Tortuguero, Limón

Vacationing in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, for Visitors

The name Tortuguero means “region of turtles,” which is no surprise given that it’s one of the best spots to see nesting leatherback, green, and hawksbill sea turtles in all of Costa Rica. The nesting process involves mother turtles climbing up onto the beach, digging a nest past where the waves can reach, and laying eggs. Later on in the year, you can spot baby turtles as they hatch from their eggs and scurry back across the sand to the ocean.

Seeing the nesting and hatching turtles for yourself is an unforgettable experience, and it’s just one of many reasons to visit Tortuguero in the Caribbean North area of Limón.

Tortuguero is about 75 miles (123 kilometers) from the San José International Airport (SJO), the closest airport that receives international passengers. However, don’t let this distance put you off, as you can’t drive to Tortuguero anyway. Instead, it is only accessible via boat along the Tortuguero canal or a domestic flight, as it’s located on a sandbar separated from the mainland.

As one of Costa Rica’s most remote, wildlife-centric locations, Tortuguero is a must-see for any wilderness lovers seeking a truly unique vacation. Be sure to bring a camera to take pictures of the nesting turtles or hatching babies depending on the time of your visit.

The Best Attractions and Things to Do Around Tortuguero

Sea turtles are the main attraction in Tortuguero, but there are plenty of other fun activities. Stroll through town, head to the two national parks, and take a leisurely boat ride down the canals for some sightseeing.

Sea Turtle Paradise

Costa Rica is one of the best spots in the world for seeing sea turtles, as many different species have nesting grounds all across the country. In addition to nesting at different beaches, various species nest and hatch at different times during the year.

Luckily, there are sea turtles around Tortuguero throughout the whole year. If you can’t vacation during peak nesting times, you may still be able to catch a few stragglers or early risers, or you might come later in the year and watch the turtle eggs hatch. Therefore, Tortuguero is a delightful place for watching this miracle of nature unfold right in front of you.

If you want the best chance of seeing turtles, take a turtle nesting tour with a local guide. These tours bring vacationers to the best spots for nesting based on the time of year and weather conditions, both of which can influence where and when the turtles come up onto Tortuguero Beach.

May through November is Nesting Season

If you’re considering the best time to visit Tortuguero, you’ll likely want to visit from May to November, which is the nesting season for hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles. In Costa Rica, time of the year is the rainy season, which lasts from April through August. The rainy season here is different from most parts of Costa Rica. However in reality in the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica it usually rains!

Take photos of the mother turtles as they come up on the beach of the northern Caribbean coast and make their nests. Just be sure not to distract or disrupt the turtles as they make their voyage.

The green sea turtle is very culturally important to the community, and as a result, many locals take an active role in conservation and education. In Tortuguero, you’ll find a visitor center and museum with informational displays about local species of sea turtle, as well as efforts to ensure the species continue to thrive.

Visit the Town of Tortuguero

Tortuguero village is the central hub of activity in the area. While many tourists visit the town each year, it is more secluded than cities with high traffic like Liberia and San José, so visitors can have an authentic Costa Rica experience living among the Ticos.

Tortuguero village only has about a thousand permanent residents, but local culture is strong nonetheless. Instead of cars on the road, you’ll find only bicycles and vendors’ carts. Most hotels and restaurants are located along the main road, and the town is highly walkable with a few smaller, sandy paths leading to playgrounds and locals’ homes.

Explore the Rainforest

Tortuguero is surrounded on three of its sides by rainforest, providing ample opportunity for strolling the trails that wind around exotic, tropical flowers, trees, and other plants. These forests are also teeming with life, from loud and proud howler monkeys to tiny, brightly-colored beetles that hide under broad leaves.

Many people choose to hike the trails, but you can also explore the rainforest by boat, either on a guided expedition or while canoeing. The Tortuguero National Park or the Parque Nacional Tortuguero, as the locals call it, is the main jungle area here, but you can also find the Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge across the canal.

Rainforest Animals

Once you’re inside Tortuguero National Park, you’ll have the chance to go on an extensive wildlife viewing excursion. Visitors commonly spot many species of monkeys and birds alongside river otters and reptiles like the caiman.

Spider, howler, and capuchin monkeys are the most common species in the area, especially if you walk through the dense jungle areas. Birdwatchers should try traveling by boat among the trees that rise up from the swamp. Look out for large egrets and other wading birds among smaller avians that may be hiding in the foliage overhead.

Take a Canal Ride to See the Wildlife

Tortuguero National Park encompasses a large network of river canals, which you may pass through on your way to the city if you arrive by boat. If you’d like a more scenic voyage, take a Tortuguero canals boat tour, where you’ll spend multiple hours cruising along the canals and checking out the wildlife of the park.

The tour also includes stops at other nearby sites, such as local fruit vendors and plantations, to paint a more complete picture of the area’s culture and history.

The Best Places to Stay in Tortuguero Costa Rica

Tortuguero has many hotels that offer a diverse range of experiences. In addition to providing easy access to the beach so you can watch the nesting green sea turtle, these top hotels also offer unique experiences and comfortable accommodations.

Laguna Lodge Tortuguero

Tucked between a lagoon and the Caribbean Sea, you’ll find Laguna Lodge Tortuguero, a charming eco lodge dedicated to educating guests about local biodiversity, especially sea turtles. Staying at the hotel offers easy access to a Tortuguero National Park tour, alongside convenient hotel amenities like two pools, hammocks, a butterfly and botanical garden, multiple bars, WiFi, and a conference center.

Guests can enjoy complimentary breakfast, and take lunch and dinner at the hotel’s open-air, buffet-style restaurant.

Aninga Lodge Tortuguero

Surrounded by canals and just 5 minutes from Tortuguero National Park, Aninga Lodge Tortuguero lets guests feel fully immersed in the jungle, with nature incorporated into every inch of the property. It’s a great spot to relax after a long day of hiking and exploration, with its own spa, pool, and bar overlooking the lagoon.

Rooms come equipped with private bathrooms and fans for added comfort, and buffet-style meals are included with the nightly rate.

Mawamba Lodge Tortuguero

Escape to the secluded beachfront hotel Mawamba Lodge Tortuguero. Rooms are comfortable and cozy with an attached balcony or porch perfect for taking in the view of the ocean or rainforest. Amenities include lobby WiFi, a gift shop, a pool, a coffee room, and a bar and lounge with a game room.

Have a unique dining experience at Mawamba Lodge’s floating restaurant, or enjoy a more traditional family-style meal along the shore. For an additional fee, you can schedule sportfishing and kayaking excursions through the hotel.

Turtle Beach Lodge

The tropical beauty of Turtle Beach Lodge is only enhanced by the secluded feel of the hotel, which allows guests to experience nature uninterrupted. With a laid-back feel complete with hammocks, thatched roof buildings, and rustic decor, just walking the trails on hotel property feels like a retreat.

Turtle Beach Lodge has its own private volcanic sand beach, as well as easy access to the surrounding jungle. Amenities include a restaurant and bar, a turtle-shaped pool, and WiFi. The lodge is family-friendly and wheelchair accessible.

Evergreen Lodge Tortuguero

The tropical Evergreen Lodge Tortuguero is fully immersed in the jungle, from the exotic flora along the walkways to the natural materials decorating common areas and secluded rooms alike. All rooms include private bathrooms, ceiling fans, and WiFi, in addition to cozy and comfortable bedrooms.

At the Evergreen Lodge, guests can swim in the pool, sip a cocktail from the bar, and luxuriate in the care of the hotel’s own spa. There is an on-site restaurant that serves complimentary breakfast, making the lodge a great choice for families.

Pachira Lodge Tortuguero

With a large turtle-shaped pool and a convenient location near Tortuguero National Park, Pachira Lodge Tortuguero is the perfect hotel for turtle enthusiasts. Bookings cover the cost of transportation from San José to Tortuguero via canal ride, where you can watch local wildlife as you travel. Admission to the local museum and all buffet-style meals from the hotel restaurant are also covered.

Other amenities include in-room fans, WiFi, a security box, a bar, and access to the hotel jacuzzi and spa.

Who Should Visit Tortuguero

Tortuguero is a great vacation spot if you’re looking to uncover Costa Rica’s natural wonders. Not only is it a must-see for nature lovers, the town also appeals to those in search of opportunities for staying active on vacation, as well as eco-conscious travelers.

Diverse Environment

Animal lovers consistently rate Tortuguero as one of the best vacation towns in Costa Rica. If your goal is to see green sea turtles, leatherback turtles, and hawksbill turtles, there are few better towns for doing so in the whole world than Tortuguero.

Of course, this nature-centric town has plenty to offer other than just marine turtles. In addition to local wildlife, the jungles of Tortuguero are as much of an attraction as the animals inside them, with hundreds of species of exotic trees, flowers, and other plantlife to discover. The diverse environments of Tortuguero also include swampland, lagoons, wetland, and more.

In the canals, you’ll find caimans and many different species of exotic birds, making the town great for bird watching as well. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a rare manatee.

A Great Place for Staying Fit

If you prefer a more active vacation, rest assured that Tortuguero is the place to be. While you can discover local wildlife from the comfort of a canal ride, the national parks offer the opportunity to hike the trails and go exploring at your own pace.

Both Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge and Tortuguero National Park contain miles of trails across a diverse range of environments, offering the promise of a fun-filled afternoon of hiking for those up to the challenge.

An Eco-Tourism Destination

Environmentally-conscious vacationers have nothing to fear in Tortuguero, where there’s a community-wide effort to preserve the natural habitats of local species.

The vast majority of Tortuguero hotels are eco-friendly, using sustainable tourism practices to ensure no harm is done to the sea turtles that bring tourists to the area each year. Local conservation efforts mean you can rest assured that your visit helps preserve the rainforest and protect local wildlife.

What to Know Prior to Arriving in Tortuguero

Heed these insider tips to ensure your trip to Tortuguero is a stress-free success.

Shop Local With Cash

If you’re looking to do some shopping and pick up a souvenir, be sure to bring cash. Many businesses do not accept credit or debit and you don’t want to have to sail back to the mainland in the middle of your trip, so the most convenient option is to have cash on hand.

Respect Local Wildlife

Sea turtles, especially green sea turtles, are a rare species, and the Costa Rica government protects not only the turtles and their eggs, but also the beaches on which they come to nest. Be careful not to break or take any eggs during your visit, and leave the beaches as you found them.

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