Last Updated: Dec 07, 2013
Summary: Popular destination for turtle nesting tours; picturesque network of river canals; top-notch wildlife watching.
Landscape: Beaches, Lowland Rainforest, Rainforest, River Canals, River
Attractions: Nesting Sea Turtles, Tortuguero National Park
Activities: Bird & Wildlife Watching, Nature Tours, Turtle Tours
Caters to: Couples/Honeymooners, Families, Wildlife Enthusiasts
Tortuguero is nestled in the wet tropical forest on Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean coast. This tranquil destination is famous for the thousands of sea turtles that nest there year after year. Surrounded by lush vegetation alive with spectacular animals, the area is a delight for wildlife enthusiasts.
The village’s 22 miles of protected beaches comprise the world’s second-most important nesting site of green sea turtles. From July through October, Tortuguero visitors can join a guided turtle tour to observe some of the thousands of giant reptiles nesting on the beach. Lucky travelers may also glimpse tiny hatchlings making their journey to the sea.
Surrounded by the humid rainforest of Tortuguero National Park and a palm-fringed coastline, the village is located on a narrow strip of land between the Tortuguero River and the Caribbean Sea. The small but charming town is dotted with simple wood houses built up on stilts along with a few restaurants, hotels and family-run tour companies.
Host to more than 100,000 visitors each year, Tortuguero National Park teems with wildlife, both aquatic and land-based, including many species of waterfowl and the elusive jaguar. A network of navigable canals and lagoons extends through acres of swampland and gallery forests. Besides hosting the green sea turtle, the park is a nesting site for hawksbill, loggerhead and leatherback turtles.
Scenic boat and kayak excursions through lush canals are a popular activity within the national park. Tiger herons, northern jacanas, egrets, river turtles, and caimans are commonly spotted. Tortuguero is quite remote and is accessible only by plane or boat as there are no roads leading into the village.
An Afro-Caribbean influence is evident in the local cuisine, language and culture. Many of the village’s inhabitants originated from Jamaica, San Andres or the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua. Along with a bit of English, locals speak a mixture of Patois (a Jamaican Creole with English and African roots) and Spanish.
Travelers should note that there are no banks or ATMs in Tortuguero and credit cards are subject to commission and only accepted in a few locations. Paraiso Tropical Store cashes traveler’s checks and gives cash advances on credit cards for a small fee. Most lodges in the area have a computer with free internet and WiFi in the lobby.
Tortuguero was founded in the 1930’s and began as a small, five-family community that eventually grew into a village thanks to the lumber industry. The canals were originally constructed to float logs from the rugged interior of Tortuguero to the port city of Limon. As a result, most of the forest seen in Tortuguero today is secondary growth. Fortunately, the heavy logging period of the 50’s and 60’s ended with the ecological movement, and eco-tourism is now Tortuguero's top industry. Today, Tortuguero is home to about 800 residents and nearby San Francisco houses 700 more.
In 1959, Dr. Archie Carr came to Tortuguero and formed the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, or CCC, to study and protect sea turtles. Populations had already declined in other areas, and Carr was on a mission to prevent the same from happening in Tortuguero. He helped educate the residents of Tortuguero on the four different species of resident sea turtle — leatherback, loggerhead, hawksbill, and green — and encouraged the townspeople to protect their natural resources.
Due in large part to Carr’s conservation efforts, Tortuguero was named a national park in 1975 and its lands were declared protected.
The northern Caribbean zone has no distinct dry season. While sporadic late afternoon showers are common, it can also rain for 15 days straight. Generally, the driest months in Tortuguero are February-March and September-October. Visitors staying at one of the all-inclusive lodges are provided ponchos and rubber boots for hiking in the rain. However, it’s always a good idea to pack your own rain gear as well.
Tortuguero Travel Guide
Mostly cloudy with showers
|Wind||14 mph NW|
|01:05 a.m.||-0.07 ft. (-0.02 m.)|
|08:24 a.m.||1.28 ft. (0.39 m.)|
|03:50 p.m.||0.03 ft. (0.01 m.)|
|08:31 p.m.||0.33 ft. (0.10 m.)|