When I’m traveling around my home country of Costa Rica, it is always an adventure. The culture is so unique here overall, and so unique from province to province as well. While each province offers its own amazing “to-do” lists, I have to say that Tortuguero, in Limon, really gets me excited. Tortuguero has it all and its mix of water and land attractions really makes it the place to go for the perfect Costa Rica vacation.

Tortuguero is on the Northern Caribbean coast and can boast that it is one of Costa Rica’s most popular destinations for ecotourism. The name Tortuguero translates to Land of Turtles, and it sure lives up to that name. This area is actually just a small village, with a population under 1,500, that is on a sand bar island. The Tortuguero River separates the village from the mainland, which has no roads. You can travel to Tortuguero by boat from Puerto Moin, or by a small plane from San Jose. Don’t plan on using a car if you visit Tortuguero. This place is truly nature’s paradise, and the natural environment is bursting from every direction. Aside from the naturalization, you can also find a small residential and commercial area, including hotels and shops. There are four main reasons that this place is a must-see: the national park, the beaches, the wildlife and the rivers.

Morning at Tortuguero Natl Park
Morning at Tortuguero Natl Park


1. Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park was declared in 1970, and represents an area that was once volcanic islands. This protected national park offers visitors the most scenery and diversity; you can see beaches, canals, marshes and rainforests. It is also boasts trails from which you can watch for birds and other wildlife. While most parks are places that you want to experience feet to the ground, Tortuguero is one park that is better observed from the adjoining waters. Within the park lie biological stations that work to conduct research on the local ecology, and find ways to conserve it. The freshwater and marine biology in this area have created a truly exceptional location of biodiversity over the more than twenty-two miles of protected beach and land. This national park is a rainforest at heart, and as such is humid and rainy. There are some dry months though, including February, April and November, so you might want to plan to have your trip in those months.

Marine Turtle eggs on the beach at Tortuguero
Marine Turtle eggs on the beach at Tortuguero


2. Beaches

If you’re looking for a spot to dip into the ocean, you can find beach on Tortuguero. Though the current is very strong in this part of the ocean and it isn’t recommended that you venture out far, many locals go into the water safely all the time. Just remember to only take a dip, and to not attempt to swim out past where you are still able to touch the bottom. The sun is very strong in this area as well, so be diligent with that sunscreen. You don’t want to be dealing with a nasty sunburn while you’re trying to enjoy the rest of your vacation. The best time to visit the beach though, is probably at night during nesting season. Tortuguero beaches are key for several species of sea turtles’ nesting. There are even a couple of species that are critically endangered, which are being protected within the national park. You can connect with a guide to take you to off the shores of the beach at night to watch nesting or hatching; but note that you cannot access the beach unattended during nesting season.

West Indian Manatee in Tortuguero
West Indian Manatee in Tortuguero


3. Wildlife

The wildlife in Tortuguero might be its shining crown. From land animals to water animals to birds to insects...this area has it all. Most notable, besides the sea turtles, is probably the large populations of key species, like monkeys, fish and birds. If you are lucky, you can spot up to four different species of monkeys during your time at Tortuguero, including spider monkeys. This national park really serves as sanctuary to an impressive number of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. There are more than 170 species of amphibians and reptiles found here, including crocodiles, iguanas, lizards and frogs. For birdwatchers, Tortuguero is paradise, with over 300 species present – from toucans to parrots to herons to hawks. More than 60 species of mammals call Tortuguero home, including sloths and jaguars – though it is unlikely that you’ll have an encounter with a jaguar; they are very rarely seen. The sea turtles aren’t the only endangered species that can be found in Tortuguero either; it is also home to the West Indian manatee. It is believed that just 100 manatee are left in the lagoons within the park.

Javi the Frog sailing on Tortuguero
Javi the Frog sailing on Tortuguero


4. Rivers and Canals

The ocean isn’t the only water that Tortuguero has to offer. It is also full of rivers and canals where adventure awaits. You can explore these waterways from a canoe or a kayak and view the many creatures that inhabit the land in their natural environment. The rivers also offer opportunities for some great fishing and sportfishing. You can visit the suspension bridges for amazing views, or get right into those views with a zip lining tour.

Beautiful pool at Pachira Lodge, Tortuguero
Beautiful pool at Pachira Lodge, Tortuguero


5. Lodging

There is lodging available for visitors that have extra cash for luxury and also for those on a budget. Though this village is small and quiet, travelers can choose between staying at a beautiful lodge, a cabina or a hotel. Most accommodations are going to offer you an incredible view and a genuinely natural experience with the surrounding vegetation and wildlife. Accommodations in this area are known for being friendly and extremely guest-services oriented, with clean, comfortable and spacious rooms for guests along with popular amenities.

Tortuguero is a small village, so it will have only limited accommodations; you’ll want to be sure to book your rooms in advance. Summer is the busiest time for tourism, and you’ll want to book and then confirm your reservation before you arrive. No matter which adventures you choose to have in Tortuguero, you can be sure that your vacation will not be lacking unique experiences, natural beauty and stunning encounters with amazing creatures. Hey, you might even spot me!