Want to know one of our favorite spots in Costa Rica? This is it! 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.
The village of 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 worth 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.
Now on to the rest of the Tortuguero travel guide!
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!
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…..
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 $8 a day for the length of your stay.
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.
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.
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 Sansa Air website.
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.
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.
Rent kayaks: 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. 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 mom Leatherback 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.
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 this is a fun place to go on a fishing trip. Just ask some locals (everyone knows everyone here) and they’ll likely help you out.
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.
Pachira Lodge– Lovely hotel with a turtle-shaped pool. There is a delicious restaurant on the property and transportation is included from San Jose hotels.
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.
We definitely suggest checking out Airbnb as well. Sometimes you can get some really great accommodation deals at beautiful places on Airbnb. We like Airbnb because often you can get a place with a private kitchen.
Save $30 off your first Airbnb stay here
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.
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