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Tortuguero National Park: An Overview

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Discover a world where diverse ecosystems flourish. A place where wildlife preservation has become a way of life in a traditional Costa Rican village. Hidden in the remote coast of northeast Limón, Tortuguero National Park is such a place. Listed in the top 5 most visited national parks of Costa Rica, this oasis is dependent on a close relationship between the natural world, the local residents, and tourists. Local families invest in caring for the environment and its inhabitants, while sustainable tourism provides the primary economic resource for the village. Here, rare opportunities for outdoor adventuring and wildlife interaction abound as visitors explore the jungle, wetlands, and coastal terrain.

Highlights

  • Year-round opportunities to witness endangered sea turtles nesting
  • Incredible boat rides through jungle canals
  • Authentic cultural immersion in the local village
  • A good range of affordable accommodation and restaurant options
  • Conscientious, sustainable ecotourism

Lowlights

  • The remote location is accessed only via canal by boat or by domestic flight on small aircraft
  • Low visibility on night walks require precaution.  Walk closely, preferably holding hands, to avoid tripping over beach debris

TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK FACTS

Number of annual visitors 58,000
Size 190 sq. km
Entrance fee 15 USD per person entrance into the park
Permits No permits are needed to visit the park; however, to tour the beach at night in search of nesting turtles, you must be accompanied by a licensed Tortuguero tour guide. No person is permitted to be on the beach after 6pm unaccompanied.
Common animal sightings Sea turtles, sloths, monkeys, tapirs, crocodiles, caimans, manatees, jaguars, snakes, lizards, birds
Best season to visit December to February is leatherback sea turtle nesting season, June through October is green sea turtle season; February, April, and November are the driest months and best for other outdoor adventuring.

ACTIVITIES IN THE PARK

Little turtle hatchling in Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica
A tiny hatchling runs across the beach towards the sea in Tortuguero National Park

Turtle nesting tours

By far one of the most popular reasons to visit Tortuguero, participating in these nightly tours along the beach is an experience you’ll remember for a lifetime. Lasting 2–3 hours, visitors walk along the dark beach with a trained guide searching for the hallmark turtle tracks crossing the sand. These massive beings move slowly and take their time digging deep holes into the sand where they will bury dozens of eggs. It’s an incredible spectacle to see. During peak seasons, sightings can be frequent and tour guides typically connect with one another via radio to inform of nearby sightings. You can sight turtle species such as the hawksbill turtle, green sea turtle and giant leatherback turtles.

During the day, lucky travelers walking the beach may witness hatchlings surfacing through the sand, then waddling to the surf. See the “good to know” section below for an important notice on sea turtle interaction.

Wildlife boat tours

Tortuguero is also home to many species of birds
Tortuguero is not only home to sea turtles but a range of water birds, monkeys, caimans and crustaceans.
Caiman in the rivers of Tortuguero National Park
Caimans are a common sighting in the park.

While turtles are Tortuguero’s most famed animal, an abundance of other wildlife can be spotted in the national park. It is possible to walk through portions of the park, but boat tours are the most worthwhile of the Tortuguero National Park tours. Boating provides accessibility through the system of canals, which are teeming with interesting species. An array of different types of monkeys swing from and howl in the trees, caimans wade on the banks, and strikingly beautiful herons stand proudly in the marshlands.

Boat tours are offered during the day and at night, offering changing glimpses into the ecosystem throughout the day. This is a sanctuary of diversity and on any given tour, the viewing opportunities are plentiful and varied. Nocturnal tours are recommended for spotting crocodiles, caimans, bats, and crustaceans.

Trail walks & hikes

Tortuguero has a network of well-developed trails that are easily enjoyed by self-guided exploration. Meander through dense tropical rainforest spotting toucans, howler monkeys, and armadillos. The trails arrive at the beach, which is adorned with beautiful morning glory vines and soft black sand. It is also possible to take a hike around the base of the extinct volcano, Cerro Tortuguero. Hiking to the summit is currently prohibited, but exploration at the base provides an interesting opportunity to view mature forests and sight poison dart frogs, in addition to Tortuguero’s other popular wildlife.

Kayak & canoe

Tortuguero National Park is mostly made of intersecting system of canals
Tortugeuro National Park mostly includes system of canals and can be navigated through boats, kayaks and canoes.

One of the best ways to explore the canals is by non-motorized boating. With a canoe or kayak, it is possible to paddle some of the canals independently. Enjoy rowing through the water, floating at sunset, spotting wildlife, or charting unknown territories. It is very easy to rent equipment at many of the canal-front hotels. Alternatively, guided canoe tours are available.

Fishing

As one of the best sport fishing destinations in Costa Rica, travelers to Tortuguero can catch tarpon, snook, and other game fish. It is possible to fish the ocean and rivers, but fishing is highly protected and regulated. As such, travelers should plan to arrange a guided trip.

Good to know

  • Bring plenty of cash for lodging, food, and excursions. No banks or ATMs are available in the village.
  • Do not touch the baby turtles as this interferes with their orientation and coordination necessary for their survival. Baby sea turtles imprint their first sights and smells helping them to know where to return for nesting later. Avoid wearing any strong scents.
  • Cameras and flashlights are NOT permitted on the beach at night, as they interfere with nesting habits.
  • It is obligatory to wear rubber boots when walking through Tortuguero National Park. Boots can be rented for $1 at the park office.

Without a doubt, a trip to Tortuguero National Park will be one of the most intriguing trips of your life. Offering a wide variety of activities and spectacular opportunities to spot animals in the wild, this place is an outdoor adventurer’s dream and should be on your list of next travel destinations.

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