Tortuguero a hidden gem in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of my favourite country in the world and how not if this is an eco travel paradise, pure and simple filled with stunning biodiversity. Being the nature lover that I am, is not hard to be conquered by this beautiful, full of wildlife country. It might be small in size, but it has so many natural wonders. My first time in Costa Rica I couldn’t visit the cute and vibrant village of Tortuguero, so this was a good reason to come back. Actually, there’s always a good reason to come back to Costa Rica.

Tortuguero National Park is located in the northeastern part of the country and what it makes it so special is the exotic birds and animals. It has so much, impressive canals, endless rainforest and a beach located on the Caribbean side. The jungle and waters has it all, from monkeys and turtles to caiman, jaguars and a variety of birds. In this blog post I will share tips and tricks on how to explore Tortuguero, so you can see the most.

w h a t t h e n a m e m e a n s

Tortuguero, which means “region of turtles” in Spanish, is one of the country’s most important nesting sites for the leatherback, loggerhead, and hawksbill sea turtles. From November to January, you can book a tour at the beach for a chance to see baby turtles scrambling towards the shore for the first time. 

h o w t o g e t t o T o r t u g u e r o

Tortuguero is surrounded by water on both sides, the Caribbean sea on one side and a lagoon on the other side and this means the only way to get to or around the park is by boat, which is pretty awesome, because all around the village is a bliss. I don’t understand why many people find this place so hard to reach. Everything it´s super organised and yes you need to take a one hour boat to get to the village, but I don’t see it like an inconvenient, the landscape to getting there is incredibly beautiful and you don´t even realise when the time has passed.

The village has a small airport for those who prefer to arrive here by air. There are domestic flights that takes only 25 minutes from the capital city of San Jose Costa Rica. The prices vary depending on seasonality, supply and demand and amount of baggage allowed.

TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK

Tortuguero National Park was founded in 1975 and it is one of the most biologically diverse wilderness areas in Costa Rica. The main reason of creating the park was to protect the amazing wildlife and nature of this region and most important, the nesting of the green turtle. It also serves for research, scientific studies and environmental education.

The park has three main zones : very humid tropical forest, moist forest transitioning to basal and tropical rainforest. This forests are made of more than 2000 plant species, 400 tree species and are also home to hundreds of animals and bids species. There are manatees, tapirs, jaguars, raccoons, white nosed coati, fishing bats, crocodiles, and three species of monkeys. 

Even though the amazing forests have many species of mammals, birds and reptiles, the park is mainly famous for the turtles, where also the name comes from. In Tortuguero are coming a few species of turtles to lay eggs each year:

  • leatherback
  • loggerhead
  • hawksbill
  • green turtles

Depending on the time of year, you can be part of nature´s magic, which is to see the nocturnal creatures dig their nests and lay their eggs. WOW! I have to say that this is quite an experience. All you have to do is to book a night tour and enjoy the moment.

A boat trip through the canals and mangroves is such a marvelous experience and a romantic way to explore the park. The canals are full of unique species such as monkeys, river otters, caimans and more than 50 species of freshwater fish, so the trip is pure bliss.

THE CANALS

After a delicious breakfast with an impressive view to the rainforest, surrounded by many tropical birds, we are more than ready to get lost into the the lush wilderness by a boat ride through the small canals for wildlife observation.

We booked a private tour with captain and we dared to venture into the endless canals to discover a true natural labyrinth full of dense tropical forest and local fauna. This is a jungle adventure of a lifetime! We spotted plenty of animals like sloths, monkeys, but also aquatic fauna including river turtles, caimans, crocodiles and many birds.

We are huge nature lovers and this was such a beautiful way to connect with nature, we felt and lived to the maximum each moment here. This is the type of place that you must see in your lifetime!

k a y a k

Kayaking through the maze of canals and rivers that make up Tortuguero is a perfect way to take in its diversity up close. You can rent one from your hotel or just talk with your guide and tell him you´ll like to try one. This is another way to explore even in more detail the beautiful canals, going to places that are not accessible by boat.

I recommend you to go sailing early in the morning and by early I mean, before 7 AM, because is when the animals are more active and you increase your chances to see many of them.

We loved our boat trip the previous day so we wanted to do it again and also to shoot some drone shots, because I was sure that the views must be breathtaking and I was right.

a s e c r e t c a n a l

And so we did, we contacted our captain and told him our plan. But he proposed us a different plan. What if he takes us to a secret canal, where tourist are not allowed to go, only if you have a special permission. He had all the permissions needed to take us there. Why he did this for us? It seems that he was pretty impressed by how much we love nature and how much attention we pay to anything we do, that may affect nature. So this was for us like a special present. I felt like in a National Geographic documentary sailing through this canal.

Of course we opted each time for the typical wooden boat, because it brings that peaceful feeling while you are sailing. It is also romantic. Getting into this canal it felt like you walk into a fairytale. My jaw dropped while we were going more into the jungle. So much nature. Somebody pinch me! Everything was perfect, nobody around but us, no noise, the only thing you could hear was a family of cute monkeys, like this trip couldn’t get any better.

I still can’t believe that we lived this, it felt like a dream
With our amazing captain and guide
Enjoying the quiet beauty of this place

At least at first glance, Tortuguero appears to be a jungle village, but diversity is what makes it so unique and special. It is located on the Carribean side of Costa Rica, which means it has beach. This is a huge, wild beach which makes the connection of the village with the National Park.

THE BEACH

This beach is very special because it attracts thousands of nesting sea turtles. Yes, I know, this is awesome! The surrounding rainforest is filled with wildlife, meaning that you can meet a Jaguar (kinda hard to see, but you might get lucky). I have to say that exploring this stunning village is a real adventure.

The Beach is perfect for taking a walk along, relax, explore the forests and watching sea turtles, but it isn’t for swimming, because the water here has strong currents and I don’t want to scare you, but here are living some sharks (not the friendly ones), so I would think twice before getting on.

Every year from July until the end of October, thousands of sea turtles come to the beaches to lay eggs. If you go during the nesting season, you can see the little turtles making their way to the sea. Such a magical experience! All you have to do is to wake up early in the morning (about 5 AM), go at the beach and wait for them to get out of the nest.

s e a t u r t l e n e s t i n g s e a z o n

If you visit Tortuguero between July and October you can book a tour to see how the turtles lay their eggs at night. This is something that happens completely in the dark. The guide has a special light, totally inoffensive to the turtle, he illuminates the turtle so you can see her. Without the light you will see nothing, because is super dark at night.

To witness the turtles nesting on the beach is a truly special experience. You’ll see how she is laying her eggs, then she camouflage the nest and after, she return to the sea. This tour is a must do in Tortuguero.

In Tortuguero the houses are low with porches. Everybody here moves around on foot or by bicycle. Even if it is a small village it has some bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. The life is slow and beautiful here in Tortuguero, is full of traditions and customs.

THE VILLAGE

People here are friendly and awesome. I loved a morning conversation between two locals talking about how one of them spotted a jaguar the night before, or another morning, some locals where talking about how they whitnessed the little turtles making their way to the sea. Oh my.. I wish to have this type of morning conversations, but in the city the only thing you see is sad faces or mad people while driving.

The people of Tortuguero truly live the ¨pura vida¨ lifestyle and here people are living in peace with nature. I really enjoyed my days in the village and I loved to listen the locals stories. It made my trip so special.

A vibrant village surrounded by sea and palms
We got pretty close to many amazing animals 

r e s t a u r a n t s i n  T o r t u g u e r o

As I said before the village is small but it has plenty of restaurants and bars with many food options. We had to have a taste of the typical food which consists in a plate of rice, beans, plantain and other local yummy aliments. I will share a few restaurants we absolutely loved:

  • Budda Cafe, here we had our first diner and watched a dazzling sunset
  • El Muellecito, a restaurant with good prices and yummy local food
  • Restaurante Mi Niño, a place to enjoy a delicious lunch with perfect views
  • Dorling Bakery, great for a milkshake

w h a t t o w e a r a n d b r i n g

  • don’t forget to bring a hat and plenty of sunscreen
  • repellent is a must in Tortuguero, to protect you against the crazy insects
  • light clothes like shorts, swimsuit, slippers and Adidas for when you go hiking
  • always bring a bottle of water with you, because it is super hot and the humidity is high
  • a raincoat

CERRO TORTUGUERO HIKE

We did a half a day hike and it was one if the best, we explored the surrounding rainforests and seen many animals. We also earn about the various micro climates, we visited a 600 year old mahogany tree and learn more about rainforest ecology.

Cerro Tortuguero (Turtle Hill) is a small, inactive volcano that has a hiking trail with a spectacular view at the top! The hike is about 3 hours going and returning and I can’t recommend you more, because when you will reach the top, you´ll be spoiled with some amazing views. If you get tired on the way, or you just want to sit down and enjoy the surroundings, breathe the fresh air, juts use the resting platforms along the staircase trail.

And once you’ve reached the top, you´ll be totally amazed by how beautiful this place is! From up there its visible the Caribbean Sea, the village of Tortuguero and the forest of Tortuguero National Park stretching across the horizon.

THOUGHTS ABOUT TORTUGUERO

This is one of the dreamiest place I’ve ever see and if you’re visiting Costa Rica to see wildlife, make sure to add Tortuguero in your route, because this place is incredible. I had such a great time during my visit. As you can see, we did so many fun things in our 3 days stay, starting with the charming village, to the diverse wildlife, the warm weather, the activities, the peace.. I mean everything here is spectacular. This is the perfect place to relax and enjoy nature and it’s quite romantic. Your only worry here is to not forget the sunscreen at the hotel! Enjoy!

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