Things to do in Tortuguero

The Best Things to do in Tortuguero, Costa Rica

Hidden away within the Northern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, is a quaint town brimming with flourishing wildlife perfect for nature-lovers! The town of Tortuguero sits just 245 km away from the capital city, San Jose, untouched by modernization and kept green for the locals. Tortuguero’s name means “turtle catcher” or “place of turtles” as it is a famous spot for nesting sea turtles. Between July and October, the local beaches become the nesting area of green sea turtles until their eggs hatch come November to January. While Tortuguero is a little bit hard to reach (only reachable for most via winding networks of waterways), its charming atmosphere and the comforting beauty of nature will be enough to entice you, particularly Tortuguero National Park. You can’t visit the town of Tortuguero without going to Tortuguero National Park! So when we explored Tortuguero, we visited and tried all the things to do in Tortuguero National Park.

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Tortuguero is surrounded by nature that offers provides a variety of fun activities that allows you to quench your thirst for adventure while also reconnecting with nature. The Tortuguero National Park protects 19,000 hectares of area and covers habitats like the beach, estuary, marine, freshwater riverine, and the tropical lowland rainforest. It was in 1970, when the area, which was primarily a nesting sanctuary, was declared a Costa Rican National Park. At this park, you can explore the rivers and canals, hike its trails while admiring the biodiversity, get to know more about the turtles, walk and swim at the grey sand beaches, go kayaking, learn more about the park’s biodiverse forests, and enjoy some great local food while getting the best view of the waters.

Nearly 20 feet (6 meters) of rain falls on Tortuguero annually, particularly during December, June, and July, while the driest months are February, March, and September. So be sure to schedule your trip accordingly to get the best experience.

How much is it to visit the Tortuguero National Park? The Tortuguero National Park entrance fee is USD15.

How long to stay in Tortuguero National Park

We’d recommend staying 2-3 days in Tortuguero National Park. It’s not an easy (or short) journey to get here, so you’ll want to make the most of your time here. And err on the side of staying longer if anything!

Where to stay in Tortuguero National Park

Here’s our pick of the best places to stay in Tortuguero National Park.

Tortuguero Adventures Guesthouse: This excellent guesthouse is just 350 yards from the beach and has A/C, balconies a garden, and a terrace. There’s free WiFi and all the rooms here come with a seating area, satellite TV and a private bathroom. It’s a great local homestay for your visit to Tortuguero. You can check rates here.

The Cabañas Daneysha Tortuguero are a great option in Tortuguero, with private seating areas and a really quiet location. All rooms are ensuite and have free WiFi. You can check rates and availability here.

Tortuguero Casa Pelican rooms are contemporary with seating areas and either a balcony or a terrace. All rooms are simply but well furnished and are en suite, its a great option in Tortuguero and you can book a room here.

The Best Things to Do in Tortuguero National Park

Take a Sea Turtle Tour

First things first, get to experience being close (but not too close) to Tortuguero’s sea turtles by going on a Sea Turtle tour! Get to know more about the four different species of sea turtles that come to visit Tortuguero during their nesting season such as the Green sea turtles, the Leatherback sea turtles, Hawksbill turtles, and the Loggerhead sea turtles. Since sea turtles are highly endangered, locals are very careful to assure that the turtles are well-protected, especially with the influx of visitors. That’s why during nesting season, beaches are closed and patrolled by the coast guards to make sure that the turtles remain undisturbed and to stop poachers from getting in. But, don’t worry, you can still witness the magical moment when turtles prepare their nests—you can join a night tour!

The patrolling coast guards will notify professional guides of turtles on the beach so that small groups can have a chance to witness sea turtles digging a hole in the sand, laying their eggs inside the holes, and burying and camouflaging their eggs.

How much is it to take a Sea Turtle tour? Sea Turtle tour costs are from USU30 to USD35.

Dive into the lives of Sea Turtles at the Sea Turtle Conservancy Centre

Get a chance to learn more about Tortuguero’s iconic turtles by visiting the Sea Turtle Conservancy. It’s here that you’ll learn more about the different species of turtles that visit the town to nest and lay their eggs; you can also learn more about their lives, their habitats, how they build their nests, and their migratory routes.  It’s a great place to visit, and we learned heaps. The organization, which was established in 1959 to save sea turtles from extinction, is considered to be one of the oldest sea turtle research and conservation group. Apart from the fact, that the sea turtles are the most prominent animal in Tortuguero, the Sea Turtle Conservancy dedicated its efforts to studying and caring for sea turtles as they are one of the most important indicators of the health of the world’s marine and coastal ecosystems.

The center also has a small theatre where you can enjoy and learn about Tortuguero’s history with turtles. If you want to, you can also get more involved by applying for the various programs they offer. You can adopt a turtle to directly support the sea turtle conservation programs. You can also make a monthly donation of USD5 to help sustain and strengthen Sea Turtle Conservancy’s work in the United States, Costa Rica, Panama, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. To fully immerse yourself in protecting the sea turtles, you can also volunteer.  There’s more information on that here.

How much is it to visit the Sea Turtle Conservancy? Visiting the Sea Turtle Conservancy costs USD5 for the entrance fee. The fee goes towards funding the research of the center.

If you travel to Tortuguero during nesting or hatching season, then you MUST prebook to get a Turtle experience. It is truly magical.

Take a Canal Tour in Tortuguero

To get a better experience of exploring deep into Tortuguero National Park, I recommend going on a canal tour with a professional guide – they’ll spot things that you’ll miss completely! We did this tour – just the two of us and a guide and it was excellent. Explore the rivers while you look for the different species living in the jungle, like monkeys, sloths, parrots, crocodiles, caimans, and many more. Tortuguero also is home to 60 mammal species, 57 amphibian species, 111 reptile species, over 300 bird species, more than 2,000 plant species, and more than 400 tree species, so seeing the park this way is a MUST. You can take canal tours on a motorboat or by going canoeing.

tortuguero national park tours boat

How much is it to go on Canal Tours in Tortuguero National Park? Tortuguero canal tours cost from USD30 to USD75 or more. The cost of a Tortuguero canal tour usually depends on what mode of transportation you are going to take when touring the canals. This is a great option and the one that we chose in Tortuguero.

Go Kayaking in Tortuguero National Park

If you prefer to be a bit closer to the water and under your own steam, then go kayaking to explore the canals and the rivers! The best part about going kayaking? Some parts of the canals and rivers which are not accessible to motorboats can be reached by kayaking, allowing you to see even more of Tortuguero’s wildlife. While it is definitely fun to go kayaking with others, it is also worth trying to go kayaking independently. However, I found that we saw a lot more wildlife when we were accompanied by our guide – a lot of the birds and mammals here are seriously well-disguised!. You can see more of Tortuguero’s natural beauty as you quietly float down the rivers and canals and bask in the peaceful atmosphere of the Tortuguero area. Sometimes the best time exploring is spent alone!

Tortuguero national park

How much is it to go kayaking at the Tortuguero National Park? Kayak rental in Tortuguero costs from USD8 to USD20 for a day. You can also check out Tortuguero Kayak tours which will cost you around USD35 or more.

canal tour in Tortuguero

Take a Walking Tour of Tortuguero

Sometimes the best way to explore a place is just to walk around the area. In Tortuguero National Park, you can take your time exploring and admiring the beauty of the park and its habitats by walking a trail. While on foot it will be easier to catch a glimpse of sloths, peacocks, parrots, frogs, toucans, spider monkeys, alligators, and caimans. You will see different things by taking both a day hike (this one was great) and a night hike, which I’ll cover later.

things to do in tortuguero wildlife spotting

How much is it to take a Walking Tour of Tortuguero? Tortuguero walking tours cost around USD25. You can prebook a Tortuguero walking tour here.

Visit the Turtle Museum in Tortuguero

Want to get to know more about Tortuguero’s iconic turtles? Head to the Turtle Museum. The museum, part of the Caribbean Conservation Center, is packed with information about the turtles, along with an illustration of the turtle’s nesting cycle, and other information about their habitats and life cycle. The museum also has a small souvenir shop so you can bring home with you a part of Tortuguero’s iconic sea turtles.

How much is it to visit the Turtle Museum? Tortuguero’s Turtle Museum costs USD1 for the entrance fee.

Take a Jungle Canopy Tour in Tortuguero

Taking a walk or hiking a trail is one of the best ways to get up close and witness the different inhabitants of Tortuguero’s thick jungles. Seeing Tortugeuro from above or even in the jungle canopy is glorious and the best way to do that is to strap yourself into a harness and ride a 75-feet high thrilling zip-line to explore the canopies and see the grand landscape of Tortuguero from an exhilarating point of view. So if you want an exciting adventure, you definitely shouldn’t miss this!  (And of course, a professional guide will strap you in, so you don’t have to worry about ensuring those clips are secure!!)

How much is it to take a Jungle Canopy tour in Tortuguero? Tortuguero Jungle Canopy tours cost around USD35.

Visit the Mariposario Butterfly Garden in Tortuguero

Seeing a butterfly is already a treat, but being surrounded by many butterflies is a magical experience you definitely should not miss! The Mariposario Butterfly Garden is a place where you feast your eyes and other senses upon the colorful, fluttering wings of these magnificent creatures. The garden has two enclosures, one for butterflies that feed on nectar and one for those who have a preference for rotten fruits. In the enclosure with nectar-eating butterflies, you catch Monarch and Owl butterflies.

Even if you’re not a butterfly enthusiast, the garden has a magical atmosphere and it is glorious to watch them as they flutter around you and softly land on different parts of the garden such as the trees, and watch them as they slowly flash their colorful wings.

Where is Mariposario Butterfly Garden located? Tortuguero’s Mariposario Butterfly Garden is located inside the Mawamba Lodge at Tortuguero.

How much is it to visit the Mariposario Butterfly Garden? Mariposario is exclusive to the guests of Mawamba Lodge, so the prices are based on the rooms or accommodation you will stay in.

Visit Ranario the Frog Farm in Tortuguero

Just next to the Mariposario Butterfly Garden sits Ranario, the Frog Farm in Tortuguero. When visiting the frog farm, you should make sure to look for the frog that cannot be found anywhere else except in Costa Rica, the Red-Eyed Tree Frog. Red-Eyed Tree Frogs have secretions that can be poisonous but worry not! They are only poisonous when ingested (But still, be careful and wash your hands if you get anywhere near them!!). You should also check out the other frog that resides on the farm, the Blue Jeans Frog. This frog got its name from the color of its torso, blue. Their bodies can be different shades of green, but their torsos are always dark blue.

Where is Ranario Frog Farm located? The Ranario Frog Farm is located inside the Mawanba Lodge.

How much is it to visit the Ranario Frog Farm? The Ranario is exclusive to the guests of Mawamba Lodge, so the prices are based on the rooms or accommodation you will stay in. You can check room availability and rates at Tortuguero’s Mawamba Lodge here.

Hike to Cerro Tortuguero

Costa Rica is home to many majestic volcanoes and Tortuguero is another Costa Rican town that houses one. The Cerro Tortuguero or the Tortuguero hill is an extinct volcano that formed 1.8 billion years ago, and it is the highest point on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. To get the best view of the forests, beaches, and lagoon of Tortuguero, you can hike up Cerro Tortuguero. You will need to take a 10 to 15-minute boat ride before reaching the starting point of the trail to Cerro Tortuguero. The beginning of the trail is a series of flights of stairs that will take to the top. During the hike, you can also spot some of the residents of the wildlife like the howler monkeys, and the Blue Jeans Frog, and as you get closer to the top, at the canopies you will also be able to see some of the monkeys closer.

At the top, there is an observation deck where you can take in the view of the Caribbean Sea, the Barra Tortuguero, the town of Tortuguero, the Tortuguero lagoon, and the town of San Francisco, the Penitencia Lagoon, and the Sierpe hills.

The extinct volcano is 119 meters high and becomes quite steep, so be sure you’re prepared for this hike as it will take you 2 to 3 hours to finish.

Where is Cerro Tortuguero located? Cerro Tortuguero is located within the Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge, a protected area covering 81,177 hectares of diverse landscape.

How much is it to visit Cerro Tortuguero? Visiting Cerro Tortuguero will cost you USD2 for the entrance fee.

How to get to Cerro Tortuguero? You can take a public boat from the main dock of Tortuguero which will drop you off near the trail to Cerro Tortuguero. Remember to arrive 5 minutes before the departure of the boat so you can get yourself settled before they leave for Tortuguero Hill. The boat that will take you back to Tortuguero is scheduled at a specific time, so confirm that time when you arrive and so be sure to come back down on time to catch them.

Take a Night Tour of the Jungle in Tortuguero

You won’t get the full picture of Tortuguero’s wildlife if you only explore during the day. At night, the nocturnal animals of the jungle emerge. That’s why you should also go on a night tour of the jungles of Tortuguero. It is truly amazing.  And yes you can head out by yourself with a red-colored torch, but I doubt – unless you’re a wildlife expert, that you’ll see much without guidance.  We took a fabulous Tortuguero night jungle tour and it was magnificent.  During the tour, we saw insects, birds, bats, and mammals. oh and a few sleeping sloths too!

things to do in tortuguero night tours

How much is it to take a night tour of the jungle in Tortuguero?  Tortuguero night tours cost from USD30. We went out and explored with a guide, and didn’t see a thing until he pointed it all out! Try this night walking tour of Tortuguero, it’s fabulous.

things to do in tortuguero night walk

Things to Know about Visiting Tortuguero

As much as we are so excited for you to experience the beauty of Tortuguero, here are a few really important things you should know when you make your plans. Getting to Tortuguero is not that easy, you can read more about it in the next section. So you have to be sure that all your options are laid out. There is also an entrance fee so be sure you are prepared for that as well. Also, make sure you get a professional guide to help you navigate the town and its areas; without a guide, you wouldn’t be able to spot much of the town’s diverse wildlife. Lastly, you will need to wear wellington boots when you visit some of the jungle trails; Don’t worry your guide can hire them for you.

How to Get to Tortuguero

As Tortuguero is tucked away on the northeastern coast of Costa Rica, it is a little more challenging to access than other locations. You can only get to Tortuguero by boat or plane.

The fastest way to get to Tortuguero is by plane, however, if you’re on a budget, we suggest you take a boat instead.

How to Get to Tortuguero from San Jose

Fly to Tortuguero

Flying to Tortuguero from San Jose is the fastest way to get to Tortuguero National Park. Costa Rica’s domestic carriers, Sansa and Aerobell make daily flights from San Jose to Tortuguero and it will only take about 30 minutes to an hour to get here. From the landing strip at Tortuguero, a short boat ride will take you to the village center.

Drive to Tortuguero

La Pavona and Moin are the two towns on the mainland that provide boat services to Tortuguero. If you’re coming from San Jose, it’s best to go to La Pavona. Driving to La Pavona is a good option so you can keep your rental car once you come back to the mainland. The parking at La Pavona is about USD10 per day. You don’t have to worry about your car security because this is a covered parking space with guards that patrol at night.

If you need to rent a car in Costa Rica we recommend Discover Cars for car hire.  You can search, compare and save up to 70%, with no hidden fees and free cancellation, it’s the perfect option! Get a price for a rental car in Costa Rica here.

Take the Bus to Tortuguero

A cheaper way to reach La Pavona from San Jose is by bus. From Gran Carib terminal in downtown San Jose, the bus will take you directly to Cariari, which is about 2 hours. After reaching Cariari you can take the bus that leaves for La Pavona, which takes a further hour and a half. You can check bus and shuttles to Tortuguero here.

Take the Boat to Tortuguero

If you’re coming from San Jose, you should opt to go to La Pavona. A boat from La Pavona will then take you directly to Tortuguero which will take about an hour.

If you are short of time, but still want to see Tortuguero, then you can visit Tortuguero on a day trip from San Jose. This is a great option that includes door-to-door transport and a great English-speaking guide.

How to Get to Tortuguero from Puerto Viejo

If you’re coming from Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, (this is the route that we took) it is best to go to Moin for a boat service along the canal to Tortuguero.

things to do in tortuguero - tortuguero canal from Puerto Limon

Bus from Puerto Viejo to Tortuguero

If you’re coming from Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, you can take the bus to Limon. Once you reach Limon, there is a local bus that takes passengers to Moin for about 30 minutes. Then from Moin, you can catch a boat ride to Tortuguero along the canals – it’s a fabulous way to travel and the boat captain will stop if (and when) there are wildlife spottings – and we had LOTS! You can prebook the shuttle to Moin from Puerto Viejo here, they’ll take you straight to the boat that will take you to Tortuguero.

In Costa Rica, use bookaway for private and shared shuttles – and to check bus schedules and prebook where possible – you can see all the routes and schedules, and prices for Costa Rica buses here.

Boat from Puerto Viejo to Tortuguero

From Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, you can reach Moin by car or by shuttle. There are allotted secure parking spaces for you to park your car. Then, from Moin, it will take you about 3 to 4 hours to reach Tortuguero.

How to get to Tortuguero from La Fortuna

One of the main itineraries around Costa Rica is to go on from Tortuguero is La Fortuna, and so it’s a relatively well-traveled route, you can book a transfer to La Fortuna from Tortuguero here.

Travel Tips for Exploring Costa Rica

Final Words on The Best Things to do in Tortuguero National Park

We love traveling to places that are hard to get to.  Tortuguero is an ideal place to explore nature and wildlife and also to see some of the quieter sides of Costa Rica.  Tortuguero National Park is an incredible and unforgettable place to visit. You can observe the town’s famous turtles as they make their nests and lay their eggs. You can also do volunteer work or donate to make sure that the preservation and conservation of these turtles will strive. You can unwind by going kayaking or canoeing in the winding canals and rivers of the town. You can also go on an exhilarating hike up the extinct Cerro Tortuguero and witness the nightlife of the wildlife.   It might be difficult to get there, but this not easy to access sport on the north coast of Costa Rica is glorious and well worth the visit.

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