Tortuguero National Park, despite it’s remote location, is one of the leading ecotourism destinations in Costa Rica. With its long canals, lush rain forest, charming town and beaches, Tortuguero earns the nickname of the “Amazon of Costa Rica.” Though it is quite an adventure to get there, the entire Tortuguero experience makes up for it. Kayak through the canals, watch turtles hatch on the beach and spot wildlife from your hotel window.
If you’re planning to visit Tortuguero, here is all you need to know.
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- About the park
- Hours and fee
- How to get there
- Tortuguero Village
- Where to stay
- What to do
- Tips for Visiting
Tortuguero National Park Travel Tips
About the park
Tortuguero, the 3rd most visited national park in Costa Rica has a huge amount of biodiversity thanks to the various habitats ranging from mangroves, swamps, rain forest and lagoons. The park is 77,032 acres and forms another corridor with a protected area in Nicaragua.
The Green turtles nests on the beaches of Tortuguero, making it an incredibly important conservation area in Costa Rica and is one of the main attractions for tourists.
Hours and Fee
Tortuguero National Park is in the Northern Caribbean of Costa Rica. There is one town, Tortuguero with a population of about 500.
How to Get to Tortuguero
Since there are no roads to Tortuguero, you cannot drive and there are only 2 ways to get there: flying and by boat.
- Flying: Nature Air and Sansa Air both have flights to Tortuguero. From San Jose, it is a 25 minute flight. Then from the airport, you can take a boat to your hotel or to town.
- Bus/boat: From San Jose, you must take a bus to Cariari. There is a bus every day from 6:30, 9, 10:30, 1PM, 3 PM, 4:30 PM, 6 PM, 7 PM and 8:30 PM. This takes 2 hours, costs $3.50 and leaves from San Jose Terminal del Caribe, Calle Central Ave 15.
- From Cariari bus station, you must take another bus to La Pavona where the boat launch is. The bus runs at 6, 9:30, 12 and 3 PM every day, costs $2 and takes about 1.5 hours. The bus station is Terminal de Buses Coopetraca 500 meters north where the Cariari bus drops you off.
- Then from La Pavona, you need to buy a boat ticket. A boat ticket costs around $3 each way and you buy the tickets inside the restaurant. The boat ride is around 1 – 2 hours depending on the tide. Ours took 2 hours because we kept getting stuck due to the low tide.
You must take the 9 AM bus from San Jose to Cariari, then the 12 PM bus to Pavona, the latest bus from San Jose to take is the 10:30 AM. Any later and you won’t be able to catch the last boat from Pavona. The boat schedule (tentative) from La Pavona to Tortuguero is 7:30 AM, 11 AM, 1 PM and 4:30 PM and Tortuguero to La Pavona is 5:30 AM, 9 AM, 11 AM and 3 PM.
The boat operators don’t cover your luggage in plastic bags but since there isn’t much of a tide, wet luggage isn’t really an issue. Be aware that there will be a ton of people at the boat launch so make sure you tell the operators which hotel you are staying at or if you want to get dropped off in Tortuguero town.
If you rented a car, you can leave your car in a secure parking lot at La Pavona for $10 a day. It is a gated parking lot with a guard but do not leave any valuables in the car.
Another option is to book a tour package with a tour company. The tour company will take care of everything from hotels, transportation and food. Many people choose this option so they don’t need to deal with the transportation but it is doable to go on your own.
From your hotel or Tortuguero village, it is a quick 5 minute boat ride to the entrance of Tortuguero National Park.
Tortuguero village is tiny with a population of around 500 people. The locals work mostly in tourism either at the hotels in the area, as naturalist guides or renting cabinas.
The village is very small, there are some restaurants, souvenir shops and hostels and is easily walk-able. The most important thing to note is that there are no banks or ATMs in the village so make sure you bring plenty of cash.
From town, you can book tours, buy your boat ticket back to La Pavona or take a boat taxi to the national park entrance.
If you are visiting Tortuguero with a tour company, they include a visit to town so you can buy some souvenirs, check out the local life and go to the beach. You can also take a water taxi from your hotel to town.
The beach where the Green turtles nest is at Tortuguero village so that is one up side to staying in town, you’ll be close to the beach and turtles.
Where to Stay
There are actually a handful of lodging options in Tortuguero. Most backpackers and budget travelers will want to stay in the village as they can find hostels and cheap cabinas everywhere. Expect very basic accommodations in these places.
If you’re looking for something more upscale, there are plenty of those in Tortuguero too. All the hotels have their own private dock and are scattered around the entrance of the national park. We stayed at Evergreen Lodge which was very nice with a huge swimming pool, a couple restaurants, dedicated Wi-Fi zones and free kayak rentals.
Pachira Lodge is another one that tour operators use and is similar to the Evergreen Lodge. Mawamba Lodge is another upscale lodge and if you’re looking for a hotel with AC, Manatus Hotel is the only one in Tortuguero with air conditioning.
What to Do
Wildlife watching is one of the best things to do in Tortuguero National Park. Most people book a wildlife safari and we recommend going early in the morning when wildlife is most active. We went at 5:30 AM and saw tons of wildlife.
There are some other things to do in Tortuguero National Park and the area.
- Turtles: See different species of turtles nest on the beaches of Tortuguero. September is the best month to see the nesting mothers and November/December is best to see babies.
- Rent a bike: Bike rentals are available in town.
- Ziplining: There is a small canopy tour in Tortuguero called Aerial Trails Tortuguero and compared to other ziplines in Costa Rica, it’s pretty cheap at around $35 per person.
- Kayak: Our hotel had free kayak rentals so we took advantage of it and kayaked through the national park which was a surreal experience. There are parts of the national park where motorized boats cannot go, so we glided silently over the water to those areas. It was completely silent save for the sounds of the birds and monkeys. One of our favorite things we’ve done in Costa Rica!
You can book guided kayak tours or guided motor boat tours for $25-$35 a person.
Wildlife in Tortuguero National Park
The wildlife in Tortuguero is astounding and you can see wildlife that aren’t seen in many other places in Costa Rica. We saw plenty of birds and monkeys along with some frogs, sloths and other mammals.
At Tortuguero beach, we were lucky to see some turtles. We went in November so we just missed turtle nesting season but we saw lots of baby turtles hatching!
From our hotel, we saw macaws, toucans, iguanas and frogs!
Tips for Visiting
- Make sure to check the weather conditions for the month you’re visiting. The Caribbean side of Costa Rica doesn’t strictly adhere to the dry/rainy season climate. The driest months are September – November and February generally.
- Pack appropriately for humid weather. Since it is normal for it to rain in that area, bring appropriate waterproof equipment, especially if you have cameras. Check our packing list for rainy season.
- If you want to see turtles, make sure to visit during the right months or else you won’t see any. Hawksbill turtles nest May to November, Green Turtles nest June to October and have the biggest nesting colony in this area. Leatherback turtles nest March to July.
- Be very patient on the travel day to Tortuguero. We had to wait quite a bit for the boats because of the amount of people from the tour groups and we got stuck a lot due to the low tide.
- Make sure to bring plenty of mosquito repellent and sunscreen.
- Be aware that some locals are super pushy with which tour guide/company you go with. Don’t feel pressured and don’t be shy to ask different companies.
- Remember there aren’t any ATM’s in Tortuguero so bring plenty of cash (colones preferred).
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