Why is Tortuguero the first destination on many Costa Rica vacation itineraries?


On nature-oriented Costa Rica itineraries, you will probably always see Tortuguero as the first place to go. As remote and isolated as it is, it’s a prime spot for nature lovers.Keep on reading and find out about the magic of Tortuguero!

When you see the Tortuguero National Park rainforest for the first time, it takes your breath away. The view of its infinite sky and the magnificence of its wilderness is a scenario that you will not easily forget. This is our raw nature and what usually visitors expect from our country.

Costa Rica is a small country. There is an impressive variety of options, and you can always choose the type of vacation you want to have, as there are numerous Costa Rica itineraries to choose from. But if you are coming to Costa Rica in the green season, having Tortuguero at the start of your Costa Rica vacation itinerary is a must.

Why is Tortuguero named like that?

Tortuguero depicts “a place where there are many turtles.” This amazing area not only has one of the most amazing rainforests in Costa Rica but also receives thousands of turtles coming to nest on this long, dark beach.

Green Sea turtles will start laying eggs on the long Caribbean beach of Tortuguero from early July all the way to September.

During this time, green sea turtles come to the beach to lay their eggs, and food is abundant in the forest, so wildlife sightings are very likely.

This protected area, well-known as a nesting ground for sea turtles, is remote, little developed, and accessible only by boat and plane—and worth the trip.

An introduction to Tortuguero

Tortuguero, Costa Rica’s third-most visited national park, is accessible only by boat or plane. Despite its distance, visitors flock to the park seasonally to see its unique water ecosystem, abundant wildlife, and sea turtles nesting there. Tortuguero is almost compulsory on nature-oriented Costa Rica itineraries. 

Tortuguero’s History

People used Tortuguero, Costa Rica, for hunting and exploitation throughout its long history as a turtle nesting area. In the 20th century, sea turtle domestic hunting became a thriving business, with side products sold in Limon City and the Central Valley.

 In 1959, Dr. Archie Carr noticed a reduction in turtle arrivals on the North Caribbean side of Costa Rica, leading to the establishment of the Sea Turtle Conservancy. Tortuguero National Park was founded in 1970 to protect the sea, beach, and land from electric lights, providing a perfect shelter for the endangered sea turtle population.

Ecosystems like mangroves, rainforests, marshes, artificial canals, and lagoons all have an impact on the park’s biodiversity. The community has grown, with hotels opening and employment opportunities. Tortuguero is home to a fusion of Costa Rican, indigenous, Miskito, and Afro-Caribbean cultures, and English, Spanish, and Creole are spoken.

Turtle-spotting in the National Park

The park’s 35-kilometer beach is a significant turtle nesting site, home to hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback, and green sea turtles. Turtles come year-round, but it is a rare occurrence. The permanent and most remarkable species is the green sea turtle, whose season goes from July to October.

Tortuguero Costa Rica

Turtle Nesting in Tortuguero: Some Essential Things to Know:

  • No walking on the beach if you are unauthorized.
  • Tortuguero has a parallel trail where you can walk between the beach and the forest or town, especially if you are walking at night.
  • If a regular person is not with a licensed guide, a volunteer group, or National Park guards, the beach is completely off limits.
  • Dark clothes and shoes. This is quite important, as any reflection of the light will scare the turtles away.
  • If you are taking the night tour, you must wear dark clothing. Blue, brown, grey, or black clothes and shoes so that light does not reflect them.
  • If the turtles see light movement on the beach, they will not get close to the beach, and the natural nesting process will be interrupted.
  • No photos, no flashlights, no telephones.
  • On the night tours, you are not allowed to take pictures or videos. Mainly because of the same reason for not allowing bright clothes.
  • In the past, it was legal to take pictures and videos, and the constant flashes constantly alarmed the turtles. Thus, now it is completely forbidden.
  • Believe us. The visit is worth the planning.
  • On some fortunate nights, you may see several turtles going up and down the surf and see the mother laying their eggs (sometimes up to 80–90 eggs at a time). Later on in the season (by late August), you may also witness babies coming out of their nests and trying to reach the water through the volcanic sand beach.
  • It is a very primal and sublime thing to watch.

Some points about the upcoming green season in Tortuguero:

  • The green season in the rest of the country coincides with the early turtle nesting season.
  • Families and school trips are widespread at this time, and lodges may be full very quickly.
  • It is a good idea to bring some cash. In Tortuguero town, there is one ATM, but it is better not to take chances.
  • You may want to have the cash to tip around and buy small items like fruits or coconut water.
  • Tortuguero isn’t a sunbathing or swimming beach. The water has strong currents, it’s pretty choppy, and the sand usually has a lot of flying insects that feed on the eggs and turtle activities.
  • You can, of course, enjoy the warm tropical weather and go for a tan around the pool of your hotel, but not by the beach.
  • However, if you can move your trip to September, it is probably the best time to go to Tortuguero. While the rest of the country is flooded with pouring rain, the Caribbean area of Costa Rica is in a two-month sunny and dry season. Turtles are nesting, and the baby turtles are already coming out of their nests. Food abounds, and there are plenty of wildlife sightings. Hotels are empty and offer great rates.
  • If you are a photographer, think about bringing moisture-absorbing packets and placing them in the camera bag. When you come back home, take your lenses and camera for a good clean up. In the humid environments of the tropics, fungi colonize the equipment very quickly.

What to see and do other than watching the turtles?

While a lot of visitors to Tortuguero come to view the mother turtles during nesting season, you don’t want to miss a couple of other activities during your time here.

The main highlight in the area of Tortuguero is, of course, the canal network that traverses the fantastic jungles filled with wildlife.

And how you enjoy it depends on you and what you want to do.

The easiest and most convenient way to go is to reserve one of the three-night packages that include a canal boat trip and, usually, a walk in the forest. However, there are several other ways to explore this magnificent rainforest.

Canoe or kayak trips are available for exploring the national park, with multilingual naturalist guides providing comprehensive flora and fauna tours. These trips typically last 2-3 hours and feature various wildlife sightings, including white faced, howler, and spider monkeys; two types of sloths; caymans; otters; snakes; and many aquatic birds like herons, egrets, and macaws. Together with a great sort of different birds as exotic as the ayre colorful, for instance, the green macaw, the white fronted manakin, and many other magnificent birds.

Rainforest hikes

A rainforest walk with a local guide in Tortuguero offers an adventure, revealing the unique ecosystem, relationships among plants, trees, and fungi, communication, and the rainforest’s ability to thrive in unpredictable tropical weather.

Where to stay

The best is to include a two- or three-night package with one of the known hotels in the area. These are all inclusive, optimal packages that we can include in your Costa Rica vacation itinerary.

In Tortuguero, the majority of the hotels are jungle lodges that are extremely comfortable but not necessarily luxurious. Forests surround the more prominent hotels, and they have swimming pools, bars, game rooms, and spots to lay on hammocks and relax.

To wrap it up:

Tortuguero is a great place to visit, with or without turtle nesting. Ask your Amazing Costa Rica when it is the best time in your itinerary to set a two-night stay minimum in this magnificent tropical location.