Tortuguero - Central America's Amazon
Updated: Nov 21, 2018
Tortuguero is a small village on the northeastern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. It is nicknamed "Central America's Amazon" for its dense jungles and maze of navigable winding canals. Tortuguero National Park hosts incredibly diverse flora and fauna that can be explored by hikes and canal tours. Translated as "Land of Turtles", its palm lined beaches are a nesting spot for a variety of sea turtles. It is also one of the wettest parts of the country with rainfall year round. A trip to Costa Rica is incomplete without going to Tortuguero.
Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica
An interesting aspect about visiting Tortuguero is that it can only be reached by a boat. It is like going to a remote wild island, while still being close to the country. Boats go in and out of La Pavona pier all day, transporting tourists and locals through the canals. Flying is a faster option, but more expensive and still needs a boat ride from the landing strip.
Cruising through the canals
Ours was a guided trip and we were very excited for the boat ride. We journeyed for about 4 hrs on a tour bus from San Jose through small towns, plantations and thick jungles. We made a quick stop for breakfast at a small town named Guapiles half way. It is typical for tour groups and tourists to stop at this town.
La Pavona pier is (one of) the gateway to Tortuguero for all tourists arriving either by tour buses, public transportations or rental cars that can be parked at the lot.
Rivers on the way / Scenery on the bus ride
The boats were long and thin, and held up-to 40 passengers. Since we were a bus load of tourists, we were split into 2 groups based on the lodges we were booked into. Without much delay we loaded our luggage, put on our life vests and sailed off deeper into the canals. Visitors arriving on public buses and rental cars purchase their tickets at the pier and board a public boat. They maintain a schedule or sometimes wait for more passengers to arrive to have a full boat.
Boat to Tortuguero / Incredible scenery
This ride to Tortuguero itself felt like a tour with incredible views of lush rainforest and spotting wildlife. Julio, who was our guide, was very knowledgeable and experienced in spotting animals. We saw couple of crocodiles and birds on this ride. As per Julio, the locals called the canals “chocolate waters” because of the color.
In just over an hour, we arrived at Pachira Lodge, located on the edge of the peninsula and surrounded by the jungle. From the dock, walkways in different directions lead to the lobby, pool, dining, and guest rooms. The rooms were minimally furnished but quite comfortable. The coolest part about the lodge was that the windows had no glass, they were just fitted with mesh to keep the bugs away. We could hear and feel the jungle around from the comfort of our room, even at night.
Most lodges in Tortuguero include lodging, food and tours as a package. Ours being a guided tour was exactly that. There are other lodges and hostels in the village for anyone who doesn't want a package.
Spotted a crocodile
Pachira Lodge docking area / Little Blue Heron
We couldn't wait to go back out and explore the canals. On our canal tour, we calmly cruised through the wild jungles of Tortuguero National Park while our guide effortlessly spotted a variety of animals - spider and howler monkeys, iguanas, common basilisk, sloths and birds. For non-package tourists, an association of local guides offers different tours across the national park - Canoe, kayak, zip-line, walking tours etc.
Canal tour in Tortuguero national park
Spider monkey / Iguana
At night, while some animals rested others were active and loud. We went on a surprise night walking tour to see what nocturnal animals we could spot, mainly hoping to see frogs. We saw many spiders in different sizes and shapes, resting on poles supporting the raised trail. We found that more creepy than the fact that we were walking in the pitch black jungle probably among larger animals. Anyways, we didn't see any frogs, just a couple of Olinga and Coati up on the trees. Unfortunately, we do not have any pictures from the night tour.
We woke up to loud howls of howler monkeys and chirping birds at 4:00am, thanks to the open windows. The grounds surrounding the lodge was luscious and wild. We could hear monkeys very close by throughout the day, although it was hard to spot them sometimes. We saw different types of birds just outside our room, even toucans.
White-collared Manakin / A pretty one outside our room
Later in the morning, we did a day walk through the jungle on the same trail as the night. It felt much easier and less intense as we could see everything clearly. During this walk, we spotted a non-venomous snake, blue land crabs, costa rican porcupines, few small lizards, termite nests, glass winged butterfly, bullet ants, golden orb spiders, walking trees, sloths, etc.
Bluntheaded snake / Golden Orb Spider
After the walk, we took a boat to the village and the beach. It was a colorful laid back Caribbean village with only one paved road running parallel to the canal. Rest of the village was connected by narrow rugged lanes. Hurricane Otto evacuation was in place at the time, so most of the village was deserted and those that remained where preparing to leave.
Tortuguero Village docking area
Village almost deserted / Paved road
We followed our guide to the quiet palm lined Tortuguero beach, where the sea turtles nest between the months April-October. People refrain from swimming in the beach due to strong rip currents.
We wanted to try out some of the local restaurants and spend some time exploring the village, but everything was shut down because of the evacuation. And we had to head back to the lodge ourselves to pack up and leave. If we had stayed the day as per our itinerary we would have probably experienced more of Tortuguero.
Where to stay: We stayed in Pachira Lodge. Other hotels in that area are: Hotels in Tortugero. Getting there: We recommend getting a hotel package as they offer easy transits and boat rides. If you choose to fly you can book at Nature Air or Fly Sansa. Local tours (for non-package): All information on local sightseeing tours can be found here - Association De Guias. Time to spend: 2-3 days. In your bag: Umbrella or rain jacket, comfortable clothing, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, sunglasses, camera. Full Costa Rica package: Ecoterra Costa Rica.
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