Guide to visiting Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero national park is a secluded nature reserve on the Caribbean coast full of incredible wildlife and famous for its turtles. The park is completely surrounded by water and has an incredible rainforest. Although there are beaches all around, this is not your typical beach resort. There is no swimming because of the strong currents. So this destination is for the real turtle, nature, bird and wildlife lovers. As you all know I’m a complete nerd when it comes to birds and wildlife, so obviously I loved this place!

How to get to Tortuguero National Park

Taking the bus: I’m assuming you’ll be coming from San Jose as that is the easiest way to get there. You head to the Gran Carib terminal in San Jose. From there you take the bus to Cariari where you’ll have to change bus there to La Pavona.  It takes about 2 hours to get to Cariari and another 1,5 hours to get to La Pavona. From there you’ll be taking a boat to Tortuguero which takes about an hour. Unless it’s dry season(September-October or February-April), then it can take more than 2 hours! Make sure to leave time for delays in your traveling plan. Boats depart from La Pavona four times a day, at 7:30, 11:00, 1:00, and 16:30. There is a restaurant at the boat terminal where you can hang out and get some food.

Cost of the boat taxi: The boat to Tortuguero costs 1600 colones/$3/€2,40. Your bag or suitcase will usually go on a separate boat. You pay another 1000 colones for your bag. Just make sure all your valuables are waterproofed, because this place is known for its heavy downpour.

Technically you can fly to Tortuguero too, but I’m a poor student so didn’t even consider that option;)

sloth in Tortuguero national park
A sloth drenched from the rain.

What to do in Tortuguero national park

Turtle watching:The name says it all! For those of you that do not speak Spanish, Tortuga means turtle and Tortuguero ‘region of turtles’. Turtles come here every year to lay their eggs. There are two types of turtles that come here so it is possible to see turtles almost year round. The turtles are extremely well protected so you have to take a tour and are not allowed to bring a camera or any lights. (the picture below are turtles I saw in Nicaragua)

Canoeing: The best way to see the wildlife is actually not on foot, but by boat. If you are lucky you may even say some stuff just taking the boat taxi to the village. In any case doing a tour or just renting a canoe yourself is worth it. It is incredibly relaxing (especially if you have a guide that does all the canoeing).  We ended up seeing sloths, toucans, caiman and monkeys.

Hiking: When you go canoeing you have to pay the entrance fee to the park so you might as well combine it with a hike in the afternoon. That way you only pay the park fee once. The hike is relatively short and can be done quickly after your canoe trip. You have to have a trained eye to be able to spot the animals yourself, but it’s a fun challenge.

monkey Tortuguero national park

monkey Tortuguero national park

Where to eat in Tortuguero village

Pollo Tito’s: Lonely planet recommends Soda Doña Maria for the local food, but we preferred this place. This one was a little cheaper and the food was great.

Budda Café This is not a local hangout, but more a tourist hotspot. Sometimes though I’m just craving some European food and this definitely hit the spot!

Dorling Bakery Perfect for a coffee and a piece of carrot cake after your morning canoe trip.

Where to stay:

Our accommodation had everything we needed, but was quite simple. Overall I think it’s a great budget option is El Icaco. The place is located on the beach and close to town. The rooms are simple, but clean and great value for the price. Even though Tortuguero is a well known destination, it is a secluded place and booking in advance is recommended.

As always I also like to recommend a more luxurious option. How does an eco lodge, located between river and ocean and surrounded by a paradise forest sound? If this appeals to you then Mawanba Lodge might be the place for you. This is a great option if you can afford a splurge for a few nights. Book your excursions in town to get better prices. They are slightly more expensive at the lodge.