Tortuguero National Park
The boat drifts through canals flanked by tall green jungle. Every now and then a graceful snow white heron takes wing, a kingfisher zips by and toucans fly overhead. Careful searching in the water reveals a Spectacled Caiman or if it’s big enough to eat you, an American Crocodile lurking beneath the surface. Keeping your eye on the canopy reveals a sloth painstakingly making its way through a treetop or squawking parrots or flowering orchids splashing the monotonous green with color high overhead. The going is easy on a boat through the jungle waterways of Tortuguero National Park and if the rainforest isn’t enough to whet your appetite for a wild tropical adventure, the sea turtles on the beach might satisfy you.
Location and how to get there
Tortuguero National Park is located 50 kilometers north of Limon on the Caribbean Sea. This watery landscape is most easily reached by boat or plane and most visitors arrive on pre-arranged tours for ease of access. A series of buses can get you close to the northern entrance to the park but chartering a boat from Moin is far easier.
Tortuguero National Park protects a large area of lowland rainforest (71,000 hectares). Much of the park is flooded swamp forest dominated by huge Pterocarpus tree species. Primary lowland rainforest is also found in the Cerro Tortuguero area. Over 2,000 plant species are known from the park and at least 300 bird species. This park is especially important for the endangered Great Green Macaw, toucan and parrot populations, and animals that require large areas of habitat such as Jaguar, Ocelot and Spider Monkey. Sloths are common as are caimans and a large variety of reptiles and amphibians. Most of all, this park is vitally important for the Green Sea Turtle as the park’s black sand beaches are the largest nesting site for this species in the western hemisphere. The endangered Leatherback Turtle also uses the beaches of Tortuguero for nesting.
Turtle watching at Tortuguero is a monitored, guided affair. Many of the guides are locals who used to be turtle catchers and egg harvesters. Tours go most nights and can be arranged in the village of Tortuguero. Avoid using bright lights on the turtles; train your light instead on the nearby forest to look for eyeshine of nocturnal creatures. You might find tree frogs, various snakes, Kinkajous or even a cat species. Jaguars have been known to visit the beaches of Tortuguero National Park to prey on a turtle or two.
Boat rides through the canals
Watch turtles at night and go for a boat ride through the swamp forest during the day. Boat trips at Tortuguero are excellent for seeing rainforest wildlife. The animals don’t seem to be as shy of people in a boat and the forests are filled with life. Local guides are superb at spotting carefully camouflaged animals and will greatly increase your chances of seeing sloths, potoos, many snakes, caimans and more.
Tortuguero has several hotels along the beach, most of which are fairly expensive. There aren’t any camping opportunities.