Popular with tourists of all ages from across the globe, the Tortuguero National Park is one of the most significant nesting places of the endangered green turtle and the third most visited national park in Costa Rica.
Situated around 50 miles north of Puerto Limon and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Tortuguero National Park is perfectly nestled adjacent to the Refugio Barra del Colardo which can be found just to the north of the park.
The park itself currently protects over 22 miles of pristine beaches beginning from the mouth of the River Tortuguero and boasts over 19,000 hectacres of extensive land which includes a labyrinth of canals, lagoons and dense rainforests. It was first declared as being a national park back in 1970 – primarily for the purposes of protecting its leatherback sea turtles – but is now a forest sanctuary and home to all manner of monkeys, jaguars, green macaws, tapirs not to mention a whole host of other mammals, birds and reptiles.
Most of the park is low alluvial floodplain which extends inland and is punctuated only with isolated volcanic hills which range anywhere between 100 and 300m. The natural vegetation of the area progresses from poorly drained swamp forests in the lowlands near the coast right up to tropical wet and pre-montane forests which are found further inland and at much higher elevations. Suffice it to say, the forest species composition tends to be quite varied and canopy trees can exceed over 60m in height with girths of between 1 and 2 metres.
The word “Tortuguero” means “region of turtles” in Spanish and the park sees a nesting period (known as the ‘arribadas’) between March to mid-October every year. The park also offers exclusive evening tours of this particular area when tourists are offered an exclusive insight onto the beached areas, usually by river, so as not to disturb the nesting and mating periods of the turtles. After 6pm unaccompanied visits to these areas are strictly forbidden.
Turtles in Tortuguero National Park.
Tortuguero National Park has eleven ecological habitats, ranging from high rainforest to herbaceous marsh communities which provide a vital nesting ground for green sea turtles between June and October, giant leatherback turtles between mid-February to July and female hawksbill turtles between July and October. As regards other park ‘residents’, you can certainly expect over 300 species of birds, 60 species of amphibians, 110 species of reptiles and over 60 mammals! These include spider monkeys, jaguars, turkey vultures, black hawks and white-faced capuchin.
The park is a particular delight for birdwatchers since keel-billed toucans, slaty tailed trogans and Montezuma oropendulas aren’t uncommon. Venture along the canals and you’ll also find an array of green and great blue herons, belted kingfishers, sun grebes and several species of hawks and kites.
Unfortunately, getting into the park itself can be a huge inconvenience. In fact, the only ways in are either via boat (which runs from Moin near the Port of Limon) or alternatively, via private plane. There’s a small airport just north of Tortuguero village which offers daily flights for around $200 return; although this varies hugely between the two main service providers, Nature Air and Sansa Air.
However, whilst flying into the park is clearly the most expensive way to visit it’s also the most convenient and offers some incredible views of the mountain range which separates the Central Valley from the Caribbean coast. You’ll also (quite literally) get a bird’s eye view of the amazing canals and lagoons that make the region so very unique.
Having negotiated how to get there, visiting the park itself is a truly unforgettable experience whatever time of year you decide to go and it tends to be warm and humid regardless of the month. In terms of daily temperatures you can expect an average of 26 degrees with an average annual rainfall of over 200 inches. Fortunately, to make your visit more comfortable even the warm days tend to have a slight wind and the nights can prove to be quite cool – something you should bear in mind if you’re planning an overnight stay!
In addition to offering their own tours, visitors can also source independent tours to the park; some of which are offered over two days or more for anyone wanting a true feel of what it has to offer. At the present time, the park is open daily between 6am and 6pm and admission is just $15 per person.
Tortuguero National Park Jungle.
Aside from the various boat tours which operate across the network of canals within the park, visitors can also enjoy a walk along the pristine beaches, visit the Caribbean Conservation Corporation’s visitor centre or even the turtle museum where guides will gladly tell you all about the leatherbacks, Pacific olive ridleys, greens, loggerheads and hawksbills. Also well worthy of a visit whilst in the area is the primitive village of Tortuguero. With a population of just 500, the village is within easy walking distance and has a small number of restaurants, shops and hostels. However, remain mindful that there are no modern facilities such as cash machines or banks so be sure to go equipped with enough cash for whatever you need!
For a truly magnificent photo opportunity then a short (but steep!) walk up the Cerro Tortuguero is also worth doing since it offers amazing views of both the canals and ocean which tends to attract fishermen and tourists alike.
For the best way to discover the park, visitors are advised to spend at least 2 nights in the area and various lodges are available locally to suit all budgets. Lodge prices usually include a guide together with some basic equipment but be sure to check on this in advance. Generally speaking there are a good number of lodging options locally but if you’re looking for something more upmarket than the basic accommodation cabins be sure to head out of the village and look for hotels; many of whom will offer modern luxuries such as swimming pools, free canoe rental and Wi-Fi – ideal if you’re not quite ready for the ultimate jungle adventure!
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