Tortuguero at a Glance
Ideal time to visit:
- Year-round, peak months are February to April & July to October
Thread on eons of sediment load brought to Tortuguero's 22 miles long strech of finest sand through an infinite web of river canals. For visiting truly remote, stunning beaches always ask: where do the turtles go?
Keyword: SeaTurtles & Tarpon Fishing
Landscape: Tropical lowland wet forest (rainforest), Beach, Mangroves, River Canals, Swamp
Region: The North Caribbean
Altitude: Sea Level to 330 ft (100m)
Closest Airports: San Jose (SJO) and Tortuguero Airport
Average Temperature: 71° - 87° F (22° - 30° C)
Often compared to Venice and the Amazon for its navigable canals, the town of Tortuguero is one of Costa Rica’s main treasures. Located in the north-east area of the Limón province, the village of Tortuguero lies on a sand bar island facing the Caribbean Sea and the Tortuguero River. Its name literally means “place of the turtles” because it’s the yearly setting for the arrival of four different species of sea turtle who nest on its beaches.
The town of Tortuguero sustains itself specifically from eco-tourism and as such it’s an ideal location to learn about eco-friendly practices and to be in exceptional commune with nature. The Tortuguero National Park is also home to an infinite number of plant and animal species, including various birds and reptiles.This area is only accessible by airplane or boat, so keep that in mind before planning your vacation.
Attractions & Places to See
Stunning, unspoiled nature is the main attraction in the Tortuguero area. Exploring the tropical rainforest through infinite network of lazy river canals & mangroves will give you, hands down, one of the most fulfilling experiences of nature one can find. This is a truly different place compared to rest of Costa Rica. Remote as one can get in this modern age, it is pleasantly peaceful; local community has found the way to keep up with civilization and not lose the touch with nature. You’ll find numerous tours offering nature exploration, to name a few attraction spots:
- Tortuguero National Park
- Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge
- Cariari National Wetlands
- Turtle Museum at Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC)
Activities & Things to Do
THE reason to visit Tortuguero is, of course, getting to see turtle tours. There are several time windows for doing this, but August stands out as the peak month of Green sea turtle’s nesting season. If August is not an option for you, look at the lunar caledar and look for days with the full moon as the ‘arribadas’ are most likely to occur then. Important thing to note is that the tours are only permitted with licensed guides.
Canoeing or kayaking is a great way to observe the abundant wildlife of river canals, and next big thing to do here is Sportfishing or, more specifically, Tarpon fishing. Sportfishing boats can be chartered in Tortuguero to patrol the canals, rivers, and the Caribbean Sea for inshore/offshore fishing; or visiting nearby Parismina and Barra del Colorado.
- Sea Turtles’ Tours
- Bird & Wildlife Watching–Canal Tours
- Canopy Tours
- Tarpon / Sport Fishing
Visiting Tortugero is often done as a day trip from San Jose, nearby Sarapiqui or the South Caribbean towns. As it is bordering Nicaragua’s inaccessible lowlands on the north and being navigable only by boat itself, there are no easy trips done from here.
Wildlife & Nature
Four species of sea turtles – the Green, Leatherback, Hawksbill and Loggerhead – nest on the beaches of Tortuguero. The Green Sea turtle comes ashore more frequently than the other three species, with peak months July to October. The main nesting season for world’s largest sea turtle, the Leatherback is March to June. But, turtles aren’t the only wildlife you spot in Tortuguero. The National Park is home to over 300 types of birds, along with numerous other animals like sloths, monkeys, iguanas found in the tree tops, and crocodiles, caimans, and manatees in the water.
Best Time to Visit
Year-round. The nesting season for Green Sea and Hawks Bill turtle’s are during the rainy season: July to October (peak is in August), and for Leatherback turtles peak months are February to April. And no worries, it is possible to see individual turtles at any time of the year.
The Tortuguero weather is very predictable: it ‘s hot and humid and it will rain. Whether you’re there for a day or more, you’ll experience a proper Caribbean rain shower. Yes, even in the dry season afternoon showers are very common.
Where to Stay
Despite it’s remoteness, Tortuguero is a very popular destination with a wide variety of hotel options. Most of the accommodations offered are simple and rustic, catering to budget travelers. Still, there is a couple of luxury, all-inclusive options, if that’s something you’re looking for.
Restaurants and Nightlife
Most of the hotels & lodges have restaurants that are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.Typical, Costa Rican cuisine is available in dozens of family run restaurants in the village center.
Services & Infrastructure
Public transportation: No, rivers are roads around here; for traveling around Tortuguero area, rent taxi boats.
Public restrooms: No
Shopping: There is a grocery shop in the village center and several art & craft stores with great choice of souvenirs. Bring mosquito repellent & sunscreen with you, it can be quite pricey in the village.
ATMs: No, but local grocery shop will allow you getting some cash withdrawal when purchasing with a debit card, for a small fee.
Gas stations: No, none needed
Cell Phone Reception: Poor
Restaurants: Quite a few charming, family operated restaurants offering Caribbean food.
Nearest medical facilities: The only major hospital on the Caribbean coast is the Tony Facio Hospital ( 2758-2222) in Limón.
How To Get There
There are several options for traveling to Tortuguero for San Jose, but driving is not one of them. The fastest way of getting to Tortuguero is flying with commuter airline (40 min) to an aristrip bordering the park. Both of Costa Rica’s domestic airlines, Nature Air and Sansa, have daily flights to Tortuguero. Buget travelers can take combination of buses to Guapiles-Carriari-La Pavona (total of $4) and a shared boat ride ($3) through river canals. Other option is taking shuttle bus service organised by all-inclusive lodges in Tortugero, followed by 1 hour boat ride.