A Trip to Tortuguero

Hi everyone,

Several years ago this week, we were on a two-week excursion to Costa Rica with The Eldest and the Son-in-Law. During our visit, we traveled to Tortuguero, located along on the Caribbean north of Puerto Limon. Tortuguero is far off the beaten path, accessible only by boat or small airplane. Getting there is part the adventure. I was thinking about this trip recently, how much fun it was and just the thought made me want to return visit as soon as this virus crap goes away.

For our trip, I rented a small 4-wheel SUV for us to travel the country. Four-wheel drive is necessary when going off the main roads. Those side roads are often packed dirt with lots of rocks and potholes. One consolation, they are wide and don’t have a lot of traffic so drivers can use the whole road. For our trip to Tortuguero, we turned off the main highway at Guipiles towards Carari where we would park our vehicle and catch the water bus to the village of Tortuguero. At Carari, we purchased our tickets and secured the car in a guarded lot. Apparently, theft from unattended vehicles is a problem in the area. Soon the Clik Clik water bus arrived, passengers disembarked, some to catch the land bus to Guipiles and others to retrieve their cars. The water bus ride was an hour plus along the swollen Rio Tortuguero. The driver had to slow down for floating logs and dodge fallen trees. When there was open water, he could travel at a pretty good clip.

Upon arrival, the bus dropped us at the pier of our lodging, Casa Marbella. After getting settled in our rooms, we set out to make some arrangements for a boat tour of the Tortuguero National Park and explore the village. Tortuguero (meaning “the land of the turtles”) has a population of about twelve-hundred people scattered along a sliver of land between the main fresh water canal and the Caribbean. The major economic driver is eco-tourism with the main attraction the nesting of four species of sea turtles. This usually occurs in September and October, the village is filled with spectators. The National Park and surrounding land is a dense bio-diverse area with a tropical climate. It serves as a nesting site for several bird species and supports dozens of rare plants.

There are very few roads in Tortuguero. We saw very few motorized conveyances; all terrain vehicles (ATV), some motorcycles, and a few old Jeep type vehicles. Most of the transportation is on the water, virtually everything needs to be brought in by boat, even gasoline. As we walked around the village, we observed these fellas filling smaller containers with gas from a 50-gallon barrel. These small containers were likely sold for use in boat motors.

There are no chain hotels or restaurants along the hard-beaten, dirt main thoroughfare. The shops and establishments are owned by locals and offer quality arts, crafts, gifts, and of course, t-shirts! Each of the three evenings of our stay, we dined at a local restaurant. On our last night, we were eating dinner at the Miss Junie’s (highly recommended) when the electricity went down. The wait staff were nonchalant, lit some candles, and told us it will come back on soon as if this happens regularly (it does). Sure enough, the lights came back on after about fifteen minutes. There was no moon that night, we realized that it was so dark outside we weren’t sure if we could make our way back to our hotel without the weak, widely-spaced street lights. They gave just enough light for us to make our way. This made us think we should carry a small flashlight.

Here’s a photo one of the local businesses along the main street. I liked the handmade sign and that they offer hot and cold water!

Early the next morning our National Park approved tour guide met us at the dock with a six passenger boat. We got up early enough to have a cup of coffee and a pastry served by the hostess at Casa Marbella. After meeting the guide, a young man with excellent English, our first stop was at the National Park office to purchase our park passes, a requirement. It was just getting light as we made our way down the canal to the lagoons of Tortuguero National Park. Our guide pointed out the many birds, turtles, caymans, monkeys, and even a crocodile as we went further into the jungle. It was a perfect morning, no wind, no rain, no mosquitoes! The following are photos of some of the wildlife we saw on our journey.

We only saw one other group during our tour, they were gawking at something up in the tree, maybe a monkey or sloth.

It was a delightful three hours, one that I would do again given the opportunity. It’s still stuck in my memory, even this many years later.

My Son-in-Law wanted to go fishing out on the sea. We inquired at the village information center where we were connected with an English speaking guide who would take the Son-in-Law and I fishing the next morning. It was zero-dark-thirty when the fishing boat pulled up to the dock. In short order, we were heading down the canal to the sea.

When we got to the area where the fresh water met the salt water, our guide told us to hang on tight. He had to maneuver through some very choppy waves to reach the calmer area beyond. It was a little scary but we made it and soon we were dropping our lines in the water. After about an hour, the Son-in-Law got sea sick from the boat riding the waves. I lasted about fifteen minutes until I hurled over the side of the boat. We fished for a while longer without catching anything except a piece of garbage. The guide said he’d take us out that evening on the canal to try our luck catching a fish. When we pulled up to the dock, our spouses were waiting for us. Apparently, we looked pretty green but after a shower and breakfast we were back to normal. We didn’t have any luck that evening either but we did devour a six-pack of beer on the calm canal!

When we weren’t touring or fishing, we relaxed, enjoyed the quiet life, walked on the beach, and dipped our toes in the water.

On one of our walks, we saw these young guys filling bags with sand. Then a little later, they were transporting them someplace. It looked like a lot of work in the hot sun.

Here are a few more photos from our walk around the village. Note the outdoor toilets in this photo. Life is simple in the rain forest.

This is the meandering path through the neighborhood. There were no addresses that we could discern. I guessing people are guided by landmarks or more likely, familiarity.

This is the small Catholic Church near our lodging. There was no indication of when or if services are held. Regardless, it was a pretty site.

Too soon, it was time to leave. It was an awesome stay. I liked the remoteness and casualness of the village. I liked the tour of the park by water (there is no other way), the sound of the birds and monkeys, and the splashing of fish on the canal. A beautiful place to visit, put it on your bucket list. You won’t regret it.

Until next week, happy virtual travels!