Tortuguero National Park is special. In this park in Costa Rica you can see countless wild animals, including different species of sea turtles that lay their eggs here. And turtle eggs hatching. Check my article about sea turtles laying eggs in Tortuguero.

This area can only be accessed by boat or plane, which gives it an extra charm. The reason is simple, there are no roads to Tortuguero. It is a large river delta, where several rivers and their branches flow into the sea. Mangroves grow their roots in the fertile sand here, creating large mangrove forests. And behind the mangroves, the rainforest starts, but that has been partially spoiled by humans, mostly through deforestation. It has now been regrown, so they call this a secondary forest.

Wildlife of Tortuguero

Several ecosystems connect here, catering a remarkable number of animals. Besides sea turtles, you can find different kinds of monkeys, sloths, iguanas, toucans, herons and other kinds of birds. Along the shore, you can see alligators, giant otters and dugongs. Biologists say this is one of the richest natural areas in Central America, which is sustained more and more by the money tourism brings.

But there are still primary rainforests around. One of the largest waterways runs about 68 km south of Tortuguero, through Parisimina to Mion, and continues about 35 km north towards Barra del Colorado. The canal intersects with several smaller rivers and their branches, which together form the only infrastructure in the Tortuguero National Park.

Tortuguero National Park
Wildlife at Tortuguero National Park. Becky Matsubara

Scientists have discovered around 60 different mammals in the area so far, including 13 endangered ones. There are around 57 kinds of amphibians, 111 kinds of reptiles, and more than 300 kinds of birds. And thankfully, the number of turtles is increasing once again.

This is the best place in the Caribean to see the green turtle lay its eggs. Unfortunately, these animals were under threat for a long time: not only did their eggs get taken by predators as well as humans, but people would catch them to eat them, especially to make turtle soup.

Things to see and do in Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero village

Tortuguero Village is the central point of the area. Here you find hotels, shops and restaurants. The nicer accommodations, however, are outside the village.

The beaches of Tortuguero

Tortuguero has numerous, usually abandoned, beaches. At night you can bump into various species of sea turtles. Always keep your eyes open as you stand a great chance.

Sea Turtle Conservancy

The Sea Turtle Conservancy is a shelter for sea turtles. It is located on the north side of Tortuguero Village. At the shelter, you can get all the information you want about the turtles and their challenges. It is also possible to do volunteer work at the shelter. You will learn everything about protecting and monitoring sea turtles.

Dr. Archie Carr Wildlife Refuge

The dr. Archie Carr Wildlife Refuge is a nature park with various beaches where sea turtles lay their eggs. It is also a reserve where they do a lot of research by planting transmitters on sea turtles. The transmitters make it possible to track and monitor the animals. A visit will give you a lot of information on the behaviour of the sea turtles and inspire you on how to face the challenges.

Tours in Tortuguero:

Boat tour through the mangroves

A large part of Tortuguero consists of mangrove forests. You can explore this with a boat. You will see many caimans, iguanas and birds such as snake birds, toucans, tortoises, swallows and many herons. But possibly also sloths. Perfect to take pictures of all kinds of animals.

Go out on your own in a canoe

You can rent a canoe and go out on your own. It is a great way to explore the area. Ask for the best routes where you can see wildlife. As you sail calmly through waters, you will experience that most animals are not afraid of you.

Hiking in Tortuguero

There are several hiking routes in Tortuguero. You can take a trail through the rainforest, along beaches and more. One of the most popular, and most beautiful trail, is Turtle Hill. You can reach this viewpoint by first taking a boat trip, then making a steep climb but with a gorgeous view as a reward. According to many the most beautiful view of Tortuguero.

Tortuguero night safari

After sunset, a different world comes to life. The world of nocturnal animals. During a night safari, you will go out with a guide to search for nocturnal animals. Think of snakes, spiders (such as the tarantula), many insects, bats, owls and other birds that are asleep. But you can also spot larger animals. The guide will tell you all about these animals.

History of Tortuguero

Tortuguero National Park derived its name from the Spanish word ‘Tortuga’, which means turtle. The area was already known when the Spanish landed in Costa Rica. The Spanish explorers who travelled here noticed that the turtles came ashore to lay eggs, and they would catch them because they were a great food source. They would capture the large sea creatures alive because a 300-kilogram turtle would feed quite a few hungry sailors.

But this common food for explorers on ships became a European delicacy in the 19th century. And so the turtles of Tortuguero became the target of many hunting trips. Masses of them were killed, and the locals liked to eat the eggs too, so soon there were not many turtles left. By 1950, only a few dozen could be found.

That is when the government, under the pressure of international conservation organisations, decided that one the of the largest turtle-processing factories should be turned into a turtle conservation example, and given the name Tortuguero Conservation Area. Nowadays the money is coming from tourists instead of buyers of turtle eggs. Tortuguero is a good example of how you as a tourist can make a difference in world conservation.

Wettest place of Costa Rica

Tortuguero is an extremely ‘wet’ place. One of the largest rivers runs 68 km south of Tortuguero via Parisimina to Mion and continues 35 km north to Barra del Colorado. The canal is intersected by countless rivers and narrow tributaries that together form the only infrastructure of the Tortuguero National Park.

Annually they have about 6 meters of rain here, and it rains the entire year. Though it can be a less wet in February, March and September. There is high humidity here, generally between 85 and 90 per cent, but between August and October, it can reach 100 per cent.

Come well prepared. In addition to a good raincoat, good hiking shoes are necessary when you go hiking. You may sometimes have to cross a river, where you can leave your shoes on, but you can also go barefoot. Keep in mind that the rocks can be sharp.

How to avoid tourists in Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero is overflowing with visitors during the weekend and often on other days during the high season. It might give you the feeling you are visiting a zoo. The wildlife has become adjusted to human visitors, so animals are not shy and you can easily photograph them.

Deeper in the park, you will find lesser tourists. And the reserve becomes more intense on you. Not all trails might be accessible so ask for the conditions onsite.

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