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Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park

Quick Facts

  • Location : 155 miles northeast of San Jose
  • Altitude : Sea level
  • Area : 77,032 land acres & 113,014 marine acres
  • Hours : 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Telephone : 2710-2929
  • Entrance fee : $10

Amaretto water dusted with leaves flows around the gnarled arms of fallen trees through arteries pumping life into the planet's lungs. The buttresses of wild almond and gavilan trees claw at the waters' edge, propping themselves upright among the mire, detritus and plant life that cover the rainforest floor. Even the bromeliads, clinging to tree branches 65 feet in the air, reach down with vine ropes to drink from the canals below.

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These rivers, canals and streams form a network that serves as the trails for the Tortuguero National Park's nearly 200,000 acres of tropical, humid wet forest, marshes, swamps, lagoons and beaches.  Within these habitats dwell some of Costa Rica's endangered species: great green macaws, manatees, tapirs, jaguars and, of course, the sea turtles that have given Tortuguero National Park its name as well as world-wide acclaim.

The national park protects a 22 mile-stretch of beach that is the most important nesting site for the green sea turtle along the Western Atlantic Ocean.  Every year from July 1 through September 30, green sea turtles, in addition to hawksbill, leatherback and loggerhead turtles, come to shore to lay their eggs. During these months, the national park closes its beach from dusk until dawn to protect the turtles, though the national park offers turtle nesting tours at night for visitors wanting to watch the turtles nesting ritual.

More than 375 species of birds dwell among the branches, roots, twigs and logs of Tortuguero's canals and rainforest. Among them are Costa Rica's most famous canopy-dwelling species including keel-billed, chestnut mandible and collared aracari toucans as well as the different fowl found on the forest floor and the river banks like the crested guan, northern jacana, blue, green, tiger and boat-billed herons.

Weather

Average daytime temperature: 87 degrees
Average night temperature: 69 degrees

Tortuguero’s annual rainfall averages between 175-235 inches. The climate is humid and very hot, with frequent showers. The driest months are February through March and September through October. Visitors should anticipate two types of rain: brief afternoon showers and the long Caribbean drizzle that can last up to two weeks.

Beaches

Tortuguero's deserted, ash-hued beaches are great for strolling, but only between dawn and dusk (5 a.m. to 6 p.m.). Strong currents and the occasional presence of bull sharks and stingrays make the beach unsafe for swimming.

Activities:

Visitors can participate in nighttime turtle nesting tours to observe nesting green sea turtles from July 1 through September 30. These tours can be arranged in the village or with a lodge, but are only permitted with licensed guides.

Boat, canoe and kayak tours through the canals are a great way to spot wildlife. Sport fishing boats can be chartered in Tortuguero.

Flora & Fauna

Among the humid rainforest canals, visitors are likely to encounter three of Costa Rica's four monkey species – capuchin, howler and spider monkeys – plus green iguanas, basilisk lizards, caimans, squirrels, manatees, fresh water otters and 17 jaguars that are thought to live in the area. More than 400 species of trees, 2,200 species of plants, 375 species of birds, 125 mammal species and 124 species of reptiles are found here.

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 nesting in Tortuguero from July 1 to September 30. The world’s largest sea turtle, the leatherback, nests in Tortuguero from March 1 through June 30. The hawksbill sea turtles, renowned for their decorative shells, come ashore in even smaller numbers from March through October; August is the peak month.  Loggerhead turtles come in fewer numbers, most often between May and August.

Baby turtles begin hatching 60 days after the beginning of the nesting season and continue 60 days after the end of each nesting season.

Native flora include the gavilan tree, wild almond, dragon blood, crab wood, banak, bully tree and dove wood, as well as aquatic lilies, monkey ladder and wild plantain.

Facilities:

There are three ranger stations located within Tortuguero National Park:

  • Cuatro Esquinas Station is at the south end of Tortuguero village. This station is accessible by boat from the lodges, or on foot through the village. Cuatro Esquinas is the most visited station and offers a small visitor center and park maps.
  • The Jalova Station, accessible by boat from Parismina, is at the southern boundary of the park. This station has a short hiking trail as well as bathrooms and a picnic area.
  • The Aguas Frias Station is on the western border of the park. Visitors can arrive here by car, after passing through Guapiles and Cariari.

    Trails

    Tortuguero's only walking trail, El Gavilan, winds between the forest and the beach for 1.2 miles behind the Cuatro Esquinas Station.  The two other trails, La Ceiba and La Bomba, that ascend Cerro Tortuguero (Tortuguero Hill) are now closed.

    Places to Stay

    Small cabins, mid-range hotels and all-inclusive lodges can be found in Tortuguero village and the surrounding area.  Reservations are recommended during the dry season (Dec.-May), and also during peak turtle nesting season (July-Sep.).

    Recommendations

    • Bring plenty of insect repellent for beach walks and rainforest hikes.
    • Pack dark clothing for evening turtle nesting tours.
    • Tour the park with an experienced naturalist guide.Bring plenty of insect repellent for beach walks and rainforest hikes. 

      Getting There

      Tortuguero is only accessible via plane or boat, no roads lead to the village itself.  There is a small airstrip north of the village and daily flights to and from San Jose are available with local air carriers. The bus/boat route from San Jose is a 155-mile journey that can take anywhere from five to seven hours.

      Tortuguero National Park in Pictures

      Wildlife in Tortuguero National Park

      Experiences in Tortuguero National Park