Tortuguero National Park is arguably one of the most beautiful places in Costa Rica with diverse wildlife, lush nature, wild beaches, and the Carribean culture of local people. There’s so much to see and do in the area and fortunately, the local community has found a way to tap into the tourism industry to help travelers enjoy the riches of Tortuguero while putting their tourism colones directly into local hands. There are many strict regulations in place to protect the vulnerable ecosystem in order to preserve the natural habitat. Here’s how to visit Tortuguero National Park responsibility.
I visited Tortuguero National Park courtesy one of my favorite responsible tour operators, Better Places Travel. They work with local experts who source out ethical partners for accommodations, tours, dining, and more. This process ensures that every step of the trip is impactful and authentic. They arranged for me to stay at the beautiful Laguna Lodge.
The best way to enjoy your visit to Tortuguero National Park is to stay at an all-inclusive property which offers excursions, traditional Costa Rican food, and round-trip transportation back to San Jose.
Laguna Lodge has gorgeous rustic wooden bungalows nestled around 6 acres of garden property and two swimming pools. The lodge is located right in between the Tortuguero Lagoon and the Caribbean so guests are treated to spectacular sunrises and sunsets daily.
Laguna Lodge was founded in 1990 and is coined as an eco-touristic lodge that’s in compliance with nature. They employ locals and adheres to the conservation regulations in the area. Each room at Laguna Lodge has a darling balcony equipped with rocking chairs which is the perfect place to read a book for a few hours before drifting to sleep to the sound of the surrounding wildlife.
The big draw of visiting Tortuguero National Park, which has an entrance fee of $15 per day, is the rare chance to see wild green, leatherback, or hawksbill sea turtles nesting, laying eggs, or hatching on the wild shores of Tortuguero Beach. Tortuguero, as you may have guessed, translates to Land of Turtles. Sadly, my visit was not at the right time of year for this so the only sea turtle I saw was a baby one which was headless, I assume it had been eaten by a vulture–truly tragic, but that’s the circle of life.
The National Park management has enlisted strict regulations to protect sea turtles. It’s forbidden to walk on the unspoiled beach at night without a guide. Nesting tours have banned any sort of light so no flashlights, no cameras, no cell phones. The light can cause distress to the female turtle who may get scared and return to the ocean before laying her eggs.
If you wish to visit during the spawning season book your trip with Better Places Travel between June 20th and October 20th. Over 2,000 sea turtles lay their eggs at Tortuguero Beach each year. Hatchlings are often spotted between September and November.
A 3 mile stretch of wild beach with volcanic black sand is just steps away from Laguna Lodge. Here I was able to see the tracks of mother sea turtles who’d emerged from the ocean to lay their eggs, and thousands of tiny heart marks left in the sand by brand new baby sea turtles who made a mad dash towards the ocean. The sea is very rough so swimming isn’t recommended, which is probably better for the vulnerable sea turtles–all of which are endangered.
There’s so much to explore and experience in Tortuguero beyond sea turtles including observing other incredible creatures so consider visiting during the offseason. Tortuguero’s remote wetlands receive 250 inches of rain a year and are home to immense biodiversity. The area became a National Park in 1975 to preserve the habitat for the wildlife and nature that live here. This includes over 400 bird species, 50 freshwater fish, 160 mammals, and an uncountable amount of tropical plants and flora.
I saw many of these phenomenal creatures on Laguna Lodge’s early morning awakening boat tour with our local naturist guide. We left at dawn, around 5:30 AM, just after the sun rose, and began to navigate the tiny canals of the Tortuguero National Park.
Almost instantly we came across not one, not two, but three sloths sleeping up high in the treetops. Throughout the day we came across countless two-toed and three-toed sloths, always drowsy or sleeping.
As I was scanning for sloths along the Río la Suerte I thought my eyes were failing me as I watched a critically endangered great green macaw land on a treetop high above the dense jungle. The moment passed before I could capture a photo, but was incredible none-the-less.
The boat floated forward and stalled often so that we could take in the majestic beauty of numerous birds. Many were enjoying the early morning light and sunning themselves in the rays. We came across tiger herons, macaws, hummingbirds, blue herons, northern, jacana, and many other birds.
During the boat ride, we heard howler monkeys beckoning us to come closer with their ferocious calls. We found dozens of them, including tiny fuzzy babies that seem to just be learning how to throw their bodies from one tree to the next.
I was astonished by how many reptiles we came across! Iguanas, caimans, lizards–they all seemed completely at ease and unthreatened by our presence. Take caution and never swim in the canals, or you might have an unpleasant encounter with this guy!
Back at the natural Laguna Lodge frog pond, we spotted poisonous brightly colored red-eyed frogs and blue jean frogs. None of these wild animals seemed bothered by us, it’s as if they can sense that we were there simply to adore them from a distance and that through our travels we were contributing towards the preservation of their habitat. Pura Vida!
We also visited the vibrant Tortuguero town. Colorful street art murals covered many walls as children gathered together to paint designs on wooden posts on every corner. Calypso music could be heard everywhere we walked as if the tropical winds were singing to us. Fresh coconuts and tortillas were available for snacking every couple of blocks. It was a great half-day trip and made me wish I was able to spend a night at a homestay in the town center to get a better understanding of the local way of life.
Through tourism, locals have begun to appreciate the dire need to preserve nature. There’s a massive trash-sorting facility, complete with a beautiful mural. Here locals can bring their waste to have it properly disposed of rather than leaving it on the streets. Around town, there are many signs stating that Tortuguero is a zone free of plastics with no plastic bags, straws, or bottles. Tourist and locals alike are encouraged to use reusable materials.
Visiting Tortuguero is a very active experience, but don’t worry, you’ll have some downtime between excursions to relax in the numerous hammocks or one of two pools at Laguna Lodge. Even while unwinding you’ll have the opportunity to observe wildlife as you’re never too far away from a hummingbird, kiskadee, iguana, or raccoon!
The 77,000-acre protected Tortuguero Park can only be reached by boat. The Better Places Travel trip includes transportation from San Jose to Tortuguero National Park. It’s a bit of a journey with a shuttle ride to a bus ride to a boat ride. If you’re coming from anywhere else in the country book a shuttle with Interbus as they offset 100% of their carbon footprint through natural regeneration projects. Check for flights to Costa Rica on Skyscanner and be sure to opt-in when you have the chance to offset your carbon emissions. Never travel without an insurance plan from World Nomads.
Have you been to Tortuguero National Park? Tell me about your experience in the comments!
This article was made possible due to a collaboration with Better Places Travel. All opinions and photos are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Please read the Miss Filatelista disclosure policy for more information.