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Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park, located in the northeastern province of Limon, is like a cross between Venice and the Amazon. Stretching inland from 22km of Caribbean coastline, the park protects a series of inland waterways including the Canales de Tortuguero - a network of canals constructed in 1969 to connect the various lagoons, marches, and rivers that reside within the 19,000 hectare Tortuguero National Park.

Tortuguero National ParkThe diversity of flora and fauna found within the park has made it the third most visited in the country. In all there are 11 distinct ecological habitats to be explored, from beaches and mangroves to swamps and rainforests. The roster of animal life is extensive, including 57 amphibians, 111 reptiles, 300 species of bird, and 60 mammals, including the extremely rare and incredible manatee. It's estimated the manatee population includes just 100 members. These docile mammals, thought to be the source of mermaid myths, are truly a treasure to behold.

Turtle Time at Tortuguero!

Among the reptiles to be found here in Tortuguero National Park are those that give the park its name: turtles. More specifically, sea turtles. Here you will find hawksbills, loggerheads, leatherbacks, and greens. In fact, Tortuguero can lay claim to being the largest and most important nesting ground in the entire western hemisphere. Green turtles return every year to mate and nest from June to November (September is the peak). Tortuguero is also important for the highly endangered leatherbacks or tortugas baulas, which nest from the middle of February to July.

Due to the sensitivity of the turtles, people are not allowed on the beaches of Tortuguero National Park from 6pm to 6am during nesting season. If you want to see turtles close up you'll need to take part in one of the guided Turtle Walks. These organized tours led by local guides cost $10 and take place from 8pm to 10pm and from 10pm to Midnight every night during the turtle's nesting season. Note that only your guide can buy a beach-access ticket after 6pm. The beach is split into 5 sectors, each with its own guard post to enforce the curfew and the no cameras or flashlights rule. Light and sound disrupt the sensitive turtles, so do your best to be a ninja. Also, report any guide that digs up eggs or hatchlings to show you -- this is completely forbidden!

[An interesting sidenote: hatchlings are attracted to the sunlight reflected off the sea, it's what draws them to the water. This is why artificial lights from, say, a hotel, can be detrimental to baby turtles, drawing them away from the sanctuary of the ocean.]

Touring Tortuguero National Park on Foot & by Boat

The main ranger station is at Cuatro Esquinas where you'll find lots of useful information and maps. Here you'll also have access to the easy to follow El Gavilan Land Trail, a 2km nature trail that loops out from the station through rainforest and a portion of beach. It's a muddy, mucky affair though, so make sure you have rubber boots on regardless of the time of year (you can rent rubber boots for $1 with various tour companies).

In general, if you're going to trek through Tortuguero or go by boat it's best to hire a guide to ensure you actually see wildlife. Experience is essential to picking out the various animals hidden in the dense foliage and they are relatively inexpensive at about $10 per hour per person. The guides are part of a cooperative, and some of the best ones are those that work at the local eco-lodges.

Boating An equally or perhaps more interesting way to see the park is by water craft. This can take multiple forms, from kayaks, to dug-out canoes (cayucas or botes), to motored pangas or lanchas. In fact, there are four water trails that snake through Tortuguero National Park, all of which begin on the Rio Tortuguero. Rentals of all types can be found in Tortuguero village.

Tortuguero Weather: When to Visit Tortuguero National Park

Unfortunately for those of you worried about getting rained on, there is no real dry season in Tortuguero. The national park receives 250 inches (6,400mm) of rain per year. February, March, and October are generally drier than other parts of the year though. January, June, and July represent the wettest months.

Click here for Tortuguero Lodges & Hotels

There are multiple options for Tortuguero hotels, ranging from budget friendly to more high-end. That said, Tortuguero village is small and the various options often fill up, so it's best to make reservations before you arrive.

Getting to Torguguero National Park

The park is somewhat remote and it seems difficult to get here because there is no road. For this reason, many people opt for organized tours to get them out to Tortuguero village, and subsequently, Tortuguero National Park. This doesn't come cheap though. It's really not that difficult to organize transportation on your own though, and save a little money.

By Air There is a tiny airstrip about 4km north of Tortuguero Village, and both NatureAir and SANSA have daily flights to and from San Jose. SANSA provides a boat transfer to the village, which is nice. These flights cost around $70 each way. If you've got cash to burn, you can organize a private charter flight for around $500 one-way.

By Boat Boats represent the most economical way to get to Tortuguero Village. There are lanchas that leave from the La Pavona marina in the town of La Pavona, 29km from Cariari. Catch the bus from Guapiles to Cariari at 9am or 10:30pm. Then, the bus from Cariari to La Pavona that leaves at noon will get you to the marina in time to catch the afternoon boat to Tortuguero Village -- the boats leave at 3pm. Purchase your boat ticket at the dock -- you don't need to get it ahead of time at the bus terminal for the recommended Clic Clic boat company. Between the bus and boat, you'll pay about $10. The boat ride will be a fun 1 1/2 hour trip passing through the various jungle rivers.

Alternatively, and for about $35, you can leave from the docks in Moin, a 30min bus ride north of Limon. The boat company is called Bananero, and they make their runs based on demand, so it's best to call ahead to make sure there is a boat heading up to Tortuguero. Private water taxis are a pricier option from this dock. The boat ride takes around 4hrs.

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