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Discovering Tortuguero: Costa Rica's Hidden Treasure

LizDeslauriers
by Liz Deslauriers

February 16, 2024

5 minute read

If one day, you find yourself surrounded by the wild wonder of Tortuguero National Park, you’ll know it: You’ve found Costa Rica’s hidden treasure.

Imagine a tropical paradise where Costa Rica’s remote jungle meets the sparkling waters of the Caribbean coast. To get there, drive down a long road past rural banana plantations and cattle fields, the hop on a river boat and glide through jungle canals. Welcome to a place where wild reigns. People? We’re just lucky to be part of it. This is Tortuguero, an off-the-grid escape showing the world where a commitment to conservation can lead.

Getting to Know Tortuguero

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First and foremost, Tortuguero is known for its namesake sea turtle habitat, with a stretch of shoreline that’s a vital nesting site for the endangered green turtle, as well as giant leatherback, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles.

Besides small planes, this area is only accessible by boat. No roads reach this part of the world, so river boats glide across the jungle’s canals to bring visitors and locals alike in and out of Tortuguero to the small town and lodgings tucked inside of it.

Tortuguero was established as a national park in 1970 in a move to protect sea turtles, and it’s a true success story. Long before this, sea turtles and other wildlife were subject to capture and hunting – it was the way of things then. What makes Tortuguero so inspiring is how ecotourism and Costa Rica’s commitment to conservation has centered the economy and culture here on the protection of this habitat and its creatures. Today, the wild experiences awaiting you in Tortuguero will open your eyes to nature’s wonders – and possibilities.

Stay at a Sustainable Eco Lodge

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Inside Tortuguero National Park, eco lodges provide a one-of-a-kind stay in the heart of the jungle. Rustic cabins outfitted with just the essentials let your surroundings be the main attraction. You won’t forget it; you are truly in the middle of jungle. You can count the number of monkeys shaking the treetops overhead among your neighbors.

The lodges provide comfortable accommodations, meals filled with local flavors, and serene grounds to explore around your jungle home. Enjoy early morning and evening strolls when the rainforest’s creatures stir, and encounter wildlife all around you, from poison dart frogs on your doorstep to toucans perched overhead.

Support Sea Turtle Conservation

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During the day, take a quick boat ride over to the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s visitor center. This is one way to support and learn about its mission. Here you’ll be steps from Tortuguero’s beaches, the most important green turtle nesting site in the Western hemisphere. Peruse the visitor center’s educational displays and step out to see the beach where the magic happens each night.

Many visitors to Tortuguero come to witness sea turtles nesting and hatching. For that, you’ll have to stay up late, as most activity occurs by night. Guided by turtle researchers, visitors have a chance at observing sea turtles laying eggs on the beach or watching hatchlings make their way to the ocean. It’s an experience straight out of a nature documentary (with a dash of undercover spy movie) as you move in the dark surrounded by people who are absolutely dedicated to helping the turtles.

Look for Wildlife by Boat

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Tortuguero National Park is important to so much wildlife beyond sea turtles. It’s a protected habitat for countless species and it’s an absolute birder’s paradise. Once again, a boat will serve as your vehicle to embark on a jungle safari. And with a local steering the boat, you’re with someone who knows Tortuguero’s wildlife like the back of their hand.

Look for two-toed and three-toed sloths in the canopies overhead. Spot rare bird species left and right along the canal banks. And listen to the sounds of the jungle as troops of monkeys call in the distance or a noisy group of rare great green macaws fly by.

Visit Tortuguero Town

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In this isolated little town set on a strip of land between the Caribbean and Tortuguero’s canals, the people who live here have staked everything in sea turtle conservation and ecotourism. It’s a good bet. “Some 50,000 tourists visit Tortuguero annually to see the nesting turtles and visit the tropical rainforests of Tortuguero National Park,” according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy. While hunting turtles that came ashore here was once commonplace, the people of Tortuguero have long since become the turtles’ fiercest protectors.

Spending time in town and walking among the locals by the school, shops, and homes offers a glimpse of what life’s like in this community. Stroll down its carless road, shop for jewelry and keepsakes, or stop into a restaurant for a bite and try a coconutty Caribbean dish.

Getting There and Expertly Guided

While remote, Tortuguero National Park is accessible to any curious traveler. Collette makes that part easy. It’s the first destination on the small group journey, Costa Rica: A World of Nature, featuring a two-night stay in a Tortuguero eco lodge, with opportunities to explore the town and its natural surroundings.

Ready to go? Learn more about travel to Costa Rica here.

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