Tortuguero is a National Park on Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean Coast. It is named after the sea turtles that come to nest here.

Tortuguero is a maze of winding canals flanked by dense jungle, as you float down these brown waters to get to the small town of Tortuguero you’ll likely hear the howling of monkeys and screeching of exotic birds along the way. We even spotted a few small crocodiles.

You can explore the canals further by canoe and the jungle by land to observe the abundant wildlife, like the:

🦜 442 species of birds including: kingfisher, toucan, tiger heron, and macaws
🐆 138 species of mammals including: jaguar, manatee, monkeys, among others
🐢 118 species of reptiles including: leatherback turtle, green turtle, alligator, turtles, basilisk, and iguanas

Turtles in Tortuguero

The most reason people come to Tortuguero however is for the turtles! An we can understand why.

Watching giant turtles lay eggs at Tortuguero was an absolutely insane experience that I can’t get out of my mind.

There are four different species of sea turtles come to Tortuguero annually for the “arribada” or mass sea turtle nesting. Green, Leatherback, Hawksbill, and Loggerhead sea turtles return home to where they hatched in order to lay the next generation of eggs.

Nesting times vary depending on the turtle species but are mainly between early March and mid-October. The most common of the four turtle species is the Green Turtle which is famous for its massive annual nesting from June to the middle of October. 

We took a turtle nesting walk, led out at night without cameras or lights to witness some huge Green Tutrles laying their eggs. 

They typically lay 90 – 120 at a time and the same turtle will repeat the process 4 – 6 times per season, and it was an incredible thing to witness.

The mother to-be travels out of the water, and up to the beach to find a good spot and then starts digging her nest. This typically takes 30 mins to an hour – she’s huge, roughly 1 meter (3.4 feet) tall so it’s a pretty big hole (nest), and then she’ll start laying – this will also take roughly 30mins, and finally she’ll cover her eggs with the sand before making her way back to the ocean.

The eggs will stay there covered in sand for 45 – 55 days. They do not protect or move the eggs in Tortuguero, in fact they do not interfere with nature at all. It’s their philosophy that everything in nature works together. If you remove a turtle egg you’re potentially robbing another animal of its food – every action has a ripple effect. 

What they do encourage, and educate their visitors on to protect the turtles is – reduce your plastic use: the mojority of trash that’s floating in the oceans or washing up on the beaches is plastic. Turtles often mistake this for food.

It’s also important to take steps to reduce your environmental impact, and reduce global warming. The sex of the turtles depends on the temperature – if it’s too hot the turtles will hatch female – perhaps creating an imbalance that will eventually lead to the extinction of turtles.

Watching turtle nesting

Important things to note:

  • You can easily book a turtle nesting tour once you are in town and it costs about $30 each
  • It’s impossible to do this on your own, you must be with a tour guide and they will limit your time spent looking at the turtle to no more than 5 minutes, so that the animal isn’t stressed.
  • You can not take a camera, cellphone or any light source to the actual turtle nesting and it’s recommended you wear dark clothing and covered shoes
  • There are two departures. The first departs at 8 PM, and the second departs at 10 PM. Each tour lasts 3 hours in total.
  • The tour starts with a walk through the forest (hence the covered shoes), you’ll then wait at a holding area until a turtle arrives in the beach – there are multiple turtles spawning at once but the guides ensure the turtles are not disturbed by controlling the traffic of tourists onto the beach and limiting the groups.
  • There was quite a lot of waiting around and then when we were called it was a rush to the beach to watch the turtle do her thing but it was totally worth it!

Getting to Tortuguero

To get to Tortuguero you will either need to take a boat or a plane.

Take a plane is the fastest option but of course most expensive option. The most common way, is to take the boat. There’s two boats: the La Pavona and Moin docks. It depends on where you’re coming from for which one you’ll take. If you’re coming from La Fortuna or San Jose, La Pavona is the best option for you. However, if you’re coming from Puerto Viejo, Cahuita or Limon, then Moin is your best bet.

We recommend booking a package, it actually worked out cheaper for us than booking everything independently.

We booked with Gecko Trail Costa Rica and it was $234 each and included:

  • Transport from Puerto Viejo to Tortuguero including shuttle and boat
  • 2 nights accomodation 
  • 3 x breakfasts 
  • Village tour
  • Canoe tour 
  • Guided hike
  • Then back transport to where you can from or San Jose

Zahn is a travel junkie born and raised on the North Shore of Auckland, New Zealand. Zahn spent two years in South Korea where she met Addison in 2018. She has visited 17 countries and is on a mission to literally work her way around the rest.

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