Postcard from Tortuguero, Costa Rica

Today’s post is 1170 words, 12 photos, a 5 minute read. Enjoy!

Howdy folks,

Thanks everyone for the views, likes, and comments on last week’s post on Door County in Winter. I hope that post triggered some interest in visiting the Door peninsula during the off season.

This week, I’m taking you back for another look at Costa Rica. Ride along to Tortuguero where sea turtles, nature, fishing, and tourism mesh for a relaxing and beautiful experience. If you missed the three earlier posts on Costa Rica, click here, here, and here.

The Trail to Tortuguero

Travel to Tortuguero takes planning and effort as the region is unaccessible by road. The most economical way is to catch the water bus from Rancho la Suerte. The more expensive and much faster method is by taking a scheduled flight from San Jose on a small plane and land at the short paved airstrip about two miles from the village of Tortuguero.

Since we were traveling in a rental SUV, we opted to drive to the boat landing and park our vehicle in a secure lot for our three-night stay in Tortuguero. We turned off Highway 32 at the Santa Clara Gas Station in Guapiles. We took the published advice to fill up on fuel, snacks, drink, and use the restrooms at the gas station. We were glad we did as it’s a 30-mile drive on a winding and, at times, rocky dirt road. After finding the recommended parking lot, we waited on the landing for the water bus to arrive. There were some locals waiting to catch the bus, even more when a land-based bus pulled up and unloaded several passengers.

When the water bus arrived, we tossed our bags on the vessel and found seats near the luggage. We were warned to keep an eye on our belongings, things do go missing. The locals sat near the front, the gringoes near the back, an observation we found amusing. Soon we were gliding down the wide Rio la Suerte (Luck River).  

The ride was smooth and relaxing even though there was a swift current. The driver had to dodge a few errant logs that were floating down the river. During our ride, we passed a few banana plantations but most of the trip was a lot of greenery. It was so comfortable and mesmerizing that I dozed off for a few minutes.

After about 45-minutes we arrived in the village of Tortuguero, population about 500. The bus dropped us off at the dock next to our lodging, Casa Marbella run by Canadian naturalist Daryl Loth. He also arranged for early morning tour of Tortuguero National Park, more on that later.

Tortuguero, the village

After getting settled in our super clean, modestly decorated rooms, we decided to explore the town. The main “street,” pictured below is a dirt path with small shops, restaurants, public lodging, private homes, and a couple of churches. There are no cars in Tortuguero, there might be an old open air Jeep that transports visitors from the airport to the village but that’s about it. There are a few motorcycles, four wheelers, and lots of boats with small outboard motors. Most transportation is by way of rivers and canals.

Worn footpaths wind through the village from building to building. If one gets lost, just listen for the waves crashing on the beach a few hundred feet from the village. Walk the other direction and soon visitors will be back on main street.

Speaking of the beach, it’s sandy but not in an attractive way with a mostly a dark gray and very course sand. However, green sea turtles, the worlds largest hard-shelled turtle, find the sandy beaches near Tortuguero, a very attractive place to lay their eggs. The adult turtle can weigh between 250 and 400 pounds and can grow up to four feet long. Every 2-5 years, the females return to the area where they were hatched to lay eggs, usually in the month of July. They are nocturnal nesters and lay an average of 110 eggs per nest and nest every two weeks until they return to the sea and their foraging grounds. After about two months in the warm sand, the eggs hatch and make their way to water. Both the egg nesting and hatching events bring in lots of tourists and nature lovers to Tortuguero. Apparently, it’s quite a site. We did not see any sea turtles during our visit except the plastic variety in the gift shops.

I mentioned earlier that gas is very expensive as it has to be brought in by boat usually in 50 gallon barrels. The photo below shows an enterprising fella filling one-gallon jugs out of a large barrel to be resold, I’m sure at a decent profit.

Tortuguero National Park

The purpose and highlight of our trip was an early morning guided tour of Tortuguero National Park. It’s hard to miss the park as it encompasses over 312 square kilometers (120 square miles or over 77,000 acres) and includes the village of Tortuguero and all the resorts along the interior canal. It also includes 20 miles of protected coastline and extends far out into the Caribbean Sea.

Our guide picked us up at the Casa Marbella dock just as the sun was coming up and before any of us had breakfast and coffee. We rode in a small electric powered boat with two bench seats. Our first stop was at the National Park ranger station where we paid an entrance fee, $6 USD per person if I recall correctly.

We were lucky, the weather was perfect, no wind and more importantly no rain. Tortuguero gets about 250 inches of rain per year. The water levels are always high and when the day heats up, humidity hangs in the air. The early mornings and evenings are cool, we often reached for our light jackets when dining out in the evening.

As we motored along, our guide pointed out wildlife and interesting flora. I snapped lots of photos, here are a few during our four-hour journey through the park canals. There were an abundance of small turtles and birds sunning themselves. There were the shy cayman (also spelled caiman), the small alligator like reptiles, trying their best to blend into their surroundings. 

We saw a few other tour boats during our time traversing the park. We enjoyed it so much, I often recall our time in Tortuguero National Park as one of our best international experiences. That’s saying a lot. I highly recommend giving it a try. It’s not for everyone but those that love natural beauty and wildlife should give it a try.

During our stay, we tried fishing. Didn’t catch anything. The food was simple but abundant and tasty. One evening, when we dining at one of the local restaurants, the lights went out. The candles were lit creating a nice atmosphere. We were told it happens, just wait it will soon come back on. And it did, then everything was back on track.

Too soon it was back on the water bus for the return trip to Rancho la Suerte. Our vehicle was still there, well guarded by the lot attendant we were told.

We often think of our time in Tortuguero and yearn to return while we are still able. Time to start planning!

Until next week, happy travels!