Tucked away on the northern Caribbean coast, Tortuguero, including Tortuguero National Park, is one of Costa Rica’s most diverse regions. The small village located in the Limón Province can only be reached by plane or boat. Its remote location makes for an incredible showcase of Costa Rica’s wildlife and biodiversity.
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The name Tortuguero translates to Land of the Turtles because hundreds of sea turtles nest and lay their eggs on Tortuguero beach every year. Though they are a main draw, the Tortuguero turtle species are much more than a tourist attraction, their protection is an important aspect of conservation in the country.
Many people come to the area to explore Tortuguero National Park, which was established in 1970 to protect the nesting sea turtles. It’s one of the best national parks in Costa Rica for seeing wildlife with its diverse habitats of rainforests and lagoons. There are over 300 species of birds and 60 species of mammals in the park including monkeys, jaguars, and toucans.
The many Tortuguero canals running through the park have coined Tortuguero as the Amazon of Costa Rica and we couldn’t agree more. Exploring the canals by boat is an amazing way to see the lush forests and not-so-common wildlife that make the region so special.
Most people go to Tortuguero on one or two-night tours to visit the national park and poke into the village. On our last visit, we spent 3 nights visiting Tortuguero and were able to see many corners of this beautiful region.
How to Get to Tortuguero
Although Tortuguero is located on a sandbar island with no road access, it’s actually not as remote as you might think. You can get to Tortuguero Village and the Tortuguero National Park by boat or airplane.
Tortuguero has a small airport with multiple daily flights from San Jose. Flying from San Jose, Costa Rica to Tortuguero on Sansa Airlines is a short 30-minute flight that costs US$80-100 each way. Prices vary slightly depending on the season.
By Bus + Boat
We always suggest traveling by bus when possible since it’s the most sustainable and inexpensive way to get around. Buses leave the Gran Carib station in San Jose several times a day for Cariari, where you will need to make a transfer. The bus ride from San Jose to Cariari takes 2 hours and costs about US$3.50.
Once in Cariari, you’ll take a 1.5-hour bus ride to the boat launch in La Pavona. This bus costs under $2 and runs four times a day. You can buy your boat ticket at the restaurant for US$5 when you get to La Pavona and set sail for Tortuguero. Just remember to plan ahead when traveling by bus in Costa Rica so you can make all of your necessary transfers on time.
By Car + Boat
If you have access to a car, you can drive directly to La Pavona. From San José, the drive to La Pavona takes about 3 hours. You can then park your car at La Pavona for US$10 per day and continue your boat journey to Tortuguero. The boat ride takes one hour and departs four times a day.
On a Tour
The easiest way to get to Tortuguero is to book a tour and let them take care of the transportation for you. The price of most tours includes transportation from any San Jose hotel to La Pavona in a comfortable shared minibus. This option is very pleasant and much better than driving.
Weather in Tortuguero
Since Tortuguero is on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, it has a very wet and humid tropical climate. Average temperatures in Tortuguero hover around 25°C (77°F) year-round. It’s always very humid and doesn’t have a distinct rainy season like the Pacific coast.
Sea Turtle Nesting Season
If you’re looking to visit Tortuguero to see sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach, August is the ideal month to witness sea turtles nesting. But since there are four different species of sea turtles that call Tortuguero home, the turtle nesting season spans from July to October.
Green sea turtles are best seen in July and August while leatherback turtles tend to nest later in the year. Many of these species of turtles are endangered, including the green sea turtle, so getting a chance to see them in Tortuguero should be on every Costa Rica bucket list!
Things to do in Tortuguero
Most of the activities to do in Tortuguero town center around the amazing wildlife in the region. Sea turtle nesting is a given, but there are lots of other bird species and reptiles to discover on the beach and in Tortuguero National Park, such as green macaws or spider monkeys.
Visit Tortuguero National Park
Parque Nacional Tortuguero, or Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica, is the third most visited national park in the country despite its remote location. Every year, tourists from all over the world travel to the park to see the multitude of animals that live in this region.
Tortuguero National Park is open daily from 6AM – 4PM and the entrance fee is US$15 for foreigners.
The national park itself is located within a greater protected area called the Tortuguero Conservation Area. This natural wetland on the Caribbean coast is an important part of Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity and is home to many endangered species.
Keep an eye out for birds, snakes, caymans, lizards, iguanas, monkeys, and even jaguars. Most eco-lodges and hotels in Tortuguero are located in the conservation area and not within the national park boundary. Even without entering the park, you’ll find that there is lots of wildlife to be seen all around the conservation area.
If you’re visiting the area on a tour, many packages include Tortuguero National Park tours for one or two days of your trip. You can divide your time between going on one of the 3 hiking trails or exploring the park’s canals. However you experience it, the deeper you go, the more you will see!
Things to do in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica
- Explore by Boat: Exploring Tortuguero National Park by boat is one of the coolest ways to see the park. Travel by canoe or kayak on the Caño Chiquero (Mora Trail) to see all of the dense vegetation that surrounds the area. There are 3 other canal “trails” ranging from 3-5 km (2-3 miles) where you can observe several sea turtles species, birds, and even caymans right from your boat.
- AyE Tours offers a canoe tour with a knowledgeable guide to explain the plants and wildlife. They offer hotel pickup/dropoff, and it’s a day-long tour, so plan accordingly if you think it sounds fun.
- Hike: If you’re staying on land, you can hike the El Jaguar Trail (2.5 km/1.5 miles) to follow sea turtle footprints on the beach. From the trail you can also see wildlife like monkeys, peacocks, and butterflies.
- On a Kayak Tour: Our favourite way to see the park is on a kayak tour. Certain canals are closed to motorboats so you’ll experience the serene areas where only animals surround you. Many of these Tortuguero tours can be arranged at your lodge or in town at Tortuguero Village.
Only had a day to explore Tortuguero National Park? You’ll be surprised to learn that it’s possible to cover the parks main attractions on a day trip from San Jose. If you don’t mind getting an early start, then a day tour like the one offered by Destiny Travel is a good option. You’ll start at 6:00am to explore a banana plantation, see the local wildlife and plants, and learn the history and culture of Tortuguero Village from your guides. This extensive, 12-hour tour includes a drive, hike, and boat tour. A traditional Costa Rican breakfast and lunch are included with the tour package.
Check out Tortuguero Beach
Tortuguero Beach is one of the most important areas in the region because it acts as the nesting grounds for multiple sea turtle species. Beaches on the Caribbean coast are a little different than those on Costa Rica’s Pacific shores due to the wetter weather. But while they may not be as popular for sunbathing and swimming, they host many unique species of birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
The beach in Tortuguero has the Caribbean flair that makes the east coast of Costa Rica so charming. It borders a river on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. The beach is beautiful but has some vicious rip tides that make it unsuitable for swimming. Tortuguero Beach can also be a bit dangerous with the wildlife and potential for robberies so it’s best to go in groups.
READ NEXT: Best Beaches in Costa Rica
Join a Sea Turtle Nesting Tour
Thanks to conservation efforts, Tortuguero National Park is a haven for sea turtles in Costa Rica. The area is home to several turtle species, including the green turtle, hawksbill turtle, leatherback turtle, and loggerhead turtle. These turtles come to the beaches of Tortuguero to lay their eggs, and it is one of the most important nesting sites in the world for the green sea turtle.
If you would like to contribute to the conservation efforts, there are eco-volunteer programs you can join. The Sea Turtle Conservancy runs a program out of Tortuguero, where volunteers can help patrol the beach at night, survey the nests in the morning, help with baby turtles when they hatch, and take inventory of the nests.
There’s no definitive turtle season, but for the best time to see turtles in Costa Rica, plan your visit during July-October to experience the turtle nesting season. Tours happen at night when turtles lay their eggs and nest in the sand.
READ NEXT: Witnessing Arribada in Playa Ostional
Join a Sea Turtle Hatching Beach Walk
Getting a chance to see turtles nest is amazing, but getting to see the eggs hatch is an equally special experience. September to November is the best time to visit Tortuguero if you want a chance to see baby turtles.
Take a guided beach walk at night or in the early morning to witness the turtles making their first journey to the ocean.
Visit Tortuguero Village
Tortuguero Village is a small town of about 2,000 people that offers the only hint of civilization in this region. A trip into town is a great way to learn more about the area and why the preservation of it is so important. The village has a few restaurants, shops, and hotels.
Go on a Tortuguero Hill Walk
A walk up to Tortuguero Hill, or Cerro Tortuguero, is a beautiful way to see the town and nature from above. The hill offers the highest elevation in the area at 119 m (390 ft) above sea level. The view at the top of the hill overlooks the canals, beaches, and lush vegetation that blankets Tortuguero, Costa Rica.
A walk-up Tortuguero Hill can only be done with a guide and takes about 1.5 hours. We organized our tour to the Hill through our hotel.
Your guide will tell you about the flora and fauna of the area and the importance of protecting it. The walk is a great opportunity to see wildlife and view the national park from a different perspective.
Join a Night Tour Walk
A night walk around Tortuguero is an amazing way to experience the rainforest after dark. There are different tours in the conservation area or onsite at hotels like Laguna Lodge. We did a really cool frog tour around the hotel gardens that added a whole other layer to our trip. There are plenty of frogs, snakes, and lizards that you just can’t see in the daytime!
The Tortuguero Canopy Tour will take you into the thick of the rainforest with a zipline adventure. The zip lining tour is US$35 per person and can be booked through your hotel.
Best Hotels in Tortuguero, Costa Rica
If you’re planning to travel to Tortuguero, you can decide whether you want a package deal or if you would prefer to put together a DIY visit.
Budget travelers may want to consider staying in town. There are hostels and a few small Tortuguero hotels in the Village. Tours and activities can be booked in town as well. Outside of the village, there are ecolodges and resorts tucked away in the forest that offer a variety of all-inclusive packages with tours and activities included in the price.
We recommend getting a package so that your transportation, hotel stay, meals, and tours are included. It’s the easiest way to visit Tortuguero National Park. The following lodges offer all-inclusive packages, although we found that for the most part, they all offer a very similar itinerary and experience.
Laguna Lodge, Costa Rica is a beautiful eco-lodge located between a lagoon and the sea. Its location makes for an amazing place to see wildlife—even from your window! The hotel has 6 acres of gardens to explore, including a tree frog sanctuary and two swimming pools.
There is a restaurant on-site and all meals are included in the stay, although we did find the food to be less than exciting. Laguna Lodge has a number of activities and guided tours included in their packages as well as a couple of extra options.
Pachira Lodge, Costa Rica is another great option for a stress-free trip to Tortuguero. The lodge is situated on the main canal, just a few minutes away from the national park and village. It is surrounded by lush tropical forest and exotic flora and fauna.
Pachira Lodge packages include transportation from San José, lodging, meals, free wifi, tours, and a bilingual tour guide.
Evergreen Lodge, Costa Rica offers a hidden escape in the rainforest. The lodge has a mix of standalone bungalows and standard rooms for groups of any size.
Evergreen Lodge offers the same packages as Pachira Lodge because they are owned by the same company. The main difference between them is the style of accommodation. Pachira offers standard rooms, while Evergreen Lodge – bungalows.
Aninga Lodge is the third hotel in the Pachira family. This lodge is smaller than Pachira and Evergreen but is still bustling with wildlife and tropical flora. A stay at Aninga Lodge is much quieter and more intimate, which is a nice alternative for couples.
The same Pachira tours are available at Aninga Lodge, along with spa services to relax and unwind after a day at the park. Every room at Aninga is a standalone bungalow surrounded by year-round nature and the main Tortuguero canal. They’ve also thoughtfully constructed all of their rooms and walking trails on stilts to protect the habitat of the animals that live nearby.
Best Restaurants in Tortuguero
Most visitors to Tortuguero National Park come to the region on an all-inclusive package, staying at one of the above-mentioned hotels. The typical 2-3 night stay includes accommodation, activities in the park as well as all meals. But if you are staying in town or looking to adventure into town for a meal away from your hotel, here are a few restaurants we recommend.
La Terraza Del Aracari Garden
La Terraza Del Aracari is a small cafe that serves Costa Rican and Caribbean food for breakfast and dinner, which you can enjoy from the terrace. They use locally-sourced ingredients, and the menu includes vegan-friendly and vegetarian options.
Apolo’s Coffee & Grill
Apolo’s Coffee & Grill serves Colombian food at reasonable prices, and is conveniently located on the main street in Tortuguero. They offer vegetarian options and serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Their bar is popular, is known for having the best happy hour in Tortuguero.
Budda Cafe is a Mediterranean cafe that’s open for brunch, lunch, and dinner. They have vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free menu options, as well as a bar. They also offer incredible Italian espresso and the best dessert menu in town.
Tips & Advice for Visiting Tortuguero
In the peak of high season, Tortuguero can get very busy, especially in the main turtle nesting season. It’s best to plan to travel in the off-season to avoid the crowds. Otherwise, expect to share boats with 20-30 others and have much larger crowds in the Tortuguero National Park.
The weather is Tortugueto can be crazy. It rains daily so pack rain gear and prepare to travel on muddy trails.
Food at lodges in Tortuguero is quite bland so be sure to pack snacks. There are only a few restaurants in town so your dining options are narrow. Make sure to let your lodge know ahead of time if you have any dietary restrictions.
Mosquitoes are vicious in Tortuguero National Park! So bring bug repellent and take it everywhere with you. We recommend a deet-free spray so it will ward off the bugs while being gentle on your skin and the environment.
Lastly, if you don’t travel by boat often, you should bring sea sickness pills. Feeling sick on your trip is never a good time and stores in the village have limitations.