Introduction to Tortuguero
Tortuguero translates as turtle catcher, and when some of the first settlers arrived in this region in the 16th century that is just what they did, and continued to do for several centuries, dangerously depleting the species to near extinction. In the latter part of the 20th century the Caribbean Conservation Corps (CCC), a turtle research center, was founded and in 1970 the region was declared national parkland. Today Tortuguero is the largest green turtle nesting site in the Caribbean, as well as welcoming several other species ashore during the breeding season, such as the hawksbill, loggerhead, and giant leatherback. Although the population is now stable the turtles are still vulnerable and conservation efforts are extremely important to their future.
Located on the northern Caribbean Coast, Tortuguero also called the ‘Land of Turtles’, is a watery world made up of a network of canals, lagoons, streams and dense rainforest. Only accessible by plane or boat, this region blurs the line between the ocean and dry land and is a really popular place to visit despite being a little tricky to get to. The area is known for the lushness of its rainforest and the tropical life that it supports. The jungle trails are overhung with vines and bromeliads and the forest floor is dotted with bright, rare orchids. There are over 300 species of birds here, as well as crocodiles patrolling the canals, monkeys, iguanas and tiny dart frogs. The whole place glints with rain and sun and the tropical colors of its rainforest wildlife.
What not to miss in Tortuguero
The best time to observe the nesting sea turtle in the Tortuguero National Park is at night. Remember not to bring flashlights, use flash cameras, wear light colored clothing or smoke cigarettes, as they can disturb the turtles.
Exploring the canals and creeks by kayak is one of the best ways to explore the Tortuguero Canals. As you glide through the waters you’ll be able to see and hear the tropical wildlife all around you.
The CCC Visitors’ Center and Museum
The Caribbean Conservation Corporation’s (CCC) Visitors’ Center and Museum provides in-depth information about sea turtles and their history within the National Park. Admission is free and it gives a great insight into the turtles and the very important work that the CCC is doing to protect them.
Food in Tortuguero Village
There are many family-owned restaurants and small businesses selling delicious Caribbean food. Try the delicious banana and chocolate cake, or if you don’t have such a sweet tooth go for the ‘patties’ stuffed with chicken or meat and diced with hot chili sauce.
What you need to know
When to go
This tropical region is warm and rainy all year round, so what most people base their visit on is not the weather, but the turtles. Visit during nesting season (roughly April-October) and you will have the opportunity to see the giant sea turtles laying their eggs at night. Tortuguero is the primary Atlantic nesting site for the green turtle, but if you come early in the season you might be lucky enough to see the larger Leatherback turtle. Visiting later in the season (November to early January), you are unlikely to see nesting, but instead will have the pleasure of witnessing the baby turtles make their first dash into the waves. It’s worth noting that more than 200 in. (508 cm) of rain falls in Tortuguero annually, so you can expect a downpour at any time of the year with many of the lodges providing you with rain gear (including ponchos and rubber boots), but it can’t hurt to pack your own.
How to get there
The small Tortuguero airstrip is 2.5 miles (4km) north of the village. Nature Air has daily early-morning flights to and from San José and twice weekly to La Fortuna. Charter flights land here regularly as well. Additional flights are often added during the high season, and departure times can vary according to weather conditions.
Flying to Tortuguero is convenient if you don’t have much time, but a boat trip through the canals and rivers of this region is a great introduction to this magnificent corner of Costa Rica.
It’s not possible to drive to Tortuguero.
Where to stay
In addition to a number of more upscale lodges and cabinas in Tortuguero and on the canals north of the park, the village of Tortuguero also has a number of more basic accommodations to meet all types of budget. There are no accommodations within the Tortuguero National Park.
From our experience, the best way to explore Tortuguero is stay in a lodge along the canal. The lodges include the activities like boat excursions, hikes and night walks, kayak. Most of the lodges have access to the beach, offer night walks to spot the turtles and a swimming pool to relax. For transportation you have to go around by boat.