TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK
TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK
INTRODUCTION TO THE TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK
Tortuguero is a village located on the northern Caribbean coast. It is only accessible by air or by sea and once there, you will really feel as if you are in ‘terra incognita’. Tortuguero, literally “Where turtles lay” is also nicknamed “Little Amazon”. This name is due to the impressive vegetation that borders the network of canals and lagoons of Tortuguero National Park.
You will also have the opportunity to take a boat trip or kayak on these channels to appreciate the beautiful landscapes that surround you, and you may be able to see caimans or small crocodiles that merge with floating branches.
In the Tortuguero village where about 1,800 people live, everything is very colorful and the atmosphere is reminiscent of Jamaica. Although it is small, you will find in the village, in addition to many hotels, several churches, a football stadium and even a small auditorium. Its inhabitants live almost exclusively from tourism or fishing. If you wish, you could taste the local food such as Casado, a typical Costa Rican dish made from rice cooked with coconut milk.
WHAT TO SEE IN TORTUGUERO PARK?
The main attraction of the village is the Tortuguero National Park. Entrance costs $ 15 but is included in the price if you enjoy a tour on the channels.
You will then walk along well-marked trails in the heart of the rain forest and may be able to see the animals in the park. 309 bird species, 111 reptile species, 57 amphibian species and 60 mammal species are listed. Among other things, you will find some of the most famous animals in the country, such as agoutis, lazy people basking in the treetops, toucans, hummingbirds and several species of monkeys such as the spider monkey or the howler monkey.
If you do not meet the latter, you will hear for sure his particular cry! You may have even woken up in the morning just before sunrise.
The village of Tortuguero is considered one of the unmissable destinations of Costa Rica. Often proposed the day after the arrival of tourists, the Tortuguero National Park offers a total change of scenery and allows visitors to observe many wild animals in a magical setting.
Source: World Travel Guide
BUT HOW WAS DID TORTUGUERO COME TO BE?
First of all, a little bit of history.
History notes 5 great periods in the creation of this picturesque little village.
The pre-Columbian period
The first inhabitants identified in Tortuguero are assimilated to the Mayas coming from what today is Mexico. They mainly lived by hunting and fishing but also by the collecting of turtles eggs laid on the beach. They were also known to grow cassava and were very fond of palm fruit called “pejibaye”.
The dwellings were then made from the materials available on site: palm leaf roofs overhanging a conical structure in which several families lived.
This Mayan colonization was due to the expansion desired by Emperor Maya who wanted to explore Nicaragua and Costa Rica to find gold.
The colonial period
The first known presence of Spanish settlers in the Tortuguero region occurred in the San Juan de la Cruz region, located about 40 km north of Tortuguero. This small colony, founded in 1541, was intended to facilitate trade between Panama and Nicaragua. 25 inhabitants lived on the spot and they stayed there for only about 2 years. Throughout the 19th century, there were small Spanish colonies whose mission was to maintain this site for trade routes.
Tortuguero has seen small Afro-Caribbean families coming to work. But the establishment of large cocoa plantations in southern Tortuguero has enslaved the indigenous and Afro-Caribbean population.
The arrival of the train
A railroad linking Limon to San José was established in 1890. Before this event, all transport passed through the central valley (Turrialba) and took much longer. That is why in 1871, hundreds of Afro-Caribbeans who spoke English, mainly from Jamaica, came to work on the construction of this railroad. They brought with them their art of living and their culture which is representative of the current Tortuguero.
The logging period
Considered one of the most significant periods in the history of Tortuguero, many “elders” still remember the opening of the first sawmill in 1940. This event transformed the village; the population quadrupled, a school was created, transport developed and a health system was set up. At that time the companies paid fixed wages, which was a considerable advance in the conditions of the time. However, the growing population of the small village of Tortuguero had the effect of over populating the village which resulted in a difficult economic situation. If you visit the village of Tortuguero, you will be able to observe in the center of the village some vestiges of this period. Old rusty machines are still visible. The Tortuguero canals themselves are a legacy of this era, as companies dug canals to transport the many floating tree trunks by river.
Currently: The development of tourism
With the cessation of logging in the area of Tortuguero, many workers left the village and Tortuguero returned for a while to agriculture and the inhabitants lived off hunting and fishing. However, the creation of Tortuguero National Park in 1972 changed the game. The turtles were no longer considered a source of food (via their eggs) but became the object of preservation programs and later tourist attractions.
THE CARIBBEAN TURTLE CONSERVATION CENTER
This non-profit organization is the oldest and most recognized sea turtle protection association in the world.
Founded in 1959 by Mr. Joshua B. Powers following the studies of biologist Dr. Archie Carr and his book “The Wind Road”. For first time, his book alerts the public to the danger menacing marine turtles. Many volunteers come from all over the world to conserve sea turtles in Tortuguero, thus it is not for nothing that the CCCT is present throughout Latin America.
A tourist center dedicated to the organization is visible in the village of Tortuguero. You will be able to see how they are challenged, the work of the volunteers and a small video are available for the visitors and allows you to better understand the process of turtle nesting.
WHAT SEASON IS THE BEST TO VISIT TORTUGUERO?
Tortuguero National Park is famous for its “aguaceros” (big rains) but what is it really?
The dry season in Tortuguero: we can consider that the mildest climate for this area of the North Caribbean is the months of February, March, September and October.
The wet season in Tortuguero: the rainy season runs from November to January and from April to August. These months are characterized by a sunny morning and a very rainy afternoon.
For more details on precipitation:
WHAT TO DO IN TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK?
The turtle tour
TURTLES NESTING TABLE IN COSTA RICA
Source: wwf Costa Rica
The leatherback turtle and the Atlantic green turtle:
If you come to visit Tortuguero National Park between April and October, you will have the opportunity to observe these sea giants come to lay their eggs on the beach of Tortuguero. A local association is in charge of organizing the tours with trained professional guides. Rates depend on the service providers, but in all cases you will have to pay for your entrance to Tortuguero National Park (currently, 2015, the rate is $15 USD per adult). Attention, it is forbidden to bring cameras or to film the laying, because the turtles are very sensitive to light and it would be extremely regrettable to prevent a turtle from laying and thus further endanger the survival of the species to get a good picture. It is also recommended to wear dark clothes and make the least noise possible.
The birth of turtles
In Tortuguero National Park, from November to January you may have the chance to see turtle eggs hatching all along the beach. After hatching, the baby turtles come to the surface and make their first run to the ocean. It is more common to watch this beautiful and moving show very early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK
To visit Tortuguero National Park, the most popular option is to travel by motorboat.
According to the service providers, the boats will be more or less noisy (some use totally silent electric motors).
Tortuguero is surrounded by rivers, canals and the Atlantic Ocean. Many hotels offer the possibility to visit the canals by kayak with a naturalist guide or in canoa.
This type of canoe will allow you to get closer to the animals without frightening them and to make the most of Tortuguero National Park. But be careful, you will have to row for several hours.
Currently, in 2015, rates were set at $15 / per adult and $2 USD / child under 12 years old. Tortuguero National Park was established on November 17, 1975 and has a protected area of 18,946.9 hectares in the terrestrial part and 52,265 hectares in the marine part.
WHAT ANIMALS CAN BE SEEN IN THE TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK?
The Tortuguero National Park is known for its turtles, but it is also a highly appreciated site for all nature lovers.
You can see 3 types of monkeys: the spider monkey, the howler monkey and the capuchin monkey.
Many mammals like the Mexican Tamandua, two-toed and three-fingered sloths, white-tailed deer, etc. The list is very long.
Birds are also omnipresent, species such as green macaws, toucans hull, Swainson toucans, many species of waterfowl and more…
Among the notorious animals of the area except the turtles, we can state the Jaguar, the Tapir, the pink dolphin, the manatee or the otter. So many extraordinary animals that make Tortuguero unique. Tortuguero National Park has the largest concentration of Jaguar in Costa Rica according to the Pantera organization. Pantera.
VISIT OF THE MUSEUM OF THE CARIBBEAN TURTLE CONSERVATION CENTER
Located north of the village, this organization has set up a small museum to better explain their actions to the general public. The museum is usually run by volunteers who will be happy to show you their turtle protection work. A small adjacent souvenir shop will allow you to leave with a small gift to offer and the funds will return directly to the organization.
Open from 10:00 to 12:00 and from 14:00 to 17:30 (except Sunday or the museum closes at 17:00). Admission is $1, but donations are, of course, welcome.
VISIT THE VILLAGE IN ITSELF
Due to its lengthy shape, its geographical location (bordered on one side by the Atlantic Ocean and on the other by a brackish water channel), and the inhabitants who live there, the village of Tortuguero alone is well worth the trip.
You will find a Caribbean atmosphere where everyone moves either on foot or by bike. Among the most unusual places you will find the school located on the beachfront, the football field also overlooking the beach and lined with coconut trees where locals love to meet after work, the grocery store in which is displayed a list of the names of customers who do not pay their debts and all these houses on stilts, colorful and full of life. Feel free to dance or sing (karaoke) at the local disco: La Culebra. A change of scenery is assured.
HOW TO GET TO TORTUGUERO?
Several accesses are possible:
- The easiest: internal flights
A local airline distinguishes itself for the quality of flights to Tortuguero National Park.
The company Sansa Costa Rica Airline: Link
These companies offer departures from the main cities of Costa Rica and the prices are reasonable. Pay attention however to the weight of the luggage allowed.
The most common: by private bus and private boat
Many Tortuguero lodges offer package deals. They often include transportation from San José, on one of their buses, full board, transfer with their own boat and on site tours. All you have to do is choose one of these packages, indicate your departure point in San José and your arrival point (also in San José) and ‘follow the guide’.
The most authentic: Your car and the public boat of Tortuguero
You can rent a car from San José or Alajuela (or from the main cities of Costa Rica) and go to the pier of La Pavona or Caño Blanco. To find out which of the two wharves is functional, you will need to inform yourself as this will depend on the level of the water in the canals. Generally, the most used is the one of La Pavona.
From there, you can buy a ticket for the public boat/ferry that will take you to the village of Tortuguero.
The most economical: Public bus service and public boat.
Economical, but long and uncomfortable. Transportes Caribeños operates the San José-Cariari-San José route.
From San José to Cariari:
Everyday: 6:30 am, 9:00 am, 10:30 am, 1:00 pm, 3:00 pm, 4:30 pm, 6:00 pm and 7:00 pm
From Cariari to San José:
Daily: 5:30 am, 6:30 am, 7:30 am 9:00 am, 11:30 am, 1:00 pm, 3:00 pm and 5:30 pm
To get to Tortuguero by road:
From San José, take Route 32 towards Limon. You will pass through the Braulio Carillo National Park and the Zurqui Tunnel. You will then reach the city of Guapiles.
GETTING FROM GUAPILES TO CARIARI:
Arrived at Guapiles, stay on the road 32 until the Santa Clara petrol station (“Servicentro Santa Clara”). Then count about a hundred meters after the Burger King. After the gas station, turn left (northbound). Put the meter of your vehicle to zero and drive 8.1 km, you will arrive at a crossroad. Turn left, (do not cross the railway line), follow the track for about 700 meters and then turn to your right to join the main road. (crossing the railroad this time). Continue north for 10.4 km to reach Cariari. Attention, you will have to arrive before 15:30 in Cariari, because after no more public boats will leave for the National Park of Tortuguero after that time.
DE CARIARI À LA PAVONA:
From the petrol station of Cariari, the only one in the village, continue 7.1km.
Then turn right towards Campo Dos. You will pass in the midst of banana plantations. Follow the signs Campo Dos and Cuatro Esquinas. Continue on the asphalt road until you reach a football field on your left. Then turn left onto the asphalt road. Continue until you reach the village of Cuatro Esquinas. From this point there will be no more paved road. Continue straight ahead for 8.9km. Once you arrive at the store “Abast Palacio” located in the small village of Palacios. Turn left after this shop, then continue straight for 5.7km until you reach an old building. Turn left on the dirt road and pass the bridge. Then continue until you arrive at La Pavona.
You can park your car for $10 USD per night or $50 USD per week.
10 TIPS TO ENJOY TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK
- When you go on an excursion on the Tortuguero canals, always plan a raincoat. The climate in the Caribbean can change very quickly and you could find yourself in a huge downpour in the national park.
- Do not use flashes when taking wildlife photographs. This is valid for all animal photography in Costa Rica.
- Do not swim in the sea. Indeed, Tortuguero beach has many rollers and the ocean is anything but calm in Tortuguero. In addition, many sharks swim around in search of turtles. The beach is not supervised, do not bathe.
- Do not hesitate to enjoy the kayaks offered by the lodges or to go through Tortuguero National Park in a Canoa. The approach is totally different to that on a motorboat and will make the experience more impressive.
- Visit local souvenir shops, most offer unique items in Costa Rica that you will not find later. In addition, you help local communities.
- Use your national park entrance wisely. Indeed, once paid, the entrance is valid all day, you can do the tours of the channels in the morning, walk in the park in the afternoon and take a night tour, all while paying only once.
- When you pick up a local guide, make sure they have Costa Rica’s official guide certification. It will ensure you good quality service and accredits the value of the work and studies done by the guide.
- Eat local! Many small “sodas” offer meals of very good quality and typical Caribbean dishes. Do not miss the rice and beans.
- Do not hesitate to walk around the village and help the local economy. The disco, small shops and other taxi-boats need you.
- There is no bank in Tortuguero.
Do you want to visit Tortuguero National Park?
Why not visit it with our birding trip: Click here
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