Tortuguero – the ‘Costa-Rican amazon’

Wednesday, 3rd September 2014
A frequent occurrence of this trip, especially in Costa Rica, are the early mornings and today was no exception as we caught a taxi to the ‘Gran Caribe’ bus terminal at 5:30am to give us enough time to get a ticket and sort ourselves out for the 6:30am bus to Cariari, the first of three legs on our way to Tortuguero. The ride to Cariari brought us more and more into countryside that reminded of what we saw in Belize, as we were moving towards the Caribbean coast. Once we got to the bus terminal in Cariari, after a journey of about 2 hours from San Jose, a guy wearing a tour guide polo shirt told us how to get the onward bus to La Pavona, the next stop before the boat to Tortuguero. It turns out that the bus we jumped on with him just outside the bus terminal was stopping at another terminal in town, just 500m metres from this one but is was nice to save the walk. It looks as though the driver was his mate and stopped for him and as we were there he thought he could rustle some commissions from us for finding us a hostel or something. We had already booked though. After we left the other terminal, we were driving through town when the bus driver shouted out the window at a couple of lost looking backpackers, if they were going to Tortuguero and to jump on his bus if so. People are helpful here and I think with this journey more so as it can be confusing where to get your bus from and when. Nice of the driver though.

The one hour ride to La Pavona was even more Belizean-like with banana plantations and much smaller, less built-up and more rural-looking villages that we passed through. La Pavona isn’t really much a town but a farm that hosts a jumping off point to Tortuguero. We waited here for about one and a half hours for our boat to Tortuguero, the ride on which was amazing, about an hour winding our way down the Rio Tortuguero, seeing a crocodile and several large bright green lizards on the way. It is much more humid here than anywhere we have been for a while but the temperature isn’t that high so it’s quite a nice climate for us. The whole journey cost us about US$8 each and after leaving our hostel San Jose at 5:30am we were in Tortuguero at about 1:30pm

La Pavona

Boats awaiting the travellers to Tortuguero, La Pavona

La Pavona to Tortuguero

Boating along towards Tortuguero

Tortuguero (means Land of Turtles) is a small village on the Northern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica in the Limón Province. It gave its name to the neighboring Tortuguero National Park. The village is situated on a sand bar island, separated from the mainland by Tortuguero River and bordering the Caribbean Sea. Tortuguero is known for its navigable canals that run through the rainforest in the national park, and has such earned the nickname of ‘Central America’s Amazon’. The beaches around Tortuguero are key nesting sites for four species of sea turtle, including two critically endangered species. The National Park is also host to an incredible biodiversity of insects, resident and migratory birds, and mammals, including jaguar and four species of monkey.

Our boat was met by local hawkers for the hostels and tours that are offered here. The most popular things people do are to go turtle spotting at night along the beach and to do a canoe tour of the national park. We have planned to do both whilst here and have booked initially for two nights at the ‘Toucan and Tarpon Lodge’. After telling the hawker that latched onto us that we already had accommodation he told us about his tours and took us to a nice place for lunch, no doubt getting a ‘tip’ from the owner. It was nice though and we had some Carribean chicken with rice. The fever that I had started to feel on and off in Monteverde though started to return and had got to my appetite so I couldn’t really eat much. Kirsty did her best to eat for both us though which is normally my job. We hate to waste food. The prices here are more than elsewhere with lunch costing us around US$20, to be expected in a place with such limited resources though. After lunch and buying some groceries, for there are no shops where we are staying, we donned our backpacks once more and caught a water-taxi over to the other side of the river to our accommodation. We were there by 3pm and after getting the orientation tour by our host, Sue, I had a much needed lie down. We had booked ourselves on a turtle tour for this evening, getting our hostel to put our names in for us. They do a lottery here and there are two slots, 8pm and 10pm, that you can go on. We found out at 5:30pm, when they do the draw, that we had the later time slot so after a simple dinner and again not eating very much, I had a sleep until 9pm when we caught a water-taxi back to the main community of Tortuguero to meet our guide, Alexis.

Toucan and Tarpon Lodge

Our cabin at Toucan and Tarpon Lodge

Toucan and Tarpon Lodge

The Toucan and Tarpon Lodge

The tour was excellent and even though I was feeling like I might stumble and fall into the turtle laying the eggs at times, we had a great time. We didn’t have to wait long before a turtle was spotted on the beach and Alexis kept us entertained with facts and teachings from the world of the sea turtle. We waited close by in our group, just off the beach. When the spotters down on the beach see a turtle on the beach they radio through and we go down and have a look, using red-light torches so as not to freak them out. We saw a Green Sea Turtle laying eggs, then covering them up and finally making her way back to the ocean before swimming away. It was an amazing sight and getting to see the whole process was great, having seen only a ‘false-start’ in Sri Lanka (digging a nest but no eggs). The turtle was large, over 1 metre long and they look almost animatronic in their motion and the way they do things; in bursts of energy. It takes a huge amount of energy to undergo this process, hauling their bulk up into the beach, digging a nest, laying the eggs then covering over the nest. It is all done so perfectly as well. The temperature of the nest has to be just right for the survival of the baby turtles, which will hatch in around two months. The whole turtle process from spotting to swimming away was about an hour I think. We finished up at some time after 11pm and got a water-taxi back to our hostel then crashed with whatever bug I have deciding to get a hold of me that night.

Thursday, 4th September 2014
To go to sleep knowing that we didn’t have to get up the next day was a real bonus, especially with feeling rather rough. We got up around 9am and had breakfast laid on by Sue, of which I managed only some then went back to bed for a couple of hours. Basically it’s just a fever but it’s making me completely drained of all energy and has taken away my appetite.  By this point we have decided to stay here another couple of nights so I can get fully better and not rush ourselves. This means we will miss out on Puerto Viejo further down on the Caribbean coast but this place is so nice and peaceful with so much wildlife around I don’t think we are too upset. So, the rest of the day was spent not doing too much. We did get a water-taxi over to the village though for some lunch and groceries and to have a walk around, checking out the beach that we were on the day before but this time in the daylight. The sand here is dark and the sea pretty rough. Swimming is not recommended here due to the strong currents.

Tortuguero Beach

Tortuguero Beach with the Caribbean Ocean to the right


The ‘streets’ of Tortuguero

Once back at the lodge, after paying our US$3 water-taxi fare, we took advantage of my up-right state and went for a walk around one of the trails on the property that the hostel is situated on. This hostel is a collection of three huts together with the main house, each with private bathrooms and a communal kitchen, set on a vast amount of land that extends from the side opposite Tortuguero village all the way to the water on the other side. The forest here is teeming with wildlife and we are pretty much in the thick of it here. You can animals roaming in the trees above the huts. The trails take you further into the first at the back of the property and whilst we didn’t see anything that exciting, we did almost walk into the web of a rather large (15cm) golden orb spider, very like the ones they have in Queensland. After seeing that one we have now spotted quite a few around this property. It was nice walk though the rainforest, we had to borrow wellington boots, being very muddy. After another rest, I managed a small amount of soup before bed.

Friday, 5th September 2014
Last night was the worst night’s sleep with the fever but writing this I feel ten times better. I believe I am now fixed and back to normal. I feel sorry for Kirsty who has been putting up with me wingeing and moaning and has been great. I will have to make it up to her. I managed much more for breakfast, which as there was bacon the table I was pleased about. After breakfast we spotted some howler monkeys in the tree above our hut and after following them from tree to tree I managed to identify them as a male and female with baby, maybe a family. It was great to see these guys as we have heard their cries for so long through Central America, first in Tikal, Guatemala. There was also a toucan in the tree above us. After following the wildlife around for a while they moved on further into the rainforest and we set about sorting out some travel stuff, booking a hostel for San Jose and a canoe tour for the next day. I feel much better and well enough to go on a canoe tour now. I was cautious not to get in one until I was feeling better.

Toucan and Tarpon Lodge

Walking trails at Toucan and Tarpon Lodge


A toucan sitting in the trees

We then spent the rest of the day relaxing in the hammocks, reading and trying to spot other wildlife. We are the only guests at the lodge at the moment and it’s so nice and peaceful. There are hammock spots out the from with views of the river and you can go wandering all over. With the animals coming to you as well you don’t feel like to have to go far to see them. You can often hear them in the trees when they are here also, alerting you to their presence. No sloths yet but these are fairly hard to spot in dense rainforest, especially as they don’t move much.

Saturday, 6th September 2014
Today is the day of our canoe tour on the rivers through the rainforest (known here as the ‘Costa Rican Amazon’) next to Tortuguero village. I actually got up earlier than usual as I was awake already, feeling much better, and wanted to have a look around to see if I could spot any wildlife hanging about in the trees. There were birds, amongst which some toucans, parrots and a pair of aracaris (check out the pictures) in the front of the property creating quite a noise and tucking into the berries on the trees. Then, after another great breakfast put on by Sue, some spider monkeys turned out and put on a show of leaping from tree to tree using hands, feet and tail to grasp onto whatever is in their path. When they move they make crashing sounds and branches fall from the trees. They aren’t graceful movers like the howler monkeys who move much slower and are easier to watch than the leaping, frantic spider monkeys. It was a great show for the morning and all before our actual tour on the river.

Spider Monkey

A spider monkey in the trees


An aracari

We caught a water-taxi over to the main village of Tortuguero at 8:30am and after sorting out a guide jumped into our canoe with a paddle each. We paddled our way up the river until we got to to ranger station for the entrance to Tortuguero National Park where we paid the fee. We then crossed the river and made for a network of ‘canals’ that wind through the rainforest spotting wildlife on the way. The forest here is so dense and teeming with creatures. We both saw and heard a lot, with the highlights:

  • adult caiman
    two baby caimans
    black river turtles
    spider monkeys
    jesus christ lizards
    five bats sleeping under a tree
Canoe Tour

Paddling through Tortuguero National Park


An adult caiman getting some sun

The tour was great, both in what we saw, the guide and the pace. Paddling along the river was so peaceful and it meant that we could get close to the animals. Once we were back where we cast-off we grabbed a cool drink after all the paddling in the sun then headed up the park entrance again, this time on foot. They have a walking trail that goes for about 4km round trip and we managed to see loads of lizards but best of all the third of the four species of monkeys here, the white-headed capuchin. By this point we were exhausted by all the heat and humidity, it’s the hottest we’ve had here so far. We decided to have some lunch under a fan then head back to our lodge.

Walking Trail

the ocean seen through a side-trail, walking through the Tortuguero National Park

White faced capuchin

A White faced capuchin seen in Tortuguero National Park

We spent the rest of the day relaxing with a nice cool breeze. It’s amazing how much cooler the other side of the river can be, only travelling about 100m or so. We will have to pack tonight and looks like laundry will be on the cards for San Jose as all our clothes have taken a hit from the humidity, annoying the clean ones too. As we staying close to the river, there are loads of crabs with holes around the huts here. They are actually quite large and have taken to living permenantly on land, coming out at night to feast. It does mean though that you have to watch your step on the way back to your door for fear of getting a toe sniped. Sue’s dog, ‘Lucky’, was attacked as a puppy and lost half a leg to a crab. That was when Sue found him and gave him a home. He manages about on his three legs though and is of course cute.



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  1. Beaumont avenue /

    Glad to hear from you again. You will be jungle experts by now and the Spanish looks pretty authentic to us. Onwards and southwards!

  2. Beaumont avenue /

    Hope you are thoroughly better now. You will Soon be able to write a coach and taxi guide to central america. Collecting conkers now but it is still warm.

  3. sandra leane /

    What an amazing adventure being amongst such interesting animals and birds. So glad you got over your fever Pete. There is obviously so much to see and do. Stay wel and take lots of photos .love mum and dad

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