Tortuguero, which means “region of turtles” in Spanish, is one of the country’s most important nesting sites for the leatherback, green, loggerhead, and hawksbill sea turtles. From November to January, night tours of the beaches offer visitors the chance to see baby turtles scrambling towards the shore for the first time. The area is also Costa Rica’s Amazon-like rainforest, and you can take many boat tours around the canals to see over 800 species of wildlife, especially many types of birds. I love the area for its jungle feel, animals, and remoteness. Use this travel guide to plan your trip to what I think it one of the best parts of Costa Rica!
Hostel prices – You won’t find your standard backpacker hostels here in Tortuguero. Prices start at around 5,800 CRC per person for a 4-bed private room and 12,000 CRC for a single. Camping is available in the area for those who have a tent. You can pitch a tent along the coast for free, though you’ll want to keep an eye on your possessions as they may disappear when you’re not around.
Budget hotel prices – Expect to pay at least 11,000 CRC per night for a single or double budget hotel in town. Most accommodation here are lodges that start at around 16,000 CRC. Free WiFi is common, and a few hotels also include free breakfast. Some of the nicer budget lodges also have a pool. Airbnb is available in the area, though the options are limited. For a private room, prices begin around 13,000 CRC while an entire home/apartment will cost you around 20,000 CRC. With so few options available you’ll want to make sure you book in advance.
Average cost of food – The hotels and lodges provide all your meals for you. If you are staying in the town, you will be able to find some restaurants. Food is shipped it via boat so it’s pretty expensive. Expect to pay around 3,500 CRC for a basic meal.
Transportation costs – Tortuguero is only accessible by water or air. Water taxis will be your main form of travel around the area, with prices starting round 1,100 CRC per person. The park itself has a 8,300 CRC fee, which you’ll need to pay upon arrival. Most lodges will arrange a pick-up for you as well as provide transportation around the canals. Flights from San Jose to Tortuguero will cost between 50,000-72,000 CRC per person for a one-way trip.
Suggested daily budget – 27,700-33,250 CRC / 50-60 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
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 16,000-27,000 CRC extra you’ll spend over trying to do it on your own. Also, be aware that there are no banks or ATM’s in the village. Most places also do not accept credit cards so you’ll want to make sure you have sufficient cash on hand.
Top Things to See and Do in Tortuguero
- 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. Admission to the park is 8,300 CRC per person.
- 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. Tours cost around 12,000 CRC per person.
- 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 8pm-midnight and begin around 12,000 CRC. 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 between 3,500-5,500 CRC. This will let you explore some of the harder-to-reach areas, and will allow you to get away from the crowds of motor boats.
- 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. Expect to pay around 16,500 CRC per person.
- 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. Admission is only 550 CRC, and all proceeds go toward turtle conservation and protection.
- Take a short hike – The two-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.
- Chill on the beach – This is Costa Rica after all, so be sure to spend some time relaxing by the ocean! The locals usually stay close to the shore, though, so be sure to not to swim too far out.
- 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 kingfishers 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. Tour prices begin around 12,000 CRC per person.