Found on the country’s North Caribbean Coast, situated within the Tortuguero Conservation Area of Costa Rica’s Limón Province, is the third most visited park in the country – Tortuguero National Park. While fairly remotely located, it is one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful and scenic regions – dubbed the “Little Amazon” –, best reached by a small airport located north of Tortuguero village.
Officially becoming a national park in 1975, Tortuguero National Park (Tortuguero Spanish for “turtle” or “Land of the Turtles,”) is an extensive network of freshwater channels connecting to the rest of the Costa Rica mainland and Limón. It comprises 64,633 acres of natural protected land and 123,948 acres marine habitat, which includes more than 20 miles of coastline where green sea turtles nest as well as surrounding tropical rainforest, coastal mangrove swamps and lagoons, canals and waterways. Seeing some more than 200 inches of rainfall a year, the region is one of the country’s wettest, the saturated environment hosting a great abundance of life including 50 kinds of fish; over 300 bird species including the endangered green parrot and great green macaws; amphibians and reptiles; and about 160 mammals, some under the threat of extinction, including three-toed sloths, tapirs, spectacled caiman, southern river otters, and though difficult to spot – howler, white-faced capuchin, and spider monkeys plus the West Indian manatee. More unique finds include the fishing bulldog bat, which fishes by sonar, and the window rat – whose internal organs are visible through transparent skin. Jaguars were at one time many, but banana plantations found alarmingly near the park’s western fringes continue to draw them away. However, it’s the green sea turtles that draw the crowds, the park’s secluded, black-sand beaches some of the most important breeding grounds for 4 of the world’s 8 green sea turtle species: Leatherback, Olive Ridley, Loggerhead, and Hawksbill. Close to extinction at one time, the adults having been hunted for their meat and their eggs stolen, the turtles have made a large comeback to the park due to conservation efforts. Visit the sites where the turtles nest and learn of the park’s efforts to protect them. During season, even watch them lay their eggs. They arrive yearly, starting early March to mid-October, to lay their eggs after sundown before returning back to the waves. However, it is possible to spot stragglers along the coast all year-round.
As there are no roads to the park from Tortuguero village, which offers a range of accommodations for travelers, most visitors rely on their lodge for transportation via boat to the park and into town, which is the primary method of transportation for navigating the park – whose trails can be reached by boat as well. Boats and guides are an affordable hire, and many organized tours of the park are available as well, offering you an invaluable knowledge of the park’s wildlife, history, and more.