Tortuguero National Park, Ultimate Visitors Guide

Being one of Costa Rica’s most remote places, it’s often referred to as the Amazon of Costa Rica. Tortuguero National Park is without a doubt paradise for wildlife and nature lovers. Packed with lush rainforests, maze canals and home to many endangered species, this is a place like no other. Everything you need to know to plan your wild adventure to Tortuguero is included in this Ultimate Visitors Guide to Tortuguero National Park!

About Tortuguero

Tortuguero is a tiny village located on the northern side of the Caribbean Coast, close to the border of Nicaragua. It is part of Tortuguero National Park and one of the 28 national parks in Costa Rica. Even though it’s only accessible by boat or plane, its remoteness doesn’t stop people from visiting. Tortuguero lies on a spit of land with on one side the ocean and the other side a canal, which creates an extraordinary experience!

Together with the Costa Rican government, the park was created in 1970 by the Sea Turtle Conservancy to protect the nesting sites of the sea turtles. But people not only come to see the spectacular nesting season, also many other endangered species. The biodiversity stems from rainforests, mangroves, lagoons and canals which creates an unique variety of biodiversity in the area.


Best time to visit Tortuguero National Park

Like many places in Costa Rica, Tortuguero has it’s own microclimate. Unlike the most of Costa Rica, the driest months are September and October, which is high season on the Caribbean Coast. Tortuguero has more than 5000mm rain annually, which makes it one of the most wet places in Costa Rica due to the rainforests. Be prepared for some rain, despite being the ‘dry season’.

Keep in mind that activities, such as boat tours, could get cancelled due to weather conditions. To experience the least possible rain I would suggest visiting from September until early November.

Not to forget: rainjacket 🙂


How to get to Tortuguero

Due to the remoteness of Tortuguero National Park, you may assume that it’s not the easiest place to reach. However this is true, with some planning ahead, you’ll get there easily!

1. Rental Car + Boat

This is the easiest and best option to get to Tortuguero. If you have a rental car, you can drive all the way to ‘La Pavona Dock‘ which is the place all the boats depart from to Tortuguero Town. If you come from Puerto Viejo this is about a 4-hour drive and from San José or La Fortuna about 3 hours.

There is a secured parking lot for $10 per night where you can leave your car. We had no problems with this, however do make sure you don’t leave anything valuable in the car.


Local Boat

The local boat is leaving at the under mentioned times (August 2022), but we’ve noticed that this could be different from time to time as they will wait for the local bus to arrive. These times may change over time though. It takes you about 1 hour or 2 hours (depending on conditions), to reach Tortuguero from the dock.

Local boat times: 4 times a day at 7:30AM – 11AM – 1PM – 4:30PM.

Local boat prices: ₡1600 (± €2) per person + ₡1000 (± €1,50) per luggage.

 Travel Tip! There are no ATM’s in the village, so bring enough cash.

2. By Bus & Boat

If you don’t have your own rental car or a big budget, there are busses to get you to Tortuguero, but it’ll take you some time. Busses leave from San José Gran Carib terminal to Cariari directly in about 2 hours. From Cariari there’s a direct bus going to La Pavona Dock which takes about 1.5 hours. As I mentioned, the local boats will wait for the bus to arrive, so don’t worry if you’ll be arriving late.


3. By Airplane + Boat

Even though Tortuguero is super isolated from civilization, they do have a small airport (basically a small landing strip). Sansa and Aerobell provide daily flights that takes you from San José to Tortuguero Airport in only 30/60 minutes. From the airport it’s only a short boat ride to get to town or your lodge. Not the most sustainable and cheapest option, but it could be a solution for people on time limit.

4. Multi-day excursion from San José

Another option to get to Tortuguero is on a multi-day trip excursion from San José. They arrange everything from the accommodation to activities, so you don’t need to worry about anything. Many people at the lodge we stayed at, did this and loved their trip. This does comes with a bigger price tag of course.


Best things to do in Tortuguero

Although Tortuguero is a tiny town, there are some epic things to do here that attract many travelers. Tortuguero is one of the most biodiverse places of Costa Rica, due to the high rainfall and unique environment. Why? Because the canals end up in the sea which leads to the rare mix of salt and fresh water.


1. Visit Tortuguero National Park

As known as one of the country’s most beautiful national parks, Tortuguero National Park is home to an incredible mix of wildlife. For example, over 300 bird species, sloths, caimans and monkeys. But also many endangered species like jaguars, tapirs, green sea turtles and the green macaw. Jaguars and ocelots inhabit the park, but are rarely seen. However you never know.. you might be the lucky one! 😉

The national park is only reachable by boat as there are no roads leading here, which makes this place even more special and raw!

How to visit the national park

Although hiking may not be the best way to experience all the best Tortuguero has to offer, it’s definitely an incredible way to absorb the peacefulness of nature. There are hiking trails inside the national park which you can do by yourself or with a guide. Do mind that hiking by yourself, you’re less able to see much wildlife as the guides have incredible skills in spotting even the tiniest camouflaged animals.

Entree fee: $15 for non-resident adults and $5 for children -12 years old.

Opening Times: Monday – Sunday from 6AM – 12AM and 1PM – 4PM.


2. Morning Kanoe tour in Tortuguero National Park

Probably one of the most beautiful ways to explore the national park is by kanoe tour. You will go into the smallest canals of the national park with a guide. Because there’s no motor you’re able to come much closer to the animals without disturbing or scaring them off.

Most tours will leave around 6AM, this gives you the chance to see the forest waking up by noises of howler monkeys and the peaceful sound of nature.

Weather Conditions

Unfortunately due to many rainfall our kanoe tour was cancelled, so we were not able to experience this ourselves :(. But this is all part of the journey, you just simply cannot predict the weather in a rainforest, especially with the amount of rain in Tortuguero. However I’ve heard the most magical stories about this tour, so I can basically guarantee it’s a good one!

Don’t forget: a hat, sunscreen & repellent.


3. Boat Tour through Tortuguero National Park

As an alternative to the kanoe tour, this boat tour will take you along a small boat along the canals of the national park. There is a guide on the boat that will tell you all the little details about the animals you spot along the way, like birds, reptiles, monkeys.

Our guide spotted so many animals, even the tiniest ones. Sometimes even when they pointed them out for us, we still weren’t able to see the animal. These people are truly so talented! You can book this in town or online. Also some lodges offer activities for their guests, that’s what we did.


4. Tortuguero Beach

Playa Tortuguero is a black sand beach and not your average beach. Not only is this one of the most important nesting sites for turtles, if you look up on the trees you’re able to spot toucans and the green macaw’s. We saw a huge group of more than 10 green macaw high up in the trees on our last morning in Tortuguero! Tortuguero Beach may not be one to spend a full day on, but it’s still an incredible beach to visit while in Tortuguero.

Attention! Due to the strong currents and many sharks, swimming is unsafe at Playa Tortuguero.


5. Turtle Watching

Not only is Tortuguero Beach and epic beach to stroll around on, but also one of the most important nesting site of the endangered green sea turtle of the entire Western Hemisphere. About 22,500 females come to Tortuguero every year to lay their eggs, which attracts yearly 100K visitors! Pretty logical that ‘Tortuguero’ is translated to ‘Regions of Turtles’.

Best Time for Turtle Watching

You can witness the nesting from July to October with July and August as peak season. The hatching starts in September until October and if you’re lucky you can still see the last little guys hatch in November.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to see the turtles, but I’ve heard it must be a magical experience!

How to do this activity.

You can only see the turtles on a guided tour. Book it at the lodge you’re staying at, in town or online. Flashlights and pictures are forbidden, to make sure not to disturb the turtles in their element. The guide has a special night light with him so you can still see the magic happen.

Important! Never touch the turtles. They must remember the beach to coördinate where they are, so they can return to nest themselves years later.

6. Night walk

My favorite experience in Tortuguero was by far the night walk. This is a guided tour through the jungle to spot wildlife that is coming alive by nightfall. Therefore the perfect time to spot scary spiders, snakes, all types of frogs and sloths!

You can book this tour, like the others, online or in town. During your tour you’ll be accompanied by an experienced naturalist guide that tells all about the animals and the night life in the jungle. Equipped with a flashlight, you’re ready to go on a hunt for night life. Next to some creepy crawlers, we even saw fire flies, which was such a magical moment!

What to bring? Camera, repellent, hiking boots and wear comfortable long clothes.


Where to stay in Tortuguero

There are accommodation options for every budget here, although you maybe want to splurge a little more during your time in Tortuguero to experience this raw magical place to the fullest. You can decide to stay at the town’s center or choose one of the many lodges (more expensive), which are located a bit further out of town.

Recommended Accommodation

We decided to stay at Mawamba Lodge, which was kind of a big splurge, but worth it to us. Their beautiful property is located on a stroke of land with on one side the ocean and the other side the river. They have lounge and hammock areas with a beautiful sunset view over the river, a floating restaurant, swimming pool and they provide activities. However it’s quitely located just outside of town, it’s still on walking distance.

Book your stay at Mawamba lodge here. Or find all the accommodation options in Tortuguero on

Accommodation prices:

Hostel dorm bed: starting from €10 per bed.

Basic hotel:  starting from €30 for a room.

Luxury lodge: starting from €100 to €400 per night.

Tortuguero Town Rainforest
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Simone Vromans

Simone is the owner and writer of Travel With Simone! By sharing these travel guides, she hopes to help you plan your epic adventures and inspire you to go on that long-overdue trip! 💛

travel with simone

About Simone

Hi there, I’m Simone and the writer behind this travel blog. By reading my guides, I’m hoping to inspire you to travel more mindfully and have epic adventures all over the globe!

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