Tortuguero, which means “region of turtles” in Spanish, is one of the country’s most important nesting sites for the Leatherback, Loggerhead, and Hawksbill sea turtles. From November to January, tours of the beaches offer visitors the chance to see baby turtles scrambling towards the shore for the first time.
I highly recommend visiting Tortuguero when you are in Costa Rica. The national park, which spans over 300 square kilometers, is the country’s third most visited park. It’s home to a lush Amazon-like rainforest with over 800 species of wildlife, including tapirs, ocelots, jaguars, coatis, manatees, and more!
Surrounded by jungle, Tortuguero feels like a place far from civilization. It’s the perfect spot to relax and disconnect.
This travel guide to Tortuguero will give you the low down on everything you need to know to plan your visit and save money during your trip!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Tortuguero
1. Visit Tortuguero National Park
2. Take a night boat tour
3. Chill on the beach
4. Go on a bird-watching tour
5. Do a turtle tour
Other Things to See and Do in Tortuguero
1. Visit Turtle Hill
Tortuguero Hill (it’s really a mountain) is the highest point on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and can be reached by a 10-minute boat ride from the village (it should only cost a few dollars — ask your accommodation). The hike up to the steep summit of the hill takes around two hours, but once at the top, you’ll be rewarded with a panorama view of the landscape. It’s not an easy hike, but you’re almost certain to encounter wildlife along the way.
2. Go canoeing
If you are keen to explore the waterways at your own leisurely pace, consider setting off on in a canoe. There are loads of places in town to rent out canoes, which will usually cost about 12,000 CRC per day (a tour costs around 27,700). Canoeing lets you explore some of the harder-to-reach areas and allows you to get away from the crowds of motorboats.
3. Take a canopy tour
After exploring the waterways, consider getting an aerial view of the rainforest by taking a canopy tour. The zip lines and suspended bridges allow you to get up close and personal with the vegetation and wildlife at the top of the rainforest. Plus, it’s super fun! Tours start around 21,500 CRC.
4. Go fishing
All the canals here offer plenty of fishing opportunities. The lodges, as well as some independent operators in town, can even cook what you catch for dinner. Common fish here include tarpon, snook, red snapper, rainbow bass, and barracuda. Tortuguero Adventures can quote you a rate based on your budget (you can go fishing in a canoe, kayak, or go out in a larger motorboat, depending on how much you want to spend).
5. Broaden your turtle knowledge
Though it may be small, the Sea Turtle Conservancy (formerly Caribbean Conservation Corporation’s Visitors’ Center and Museum) in Tortuguero village is filled with information on turtles, as well as on flora and fauna in the area. It’s small but super informative and a good place to start learning about the region’s wildlife. They also provide 8-day volunteer stays where you can work directly with the turtles (this includes food, lodging, volunteer training, and local tours) for 1.1 million CRC.
6. Take a short hike
The two-mile Gavilan Trail lets you get up close with the nearby jungle. The trail isn’t coo challenging, however, make sure to rent rubber boots at the entrance to the trail because it tends to get muddy. If you want a guided hike deeper into the jungle, you’ll pay about 27,000 CRC for a full day.
For more information on other destinations in the country, check out these guides:
Tortuguero Travel Costs
Hostel prices – There is only one hostel here. Prices are the same all year around, costing around 7,400 CRC per night for a bed in a five-bed dorm. Free Wi-Fi is included and there is a kitchen available to cook your own food. Private rooms with an ensuite bathroom cost around 18,000 CRC.
Budget hotel prices – Nightly rates for hotels start at 20,000 CRC. Expect basic amenities like free Wi-Fi and a coffee/tea maker, though some budget hotels have pools or include free breakfast.
Most hostels and hotels offer discounts on tours and transportation when you book with them.
Airbnb is available here, however, the options are limited. I wouldn’t suggest using Airbnb here though. You’re better off sticking to hostels and lodges with organized tours as it is next to impossible to explore Tortuguero on your own.
Average cost of food – Costa Rican cuisine is centered around rice and beans, which are usually eaten for every meal. Potatoes, plantain, pork, and beef are also popular. Gallo pinto (rice and bean stir-fry) is the national dish. You’ll find it mixed with eggs for breakfast. Other popular meals include fried plantain and chicken and rice.
Tortuguero’s small village has small family-owned sodas and restaurants catering to travelers. You can get pastries and baked goods for as little as 1,500 CRC. Casado (rice, beans, veggies, and meat) goes for about 3,000 CRC, while a burger with a side and a drink can cost up to 5,200 CRC. Personal pizzas cost about 4,000 CRC.
You can get meat, seafood, or spicy chicken dishes for about 6,500 CRC. Pasta dishes or soup start from 5,000 CRC. A beer costs around 1,500 CRC while bottled water is around 850 CRC.
If you’re staying at a lodge, most meals are included in the price. Chances are, you’ll be eating, sleeping, and doing tours from whatever place you decide to stay.
If you cook for yourself, you’ll spend around 20,000-25,000 CRC on groceries per week, which gets you basics staples like rice, pasta, bread, veggies, and some meat.
Backpacking Tortuguero Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Tortuguero, expect to spend about 34,500 CRC per day. This budget covers a hostel dorm, a few water taxis, street food and self-catered meals, a couple cheap beers, entry to the national park, and free activities (like the beach).
A mid-range budget of about 65,000 CRC covers staying in a private hostel room or budget hotel, eating out for all of your meals, a guided tour (hiking, fishing, bird-watching), a few more water taxi rides, and some drinks out at the bar.
On a “luxury” budget of about 140,000 CRC or more per day, you can stay in a hotel with a pool, eat any meals you want, drink as much as you’d like, take more guided tours, and explore as much as you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in CRC.
Tortuguero Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
There aren’t too many ways to save money in Totuguero, as you’re likely here to do some tours and see the sights. Here are some suggested ways to save money in Tortuguero:
- Take advantage of happy hour – Some places around the village have great drink specials. Ask your hotel/hostel staff where to find them.
- Eat at the sodas – “Sodas” are small family run restaurants which specialize in inexpensive local meals, usually costing around 3,000-3,500 CRC. These hole-in-the-wall restaurants offer the best value in the region.
- Pack a water bottle – A water bottle with a purifier will help you save money and thousands of plastic bottles by purifying the tap water for you (the tap water isn’t safe to drink without a filter). My preferred bottle is LifeStraw.
- Book early – Tours booked last-minute will likely be expensive — especially during the busy turtle-hatching season. Book your tours in advance to avoid paying more than necessary.
Where to Stay in Tortuguero
There’s not a lot of accommodations in Tortuguero, but you have a few budget-friendly places to choose from. Since Tortuguero is a region that can only be explored by boat, it’s best to book a place that’s near the coast (the accommodations listed below are ideal). The best part is that they’re almost all surrounded by nature and wildlife. Here are some of my suggested places to stay in Tortuguero:
How to Get Around Tortuguero
Water Taxi – There are no roads around Tortuguero — the only way to get around is by a water taxi on the local waterways. Prices depend entirely on where you’re going, but expect to pay at least 2,000 CRC.
Your accommodation may also offer options for you to get around, via tours or their own water taxi service so be sure to check with them on arrival.
When to Go to Tortuguero
Tortuguero is very hot and humid year-round, with daily temperatures often in the high 80°Fs (32°C). It’s also one of the wettest places in Costa Rica — hence all the flora and fauna! It rains year-round, but December and January are the rainiest months. September, October, and February are the driest months.
If you’re here specifically for the turtles, July-October are the best months to visit. In November, you might see baby turtles hatching. Keep in mind that accommodations fill up during this time as people are keen to see the turtles. Make sure you book your hostel and tours way in advance (especially since accommodations are limited), and expect inflated prices if you book last minute.
If you’re here during prime turtle-viewing times, expect crowds.
How to Stay Safe in Tortuguero
While Costa Rica is one of the safest countries for traveling and backpacking in Central America, you’ll still need to exercise some level of caution. Tortuguero has a small population, and it’s very isolated, so petty crime here is a lower risk than other places due to the lack of people around.
Don’t swim at Tortuguero Beach. Shark attacks and powerful currents make the waters here very dangerous. The locals don’t do it, and neither should you.
If you’re booking a tour, make sure you’re getting a qualified guide. Only licensed guides are allowed to lead tours – otherwise you’ll get kicked off the beach. Some scammers will do anything to get you to book a tour with them, including giving you false information about the safety of certain routes and other tour companies. When in doubt, do your research ahead of time or consult with the people at your accommodations.
If you experience an emergency, dial 911.
If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Remember: always trust your gut instinct. Avoid isolated areas at night, and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
For more in-depth coverage of how to stay safe in Costa Rica, check out this post we wrote that answers some frequently asked questions and concerns.
And be sure to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Tortuguero Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Costa Rica. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Costa Rica, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
Tortuguero Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Tortuguero Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Monkeys Are Made of Chocolate: Exotic and Unseen Costa Rica, by Jack Ewing
This book gives a fascinating overview of how animals, plants, and people interact with one another in Costa Rica’s rainforests. It’s written by Jack Ewing, a naturalist, and born storyteller. Here, he shares a treasure trove of observations and stories gathered for more than 30 years of living in the country. Chances are, you’re coming to Costa Rica to discover some of the country’s amazing ecosystems. This book will get you excited about it.
In Search of Captain Zero: A Surfer’s Road Trip Beyond the End of the Road, by Allan Weisbecker
In 1996, Allan Weisbecker sold all his worldly possessions and set out in search of his long-time surfing friend, Patrick, who went missing somewhere in Central America. Traveling with only his dog, his surfboards, and his truck, Allan’s journey from Mexico to Costa Rica is a memorable one, filled with scarier moments (like evading bandits) and warmer ones (like befriending the locals). It’s really the tale of ultimate friendship.
Happier Than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica, and Living the Zero Hour Work Week, by Nadine Hays Pisani
It’s the classic travel tale — overworked professional realizes that the 9-5 to grind isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and sets out to seek greener pastures. This is a nice, light read for when you’re just flaking out on the beach or by the pool. But, along the way, you’ll learn why Costa Rica is one of the happiest places on earth.
Tortuguero Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Costa Rica travel and continue planning your trip: