackerel and snapper, while the freshwater canals teem with machaca (a piranha relative), rainbow bass and snook. The best fishing guides grew up in the area and have decades of experience, assuring you an exciting angling experience.
10. Costa Rican Culture
Despite its popularity,Tortuguero has remained a typical, Caribbean town. Homes and buildings are painted in pastel colors, locals are friendly, and coconut is an ingredient in almost every meal. While most tourists rarely have the chance to experience Costa Rican culture, a visit to Tortuguero will give you a glimpse of local life and tradition.