Want to know one of our fave spots in Costa Rica? This is it! Tortuguero is a bit of an adventure to get to. It will take you about three hours by car from San Jose and then another hour on a boat, but it is so worth it!
The vibe here is nothing like anything else you will find in Costa Rica. Imagine a small island with a relaxed rasta 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 turtles laying their eggs and see little babies waddle their way out to sea.
It’s perfect and definitely worth a visit.
Plus, accommodations here are some of the cheapest we’ve found in Costa Rica!
Now on to the rest of the Tortuguero guide!
GETTING TO TORTUGUERO
I really 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 it kind of sucks! Anyway, let’s go through your options…..
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 are on a 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. When you leave the lot with your car you will be charged $8 a day for the length of your stay.
Private shuttle: There are several private shuttle companies which will take you from wherever you are in the country to La Pavona where you can grab a boat to take to Tortuguero. We’ve never done this personally so we don’t have a specific company to suggest to you. If you just search “shuttle Tortuguero” on Google a ton of options will come up. Most shuttles will cost about $50 per person for a one-way ticket. I know, it’s expensive.
Flying: Nature Air 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. Their planes are really small. Flights range in price depending on the season so if you’d like to look more into flying check out the Nature Air site.
No matter what way you arrive to La Pavona 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. You just buy your 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, but make your own choice.
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!
THINGS TO DO
Walk the miles of beaches: The beach in Tortuguero is not the best in Costa Rica, but it is decent. Plus, you can walk for a really long time along it. Go at sunrise for a really nice experience.
Rent kayaks: There are a few places in town where you can rent kayaks. Compare rates and try some haggling. Renting kayaks for half a day is a great way to explore the little 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. It’s not cheap (it’s about $30 per person plus you need to pay for national park admission) but the guides are really knowledgeable. You will see lots of cool wildlife and it is completely peaceful. Ask at your hotel and they will arrange it for you.
Explore the national park: On the same day as your canoe tour you should explore the national park because you have already paid for it. I don’t think 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 work with the turtles. You will probably spend about 45 minutes here.
Go on a night time turtle egg hatching tour: Between July and November, 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. For $20 you can take a tour which I promise you will be one of the coolest things you’ve ever experienced in your life. Get ready to see massive turtles waddle up from the ocean, lay their eggs, and go back down into the water. Ask at your hotel and they will arrange a tour for you.
Go on a fishing tour: If you are interested in fishing, don’t pay a ton of money to go on a fishing trip with an established company. We asked our guide from the turtle tour if he knew of anyone that did fishing tours. He called a friend who was happy to take us out the next morning for two hours in his boat for far less than we were originally quoted. It wasn’t as fancy as a professional fishing tour would have been, but we all had a really good time and caught a few fish. Just ask some locals (everyone knows everyone here) and they’ll likely help you out.
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. We stayed here in a yurt-like structure with my dad and sister for two nights and paid $40 a night for one large room with three beds. Can’t get cheaper than that! They did not have air conditioning units, but they did have standing fans which you can aim directly on you at night.
Los Amigos Jungle Hotel: Basic rooms on the ocean side of the island. You can expect to pay about $35 for a double room. There is a shared kitchen and pool on the property which guests can use.
Tortuguero Natural: More basic rooms on the ocean side of the island. For about $30 you can get a large room for two people. The people working here are the sweetest and will help you out in any way they can.
Guest House Paisajes de Tortuguero: Located directly on the beach. You can expect to pay about $40 for a double room.
PLACES TO EAT
Probably our favorite hangout spot in all of Costa Rica. The food is great, the drinks are great, and the atmosphere is perfect. Just note this is not traditional Costa Rican food. It has a more Mediterranean feel to it, but after a hot day of exploring it is perfect.
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.
Now that I’m looking at reviews of this place on TripAdvisor, I’m not totally impressed, but we had the Caribbean chicken here one night and we were obsessed. We also hadn’t eaten in way too long, were extremely grumpy, and it was the middle of a crazy rain storm in which the whole island was flooded. We may have just been so hungry and relieved to find food that we thought it was perfect, but from what we remember the chicken was fall off the bone goodness with perfect flavor. If you ask my sister what her favorite meal of her ten-day trip here was, she will say this restaurant. Note: If you try it out, report back on what you thought so I can update this for future travelers. 🙂
Honestly, you can’t go wrong with basic breakfast anywhere on the island, but I have to include Fresh Foods on here because of their monster smoothies. Seriously, they are the size of my head and super good. Just don’t drink one and then hop on the hour-long boat ride back to the mainland like I did. Your bladder will hate you. 🙂
ARTICLES ABOUT TORTUGUERO
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