Tortuguero isn’t really a budget destination, so if you’re watching your expenses, there isn’t any way around spending a bit here. While it will be slightly cheaper if you try to come here yourself, it’s also a lot harder, more complicated, and you won’t be able to get the range of activities you could if you stayed at a lodge. In this destination, pick a cheap lodge, and let them take care of everything. They will even come pick you up from San Jose, and take you right to you’re accommodation. It’s easy and worth the $30-50 USD extra you’ll spend over trying to do it on your own.
Top Things to See and Do
Tortuguero National Park – The National Park is located on the far south side of the main village. There are a couple of trails you can hike on through the park, but boat tours of the area are pretty much the only way to get around since this is a river system. Aside from the obvious turtle connection, you’ll be able to see sloths, howler monkeys, tiny frogs, and green iguanas. This area is amongst the wettest in the country, so be prepared for a muddy trip when you do get out of the boat.
Turtle Hill – Tortuguero Hill is the highest point on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and can be reached by a 10 minute boat ride from the village. The hike up to the summit of the hill takes around 2 hours, but once at the top you’ll get a great aerial view of the area.
Visit a banana plantation – Along with coffee, bananas are Costa Rica’s main export, and at the two plantations in the area you can see how the fruit is grown and harvested. Del Monte and Chiquita both allow tours of their plantations where you’ll watch the field hands cut the bananas from the trees.
Night boat tours – Night boat tours are offered throughout the area and are your best chance of catching a glimpse of the many nocturnal creatures that inhabit the canals around Tortuguero. You’ll meander down the waterways in darkness while the tour guide shines a spotlight to illuminate crocodiles, frogs, caimans, crabs and bats.
Turtle tours – Chances are if you’ve come here, it’s to try and catch a glimpse of the turtles on to the beach to lay their eggs at night or to spot the hatchlings making their first crawl towards the sea. The tours take place between 8 pm – midnight and cost $20 USD. Green turtles are the most common species here, but you might also see Leatherbacks, Hawksbill, and Loggerhead turtles. During nesting season, Tortuguero is pretty crowded with tourists.
Canoeing – If you are keen to explore the waterways but a canal tour by boat isn’t for you, consider setting off on your own in a canoe. There are loads of places in the area to rent out canoes which will usually cost $5-10 USD.
Canopy tour – After having exhausted the waterways, consider getting an aerial view of the rainforest by taking a canopy tour. The ziplines and suspended bridges will allow you to get up close and personal with the vegetation and wildlife nearer the top of the rainforest.
Go fishing – With all the canals here near the sea, you’ll have many fishing opportunities. The lodges as well as some independent operators in town allow you to do small scale fishing. The lodges will even let you cook what you catch for dinner.
Broaden your turtle knowledge - Though it may be small, the Caribbean Conservation Corporation’s Visitors’ Center and Museum in Tortuguero village is filled with information on turtles, as well as on the flora and fauna in the area. Entrance is $1 USD, and all proceeds go toward turtle conservation and protection.
Take a short hike - The 2 mile Gavilan Trail lets you have a private, quiet moment with the jungle surroundings. Make sure to rent rubber boots at the entrance to the trail because it tends to get quite muddy.
Go on a bird-watching tour - Although the highlight of the park is the turtles, you can’t forget that there are over 300 identified bird species that call Tortuguero home. Green Ibis, Great Potoo, Scarlet Macaw, Green Macaw, and King fishers are just a sampling of the species that you can encounter on an organized tours. Or if you’re a real ornithologist, maybe you can identify some of them on your own.