Tortuguero National Park Costa Rica is one of the most impressive national parks from the country located in the northeastern part of Costa Rica, about 4.5 hours from the capital city of San Jose.
El Parque Nacional Tortuguero as it is called in the local language is not an easy spot to reach as you need to combine ground transportation with the boat or get a flight from San Jose to Tortuguero village that lies in the middle of the park.
Cano Blanco or La Pavona are the main docks for taking the boat to this park but although it is a pretty tiring and long way to get there, it worth the effort.
The best way to explore this park is with a kayak or canoe which can be rented from the villages around the park or from your hotel.
The park protected area is a network of canals, lagoons, rivers, beaches and lush rainforest that are interconnected.
It is one of the most important nesting turtles area located in the Western Hemisphere for endangered green sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles and hawksbill sea turtles.
A long time ago this place was an archipelago of many volcanic islands, but slowly the alluvial sediments from the mountains filled the spaces between the islands and formed a network of canals, lagoons, beaches and wetlands.
The 19,000 hectares of protected area El Tortuguero Costa Rica is located around the remote village of Tortuguero on the Northern Caribbean Coast.
The park was declared a nesting sanctuary in 1963 and 7 years later, in 1970 it was declared a national park thanks to Caribbean Conservation Corporation efforts.
Best time to visit Tortuguero National Park Costa Rica
The driest months of the year are the best time to visit Tortuguero Park in Costa Rica and these are February, April and November.
The park has 11 different ecological habitats including swamps, Costa Rica rainforest and coastal shrubs so going here in the rainy season is not a great idea at all.
Local fauna and flora
Tortuguero Costa Rica is considered to be one of the most important wildlife refuges because of the wide range of species of animals and plants that lives here, out of which I would like to name a few:
- Animals (including species of birds and fishes): toucans, Sunbitterns, Green Macaw, Egrets, Oropendolas, Northern Jacanas, Amazon Kingfishers, Violet Sabrewing, Herons, caimans, otters, a huge number of crustaceans and many species of reptiles, spiders, howler and capuchin monkeys, spider monkeys and more than 55 species of freshwater fish.
- Plants: Monkey ladders, heliconias, aquatic lilies, liriums and wild plantains
- Trees: banak, mangroves, ceiva, passion fruit trees, crabwood, Santa Baria, Ceiba and Bully Tree.
There are three main ways to explore the national park and observe its fantastic wildlife and the sea turtles how they lay their eggs in this sea turtles conservancy area:
- with a boat along the canals
- hiking along the paths from the Costa Rica rainforest
- exploring the beaches
Costa Rica Tortuguero National Park canals
By far the best way to see Tortuguero Park Costa Rica is taking a boat tour along the canals.
If you are staying at one of the hotels around the park most probably you may buy boat trips from the reception of the hotel.
The boats are modern and large, have a motor and can transport around 10 to 15 people on half-day tours.
Or, you can buy trips from locals who have smaller boats with paddles and some of these have small motors and the main advantage of these boats is that you can snick into the smaller canals and take a closer look at wildlife.
A boat tour arranged with locals costs around 20 USD per person and you might be alone in the boat and can sneak onto canals where motorised boats do not have access.
Or there is also the third option, and here I am talking about renting a kayak or canoe and exploring the canals on your own.
This option comes with pluses and minuses out of which the most important is in my opinion the following:
- The main plus is that you can explore the canals in your own way and can paddle in whichever direction you want
- The main minus is that you lose a great opportunity to find out interesting information about El Tortuguero Costa Rica from knowledgeable guides from the boats
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Hiking along the forest trails
Tortuguero National Park Costa Rica has a long trail that starts from the ranger station located in the village of Tortuguero and goes along the park, on the beach, crossing the peninsula from one side to another.
Depending on weather conditions and the quantity of rain from previous days, part of the trail might be closed because of mud.
While walking along the path keep an eye on wildlife and prepare your camera for unexpected encounters as sloths, monkeys and birds can be anywhere.
If you plan to walk in the forest we strongly advise you to get a pair of rubber boots unless you don’t want to get stuck in the mud up to your knees.
Stay safe abroad during COVID-19 pandemic
- medical safety abroad
- medical assistance including COVID-19
- emergency medical evacuation
- trip interruption -up to $5.000
- travel delay - up to $100/day
But if you don’t have enough time to explore this park, then we strongly recommend you to get a boat tour and explore it from the canals as it is the quickest and easiest way to spot wildlife and local flora.
Beaches in El Parque Nacional Tortuguero
Seeing the green turtles laying their eggs is a unique experience that you don’t have to miss on your Costa Rican adventure.
In total, there are 4 different types of sea turtles that come to these beaches to lay their eggs, green turtles being the most numerous.
If you plan to visit El Tortuguero Costa Rica for spotting the sea turtles laying their eggs then you should plan your visit from July to October, when is the nesting season for green turtles.
Leatherback turtles have their nesting season from March to May, but these ones are pretty rare and hard to get.
Turtles watching tours happen under the moonlight and can be arranged with the local association of guides for about 20 USD per person.
Tourists that are with a guide are not allowed to enter the beach and the nesting area, especially during the nesting season.
Opening hours and costs for visiting Tortuguero National Park Costa Rica
If you are looking for comfort and waking up late every day, then visiting the remote location of El Tortuguero Costa Rica should not be on top of your list as all the tours to this park start quite early in the morning.
The park is open on a daily basis from 6 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. and the entrance fee is about 15 USD for tourists, a fee that does not include the guides.
What to pack for a day in Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica
A day spent in this park is definitely a of kind experience and for preventing any unpleasant moments we advise you to pack at least:
- Sun cream and a hat as the sun is quite strong
- A dry bag to protect your phone or your camera from getting wet
- Many bottles of water to stay hydrated
- Long pants
- Insect repellant
- Rubber boots if you plan to hike along the park trails
Where to sleep around the park
There are quite a few interesting options for your overnight stay close to this natural reserve and our favourite ones are:
- Tortuga Lodge Gardens Tortugues Costa Rica located on a riverbank right in the middle of the jungle, featuring an outdoor pool, clean and large rooms with a private bathroom and a great restaurant where you can serve all the 3 meals
- Tortuguero Natural Costa Rica a cosy bed and breakfast located just 50 metres from Tortuguero beach where turtles come to lay their eggs.
Tortuguero National Park Costa Rica is one of the last untamed areas in the world where you can go and spot wildlife in their natural environment.
Don’t go to this place if you don’t want to wake up early and expect medium comfort as the road to the park is quite bumpy and you will most probably spend the whole day in a boat spotting wild creatures.
The park itself is a true oasis for many species of animals, including endangered species of birds and marine animals so prepare your camera for some memorable shots.
Logistical tips and tricks for your trip
Book your accommodation
We always use Booking.com as they have the best price-quality ratio and they offer a wide range of hotels, guesthouses, apartments, and villas to choose from.
You will find here all types of accommodations, from the cheapest ones to the most luxurious.
Don't forget travel insurance
Travel insurance will always protect you against unexpected events and cost like illness, COVID, injury, theft, or travel cancellation.
We never go on any trip without travel insurance and there were many cases when we had to use it.
Renting a car
We like to explore a country on our own and a car gives us the mobility and freedom to do that.
We always rent our car from Discovercars as they have free cancellation 48 hours prior to starting date and a wide range of car rental companies and options to choose from all over the world.
Tours and attractions
When we are looking for some adventure or we simply want to break up the monotony and discover new places, we always use GetYourGuide.
We love it because we always find the most amazing experiences, with free cancellation and a large variety of activities and tours to choose from.
Airplane tickets and holiday packages
Expedia is our ally when searching for the best price for airplane tickets as it works as an aggregator for a huge number of airlines and we always find the best price for our flights.
Travel tip: use Expedia when you are searching for holiday packages as they have many last-minute offers and great discounts for hotels, flights, and even the whole holiday packages.