Things to do in Tortuguero
Tortuguero is one of the most unique parts of Costa Rica, home to Tortuguero National Park and located on the vibrant Caribbean coast. True to its name (Tortuguero means ‘place of turtles’), it’s famous for its vibrant turtle population who come ashore between July to October to lay their eggs. Here are all the top things to do in wild and wonderful Tortuguero.
The village sits on a remote sandbar, with the black sand beach on one side and the river on the other. Surrounding Tortuguero is an endless rainforest that stretches out into the horizon, making for one of the most exceptional settings. Here are all the top things to do in Tortuguero!
1. Join a Night Walk
Going on a night walk is one of the most exciting things to do in Tortuguero National Park. You’ll usually be collected from your hotel (or meet at the tour office) before getting on a boat to take you into the depths of the rainforest. Once there, your tour guide will take you on an adventure in the dark, lit only by flashlight, pointing out incredible animals like snakes, the famous red-eyed frog, and many different types of spiders, found both on the floor and in the trees.
This tour only operates in the off-season, not during July-October’s primary turtle nesting season. This is because the turtles will be significantly disturbed by the people’s flashlights and footsteps, causing them unnecessary stress during the nesting process.
Tours can be booked everywhere in the town of Tortuguero and also online. It is recommended for most tours to be booked in advance at least two days. You will need to meet at the office or request to be picked up at your hotel. Don’t forget to bring insect repellent as mosquitos are most active at night.
2. Playa Tortuguero
Tortuguero Beach may not be your typical white sandy paradise, but it’s still beautiful in its own unique way. The black sand beach is a fantastic sanctuary for turtles who make this their home for nesting from July-October. You’ll see many magical sights here, from baby turtles on the beach and sharks in the water to colorful toucans in the palm trees nearby.
Read about the best beaches in Costa Rica.
Sadly, the beach is unsafe for swimming because of the powerful currents and a high risk of shark attacks. However, it’s a lovely place to walk and observe the canal that runs alongside the beach and the vast array of wildlife.
Also discover: Uvita in Costa Rica
3. Tortuguero Village
Most people come to this region for the beauty of Tortuguero National Park. However, the village of Tortuguero is also a picturesque spot and the perfect place to stay on your trip. It’s very small, about 15 minutes walking from beginning to end, with cute houses painted in all colors of the rainbow. The village follows along one main street where you can find a few restaurants and tour companies.
Enjoy its laidback nature, with dinner on the riverbank while the sun goes down!
Visit also: The Hanging bridges of La Fortuna
4. See the Turtles in Tortuguero
Even when it’s not turtle season, Tortuguero is still a great place to visit. However, most people try to time their visit with turtle nesting season between July and October. During this time, hundreds of turtles crawl onto the beach to dig holes in the sand and lay their eggs. The babies are born two to three months later, taking their first steps down the beach and into the sea.
Tortuguero is famous for this remarkable spectacle, particularly as it’s an important site for the endangered Green Sea Turtle. You’ll also discover species like Hawksbill, Loggerhead, and the Giant Leatherback.
If you want to learn more about turtles, head for the Sea Turtle Conservancy Museum. Although the center is small, there is lots of information about all the different species of turtles. You can even volunteer with the Turtle Conservancy for a week and help protect and preserve this amazing animal species.
It is possible to do turtle tours at night (generally from 8 PM to midnight) in season. During the tours, you will be required to dress in black and stay extremely quiet. (Book the tour here) You also are not allowed to take photos, as this disturbs the turtles during the nesting and hatching season.
Tip: Each turtle species comes into nest at different times throughout the season, so plan your trip according to which species you want to see the most.
5. Tortuguero National Park
Visit Tortuguero National Park, a natural paradise full of unique flora, fauna, and incredible wildlife. Nicknamed ‘the Amazon of Costa Rica’, this luscious, vast rainforest spans 300 kilometers and lies between canals and the sea. Because the channels end up in the sea, a rare mix of salt and fresh water draws unique wildlife (you’ll find over 400 different bird species here!). Most remarkable of all is that this remote piece of wilderness can only be reached by boat, as there are no roads, creating one of the most tranquil environments on earth.
How to visit Tortuguero National Park
Join an organized tour, and your guide will take you on an adventure through the forest, pointing out sloths, snakes, and all kinds of monkeys, including howler, white-faced, and spider. You’ll also be able to see colorful birds such as toucans, parrots, and kingfishers. During our visit, a Jaguar was spotted inside the village at night!
You can visit Tortuguero National Park by yourself and choose one of several hiking trails. However, if you want to see as much wildlife as possible, visiting with a guide is best as sometimes you can miss the more elusive animals. Make sure always to pack lots of insect repellent; there are many bugs in the rainforest, making for an itchy experience!
Tip: The trails in the national park can get very muddy, so bring suitable footwear. If you don’t have anything with you, it’s possible to hire a pair of rubber boots from outside the park parameters for 1 USD.
Opening Times & Entry Fee: 15 USD for a non-resident adult (can use credit, debit, or cash). The park is open from 6 AM – 4 PM, with a break for lunch between 12 PM – 1 PM. Tortuguero National Park is open every day of the year.
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6. Morning Canoe Ride
Paddling through still water as mist swirls between the deep green trees, monkeys howl, and the sound of toucans pierces the still air – this is what a canoe ride in Tortuguero is all about!
This bucket list experience is an incredible way to reach hidden corners of the park that you’d be unable to reach otherwise. Plus, the peacefulness is unparalleled without a motor, allowing you to get up close and personal with caymans and crocodiles, iguanas, toucans, and colorful lizards. You can hire a canoe and go by yourself, or if you want to learn more about the park and the unbelievable nature, join an organized canoe tour.
Prices: 20 USD a day to hire a canoe. 40 USD to join an organized tour. These tours can be booked at tour companies inside the town or online.
How to visit Tortuguero
Visiting Tortuguero is a fantastic experience in itself! You can’t reach the area by road, only by boat or light aircraft. We advise taking the boat, sailing an hour along an enchanting river through the jungle to reach the village, and pointing out caymans and crocodiles along the way, making the trip already a mini-tour experience!
La Pavona to Tortuguero Boat Information
The boat departs from La Pavona, where you can park your car in a guarded place for 10 USD a day. Tickets are 20 USD for a return ticket per person.
Please note that you can bring your luggage on the boat ride. However, we recommend only taking the items you need for your nights in Tortuguero to make the journey much easier.
If you travel by public bus take the bus to Cariari where you change to La Pavona.
Boat timetable / schedule
There seem to be multiple companies with different timetables – below is the one we took. We took the last boat to Tortuguero and had a stunning sunset boat ride.
- La Pavona to Tortuguero: 7am, 9am, 11:15am, 12:40pm, 3:15pm, 4pm
- Tortuguero to La Pavona: 4:45am, 6:40am, 8:40am, 10:40am, 1:30pm
Getting to the Boat (La Pavona)
The road to La Pavona is straightforward, just slightly long. You can drive from San Jose in 2 hours 20 minutes or from Puerto Viejo in around 4.5 hours.
We recommend to rent a car in Costa Rica through Sunny Cars with free cancellation and insurance included. Book your rental car here.
Without a car, it’s best to join an organized tour to Tortuguero National Park from La Fortuna, San Jose, or Puerto Viejo. These tours will collect you from San Jose or another city and include all transportation. They also include a one or two-day tour of Tortuguero National Park and accommodation.
Getting around Tortuguero
Tortuguero is a tiny village so you can walk around easily. If you choose to stay in a hotel further away from the village, it’ll likely be on a different peninsula. Because of this, you may have to check your hotel has a shuttle boat service to take you into town. Tour companies leave from Tortuguero village to take you into the national park (via boat), and the beach is within walking distance.
Where to Stay in Tortuguero
Two nights is the perfect length to stay in Tortuguero. This allows you to see all the fantastic nature; any shorter isn’t worth it as the journey to this area is quite long.
It is possible to stay outside the village on other islands. However, you will only be able to reach the town by water taxi in this case. Staying in these jungle lodges is an extraordinary experience and worth it if you’re happy to take a water taxi or eat your meals at the hotel.
Tip: The WiFi connection in Tortuguero is ok. However, if you are looking for fast WiFi, getting a sim card in Costa Rica might be worth it.
Mawamba Lodge in Tortuguero
Mawamba Lodge is the perfect place to stay as it’s located on the same peninsula as the village, and you can walk there in 10 minutes. Best of all, it sits right next to the Turtle Conservancy. Outside your window, you’ll see the river on one side and the beach and sea on the other, listening to the sounds of monkeys and birds at night. This is truly a magical experience!
How much does Tortuguero cost?
In Tortuguero, expect to pay anywhere from 30 USD for a hotel room. Most things to do in Tortuego have an entrance fee. For example, Tortuguero National Park and the canoe tour. In Costa Rica, you’ll be able to pay in both USD and Colones. Unlike most Costa Rica places, tap water is not safe to drink in Tortuguero.
Best Time to Visit Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Unlike other areas in Costa Rica, there is no specific dry season in Tortuguero. The rainforest makes it one of the wettest areas in the country, with rain pretty much the whole year round! September and October are usually the driest and fit within the turtle nesting season (July to October).
Visiting outside of turtle hatching season is still worthwhile as there are many notable species of animal to see in this area. But, if you get the chance, watching the eggs crack and the baby turtles come into the world for the first time is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Best Cafes and Restaurants in Tortuguero
Sodas are the local restaurants where you can get a delicious plate of rice, beans, plantain, and other local delicacies for a very cheap price (around 4 USD). If you want international food, expect to pay upwards of 8 USD.
- Soda D’Leite (local)
- Buddha Cafe
- El Patio
- Mi Niño (breakfasts and local food)
- Dorling Bakery
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