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The Magic of Tortuguero, Costa Rica

Costa Rica Travel News – Tortuguero is one of the premier destinations in Costa Rica for eco-tourism.  Just the journey there is an adventure; its remote location on the Caribbean coast makes it only accessible by boat or by plane. A number of Eco-lodges operate one or two night all inclusive packages from San José.  These trips are not that cheap, typically $300 for two nights per person (cheaper for Nationals and residents), but the experience is special and unforgettable.

Tortuguero 6After crossing through Braulio Carillo National Park and stopping for lunch, all journeys transit through one of two river docks Cano Blanco or Pavones. Pavones is a good hour nearer by road, but the river there is much narrower and presents problems for larger boats in the dry season which risk getting stuck on the shallow channels.

An hour and a half cruising through jungle-lined waterways like a never ending Disney ride and you come out in the main canal behind Tortuguero town. The place reeks of primordial wilderness and were it not for the occasional habitation, you could fool yourself that you were on the sweaty set of Jurassic Park, a voyeur on a waterscape that has not changed in millions of years.

The town is sandwiched between the sea and main canal, and is frankly, a bit of a dump, but has a few respectable looking cafés and souvenir shops on offer. You can’t blame them for trying to make an honest living from the tourists, but it is sad that the undoubted boost to the economy from the eco-tourism has not been as generous to the town infra-structure as it has to the Eco-lodges. On the positive side, you have to respect the lodges for including a town tour as part of the itinerary, which they could so easily skip, so guests don’t get exposed to the slightly squalid conditions and poverty of the local people.

The main draw of Tortuguero is, of course, the turtles. If you want to see them nesting you have to plan your trip Tortuguero 7between June and October. The viewings occur at night and are strictly controlled by the Park authorities; lodges are allocated specific zones and times which are rotated to reduce stress on the turtles and the environment.  During the laying season the beach is off limits to everyone between 6pm and 5am, not only to protect the turtles, but for your safety as well, as Jaguars emerge from the jungle to roam the beaches and feed off the unfortunate turtles. To reach the beaches the Jaguars must swim across the canals, which they start doing in May- they instinctively know when its turtle time on the menu. One lucky tourist boat captured the extremely rare sight of a mother and two cubs swimming across the canal and shared it on YouTube.

Aside from turtles, Tortuguero teems with wildlife and has one of the highest densities of fauna anywhere on the planet. Reptiles, monkeys, birds, amphibians- they are everywhere. If you want to see a lot, you have to make an effort, so the best tour times start just after dawn when the wildlife is most active. Slap on the repellent because this is monster mosquito territory.

After your third day, it’s time to leave this magical realm and you cannot help but giggle at the new arrivals who buzz with excitement at their first monkey sighting. By the time you’ve seen thirtieth white-faced monkey and been woken up every morning by the Howler Monkeys- well, it’s like visiting European cathedrals- seen one you’ve seen them all.

Stewart Hird from My Holiday in Costa Rica! creates custom tours of Costa Rica including Tortuguero trips and can be contacted at [email protected]

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