Tortuguero, Costa Rica
The Tortuguero Vibe
Want to know one of our favorite spots in Costa Rica? This is it!
The vibe here is nothing like anything else you will find in Costa Rica.
Imagine a small island without cars, a relaxed feel, extremely nice people, a cool national park, and best of all, turtles!
Yeap, you read that right!
In late summer/ early autumn, you can watch hundreds of huge sea turtles laying their eggs and see little babies waddle their way out to sea.
It’s perfect and definitely worth a visit.
Map Of Tortuguero
Tortuguero is located on the northern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. In fact, it is so far north that Nicaragua is just north of Tortuguero.
Tortuguero at a Glance
Nearest International Airport
Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in San Jose
Popular Things to Do
early morning wildlife canoe rides, walking the national park trails, taking a sea turtle tour
Best Way to Get Around
By foot! There are no cars in Tortuguero
Best Time of Year to Visit
The best weather tends to be from late July until mid- October
Book Your Trip
Getting to Tortuguero
I struggled writing this section because Tortuguero is just so amazing and I want you all to see it, but it can be really difficult to find an affordable and easy way to get here.
I spent hours researching and asking other people about taking the public bus here from San Jose and have determined its kind of impossible. Anyway, let’s go through your options…..
Flights to Costa Rica
The easiest way of getting to Tortuguero is by flying in to the San Jose International Airport.
If you haven’t booked your flight yet, we suggest using Skyscanner. We consistently find the best rates through their website.
Renting a Car
The best way of getting here is definitely by car, but that means you will have to park your rental car for however many days you are on the island, which means you are paying for a car you won’t be using. Ugh!
If you do opt to rent a car, we suggest renting with Adobe. They are our favorite rental car company in Costa Rica and the only company we really trust. You can find out more about renting a car and get a 10% discount with Adobe here.
The drive from San Jose to La Pavona (the town where you park your car) takes about 2.5 hours and is pretty nice.
The last 30 minutes of your drive is on an unpaved road. A 4×4 would be nice, but we’ve also done it in a tiny sedan. I wouldn’t pay extra for a 4×4 just for this thirty minutes.
You then park your car in a secure lot. The lot is guarded 24 hours a day and we have never heard of anyone having any thefts with their car in the lot.
However, please still don’t leave anything of value in your vehicle. When you leave the lot at the end of your stay you will be charged about $10 a day for the length of your stay.
Adobe Transfers will take you from wherever you are in the country to La Pavona where you can grab a boat to take to Tortuguero.Find out more here.
Sansa Airline flies direct from San Jose to Tortuguero. This is definitely the fastest way of getting there (it’s about a 25-minute flight) but it can be pricey and it is not something I recommend to any of you that are scared of flying.
Flights range in price depending on the season.
If you’d like to look more into flying check out your options here.
No matter what way you arrive to La Pavona (accept for by plane) you will then need to take a boat out to Tortuguero.
There is a public boat which costs about $3 for a one-way ticket. It departs La Pavona at 7:30am, 11:00am, 1:00pm, and 4:30pm or whenever there are enough people to fill the boat. It is possible to buy tickets for this at the same place you park your car or get dropped off in La Pavona.
Another option is to take a private boat from a local. They are usually happy to leave whenever and sometimes charge less. They also tend to drive their boat a lot faster (which I love).
Going with a local driver is discouraged by the public boat people. Apparently there have been some incidents in the past.
The ride out to Tortuguero takes about 45 minutes. Make sure you have your camera because it is super cool! You’ll feel like you just entered Jurassic Park.
Once you arrive at Tortuguero there will sometimes be someone from your hotel waiting to meet you or your boat driver can direct you to your hotel.
I hope this didn’t discourage you from visiting. It really is an amazing place once you arrive!
Getting Around in Tortuguero
There are no cars in Tortuguero and the village is pretty small. You can get everywhere by foot within a few minutes.
Book Your Transportation
Welcome to the Caribbean coast where the weather is the complete opposite to the rest of Costa Rica!
Here, the rainy season runs from mid-December until end of July. I know, that sounds like a whole lot of rainy time, but let me explain.
Although it can be rainy, you just never really know. We have visited in January and had amazing weather. We have also visited in January and experienced complete washout days.
One thing we have noticed though is that usually when it rains, it at least rains at night. Daytime rainstorms don’t happen that often.
Also, the temperature stays fairly warm even when raining.
During the dry months, the weather is amazing and warm!
Grab a free copy of our Costa Rica guide
Tortuga Lodge & Garden– Nice hotel right on the river. There is a pool and a Caribbean restaurant on the property.
Mawamba Lodge– Beautiful place with an outdoor pool, hiking trails, and butterfly gardens. Transportation from some San Jose hotels is included in your booking.
Casa Turtle Bogue– Beachfront hotel with simple (but nice) rooms. The staff are happy to help arrange any tours for you.
Hotel Icaco: This hotel is about as basic as they come, but it is perfect if you’re on a budget. It is located directly across from the beach on the ocean side of the island.
Aracari Garden Hostel– This hostel offers private rooms and shared dorms. There is a shared kitchen on site for guests to use.
Tortuguero Natural: Simple, but nice rooms on the ocean side of the island. The people working here are the sweetest and will help you out in any way they can.
Things to Do in Tortuguero
Walk the Miles of Beaches
The beach in Tortuguero is nice to experience. It is not the best for swimming, but you can walk for miles and miles. Visit the beach at sunrise for a really nice experience.
Just keep in mind that the beach is considered a wildlife refuge because it is a nesting site for turtles. Do not disrupt them.
There are a few places in town where you can rent kayaks. Renting kayaks for half a day is a great way to explore the little freshwater streams near the island and see wildlife.
Go on a Canoe Tour
On Tortuguero, there are a few different wildlife tour options but we think that the 6 am canoe tour is definitely the best.
The guides are very knowledgeable and you will likely see many species of birds, monkeys, and more. Ask at your hotel and they will arrange it for you.
Find out more in our national park guide.
Explore the Tortuguero National Park
On the same day as your canoe tour you should explore the national park. You pay for the national park admission with your canoe tour.
The national park is overly special, but it is a nice walk through the woods next to the beach.
Check out the Turtle Museum
On the north side of the island there is a small museum about the turtles. It costs a few dollars to enter but this money goes towards funding turtle conservation. You will likely spend about 45 minutes here.
Experience Turtle Nesting
This is the highlight of Tortuguero!
Between July and November (nesting season), there are evening turtle tours on the beach.
After 6 pm you are actually not allowed on the beach without a guide so as to protect the turtles. I promise you will be one of the coolest things you’ve ever experienced in your life.
Get ready to see massive mom Leatherback turtles waddle up from the ocean, lay their eggs, and go back down into the water.
Throughout the year it is also possible to see green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles.
Go on a Fishing Tour
If you are interested in fishing we suggest booking your trip with Captain Primo along the Tortuguero rivers.
Some species you might catch include; grouper, rainbow trout, tarpon, and cubera snapper.
The town of Tortuguero does not have too many dining options. It is a small town after all. However, there are a few places that really stand out as excellent places to enjoy a meal.
Karonga: We actually haven’t been here yet, but it is high on our list. If you try it out, report back on how you liked it.
This is a floating dining experience that lasts for about two hours. It is possible to visit for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Budda Cafe – Our favorite hangout spot. The food is great, the drinks are great, and the atmosphere is perfect.
Tutti’s – Finding quality pizza is not the easiest in Costa Rica and we are always on the hunt for decent Italian food. This place was on point! The staff is super nice and the prices are decent.
Mi Nino: Delicious typical Costa Rican food with huge portion sizes.