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.
I highly recommend visiting Tortuguero when you are in Costa Rica. 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 really love the area for its jungle feel and, thanks to the canals and region, you’re really away from civilization here so it’s a nice break from the touristy beach towns of the rest of the country.
This travel guide to Tortuguero will give you the low down on everything you need to know to plan your visit!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Tortuguero
1. Visit Tortuguera National Park
2. Take a night boat tour
3. Chill on the beach
4. Go on a bird-watching tour
5. Turtle tours
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 accommodations). The hike up to the steep summit of the hill takes around two hours, but once at the top, you’ll get a great aerial view of the area and its many canals. 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 your own in a canoe. There are loads of places in town to rent out canoes, which will usually cost about 11,228 CRC ($20 USD) per day. Canoeing will let you explore some of the harder-to-reach areas, and will allow you to get away from the crowds of motorboats.
3. Take a 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. Tours start at about 19.649 CRC ($35 USD) with Tortuguero Adventures.
4. 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. Catches include tarpon, snook, red snapper, rainbow bass, and barracuda! Tortuguero Adventures will quote you a rate based on your budget, so talk to them first.
5. Broaden your turtle knowledge
Though it may be small, the Caribbean Conservation Corporation’s Visitors’ Center and Museum in Tortuguero village are filled with information on turtles, as well as on flora and fauna in the area. Admission is only 1,125 CRC ($2 USD), and all proceeds go toward turtle conservation and protection.
6. 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. If you want a guided hike deeper into the jungle, you’ll pay about 25,265 CRC ($45 USD) for a full day.
Tortuguero Travel Costs
Hostel prices – There’s only one accommodation with dorm rooms here, and it’s Aracari Garden Hostel. During peak season, a bed in a five bed room (or more) will cost about 7,385 CRC ($13 USD) per night. Prices are the same in the off-season.
Hostels and lodges here often work the price of tours into their prices, especially since you need to get around Tortuguero by boat. So if you want to stay in Aracari Garden Hostel for two nights and do two tours, that’ll cost you 42,595 CRC ($75 USD).
A basic private room with an ensuite bathroom costs between 11,230-14,035 CRC ($20-25 USD) per night during peak season. Prices are also about the same in the off-season.
Budget hotel prices – Nightly rates for a budget two or three-star hotel room start at about 19,650 CRC ($35 USD) in peak season. In the off-season, budget rooms start from about 16,845 CRC ($30 USD).
There are limited Airbnb options in Tortuguero but don’t use them. You’re better off sticking to hostels and lodges with organized tours as it is next to impossible) to explore Tortuguero on your own.
This isn’t a cheap part of the country so just accept that and pay for the all inclusive lodging! The region is worth it!
Average cost of food – Tortuguero’s small village has lots of small family-owned sodas and restaurants catering to travelers. You can get pastries and baked goods for as little as 1,120 CRC ($2 USD). Casado (rice, beans, veggies, and meat) goes for about 2,805 CRC ($5 USD), while a burger with a side and a drink can cost up to 4,490 CRC ($8 USD). Personal pizzas cost about 5,055 CRC ($9 USD).
At mid-range restaurants, you can get meat, seafood, or spicy chicken dishes for about 8,420 CRC ($15 USD). Pasta dishes or soup will start from about 4,490 CRC ($8 USD). A beer will cost about 2,805 CRC ($5 USD).
That said, since you’ll probably here with a lodge, they tend to also include most meals in their prices too. Chances are, you’ll be eating, sleeping, and doing tours from whatever place you decide to stay.
Backpacking Tortuguero Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Tortuguero, expect to spend about 35,780 CRC ($63 USD) per day. This budget will cover a hostel dorm, water taxis, street food and cheap local eats, entry to the national park, and free activities (like the beach). If you’re doing a daily tour, you may spend less on transportation and more on the activity.
A mid-range budget of about 87,017 CRC ($155 USD) will cover staying in a private hostel room, eating out for all of your meals, a daily tour, a few water taxi rides, and some drinks. If you plan on just doing tours daily, you can remove the transportation portion and save about 22,456 CRC ($40 USD) per day.
On a luxury budget of about 129,122 CRC ($230 USD) or more per day, you can get a decent three-star hotel, any meal you want, drinks, tours, and lots of water taxis. 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 USD.
Tortuguero Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
There aren’t too many ways to save money in Totuguero, as you’re likely to do some tours if you’re here in the first place. Here are some suggested ways to save money in Tortuguero:
- Take advantage of happy hour – Some places around the village have great drink specials, including at Tutti’s where you’ll get two cocktails for 5,615 CRC ($10 USD)($10 USD) between 3:30PM to 5:30PM.
- Eat at the sodas – “Sodas” are small family run restaurants which specialize in inexpensive local meals, usually costing around 2,925 CRC ($5 USD) including a drink. These hole-in-the-wall restaurants offer the best value in the country.
- 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. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw ($49.99).
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. Your price will depend entirely on where you’re going, but expect to pay at least ($10 USD) per one way.
Your accommodations may also offer options for you to get around, via tours or their own water taxi service.
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 (and you probably are), July to October are the best months to visit. In November, you might see baby turtles hatching. Keep in mind that accommodations will 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 big 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’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.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- 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 bookers.
- 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 exclusive discounts when you click the link!
- STA Travel – A good company for those under 30 or for students, STA Travel offers discounted airfare as well as travel passes that help you save on attractions.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B 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 to Tortuguero, here are my suggestions for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack for your trip.
The Best Backpack for Tortuguero
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 Tortuguero
- 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
- 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 natural 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 had 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 witty tale comes from Nadine Pisani, who shares her story of quitting her job to forge a new life in sunny Costa Rica. 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.
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to Tortuguero
This book shows you how to easily collect and redeem travel points so you can get free airfare and accommodation.
Kristin Addis writes our solo female travel column and her detailed guide gives specific advice and tips for women travelers.
This book features interviews with dozens of teachers and detailed information on how to land your dream job and make money overseas.
My best-selling book will teach how to master the art of travel so that you’ll save money and have a more local, richer travel experience.
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: