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How to Get to Tortuguero: The 6 Transportation Options

If you are wondering how to get to Tortuguero, Costa Rica, you’ve come to the right place!

Tortuguero is a bit different than a lot of towns in Costa Rica because it is not directly accessible by car or shuttle. Yeap, there are no cars in this village. 

Instead, it is possible to get here by plane from San Jose or by boat from La Pavona. 

We have visited Tortuguero several times and have figured out the 6 best ways to get here. 

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So let’s go through each option and find the best route for you!

Tortuguero Transportation at a Glance

Step One: Drive with rental car, take a private shuttle, take a shared shuttle, or take a public bus to the La Pavona water taxi launch near the Caribbean Coast.

Step Two: Take a water taxi to the town of Tortuguero (takes one to two hours)

Step Three: Walk to your hotel in town

*Alternatively you can skip steps one and two and opt to take a domestic flight to Tortuguero*

Want to save all the hassle of planning? You can book a 3-night getaway to Tortuguero from San Jose with transportation included.

Boat from La Pavona to Tortuguero

boat to tortuguero

The small village of La Pavona serves as the gateway to Tortuguero.

Unless you opt to take a domestic flight directly to Tortuguero, you will need to take a public or private water taxi from La Pavona.

I will explain all the different ways to get to La Pavona in the next section. But first, once you get to La Pavona, here is what you can expect.

Public Boat Timetable

To Tortuguero: 6:00am, 7:30am, 9:00am, 11:00am, 1:00pm, 3:00pm, 4:30pm. 

From Tortuguero back to La Pavona: 5:00am, 7:00am, 9:00am, 11:00am, 1:00pm, 3:00pm. 

Cost

Tickets cost between ₡3.000- 5.000 ($5-10) per person depending on the amount of luggage you have.

This ticket can not be purchased ahead of time. There is a ticket office at the dock where you need to purchase this in person.

In our experience, it occasionally books out so it is best to arrive early and expect that you might have to take the next boat if it is too full.

Travel Time

The boat ride takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes during the rainy season. It can take up to 2 hours if the water level is very low in the Tortuguero canals due to low tide or dry season. 

Facilities

La Pavona has a small basic restaurant, a small shop with things like ponchos and bottled water, and restrooms that cost about 50 cents to use.

Additionally, it is possible to take a private boat service from the La Pavona dock. This will cost a lot more (up to about $20 per person one way), but this is the best option if you can’t get a spot on the public boat. 

The one private service I know of is called Fersa. They run daily at 9:15am, 11:15am, 12:45am, 3:15pm, and 4:15pm.

If you’d like, you can contact them, their Whatsapp number is +506 8831 6401 or you can reach out to them via their Facebook page. 

I don’t suggest paying for anything ahead of time. I do not know if they have a secure booking system. 

Additionally, you can always contact your hotel in Tortuguero. They deal with this on a daily basis and can most likely organize boat transportation for you. 

You really do not want to have to spend the night at La Pavona. There is not a single hotel here, so you would have to sleep in your rental car.

In other words, make sure you are on the last boat for the day or you are kind of stuck.

However, I have read that there is free WIFI and they keep the bathrooms at the dock open all night. So, if you do get stuck here and need to sleep in your vehicle, it’s not THAT uncomfortable. 

Things to Consider

Now let’s go through each transportation option to find one that is best for you.

Option #1: Rental Car & Boat

Best for: People who want the flexibility of having a car for onward travel plans

Your first option is to drive your rental car to the secure La Pavones parking lot and then take the water taxi to Tortuguero. 

Pros of Rental Car

  • It is the most flexible way of getting to the La Pavones lot
  • It is the easiest way to continue your onward travels to your next destination

Cons of Rental Car

  • You will be paying to keep your rental car at the La Pavones lot for the number of nights you are in Tortuguero. So, not only are you paying for a rental car you aren’t using but you will also be paying the parking fee.
  • The drive here is a bit of an adventure (especially if coming from San Jose)

Rental Car Info

You do not need a 4×4 to get to La Pavona. However, an SUV with decent clearance is suggested due to the hilly and winding roads.

We suggest renting your car with Adobe Rent-a-Car. They are our favorite local rental car company that is upfront with their prices and has excellent customer service.

We also have a 10% car rental discount plus other great perks from Adobe to pass on to you.

Check Availability and Book Your Rental Car with 10% Discount

Parking Your Rental Car at La Pavones

There is a fenced-in and guarded parking lot at the La Pavones boat terminal. 

The parking lot is massive, so there is no need to pre-book tickets. 

It costs 6,000 colones per night (about $12) to leave your rental car here. You can pay for this upon arrival.

The Drive from San Jose

From the San Jose International Airport, it takes approximately 3 hours to drive to La Pavones Harbor.

However, just keep in mind that it could potentially take a lot longer depending on the traffic you hit in San José and the road work that seems to inevitably always be happening on Route 32. 

The drive here from San Jose is a bit intense. You will begin by driving around the outside of the city. The roads can be very confusing and a bit scary if you aren’t familiar with driving here. 

Once out of the city, you will continue on Route 32. This road is a highway in the sense that there is a decent amount of traffic and cars go fast. But, it is probably way more curvy than a lot of highways you are used to.

Toward the beginning of your drive, you will have to pay a toll before going through a tunnel. You can pay in US dollars or colones.

I like Route 32 because it is a cloud forest and always has a bit of moody feel to it. 

After about one hour on Route 32 you will come to the town of Guápiles. Here you will take a left and continue northwest towards La Pavones.

This part of the drive goes through several small towns. It is mostly a low-stress route and I think it is very pretty.

The last part of the drive is unpaved, but the road is well-matted down and is easy to drive. 

The Drive from La Fortuna

The drive from La Fortuna is nice and mostly stress free. It will take 3 to 4 hours depending on traffic.

You will head east out of the main downtown area onto Route 4. Just stay on Route 4 for about 1.5 hours until you meet up with Route 32. On Route 32 you will experience a bit more traffic.

In Guápiles, turn left and continue north east towards La Pavona.

The Drive from the Southern Caribbean Coast (Cahuita & Puerto Viejo)

From Puerto Viejo or Cahuita it will take about 4 hours to drive here depending on the traffic.

You will drive north on the main road until you reach the city of Limon. Traffic can get more intense here (this is the main Caribbean Coast export terminal so there are a lot of 18-wheelers).

You will turn left to head west on Route 32 until you reach the town of Guápiles. Turn right in Guapiles to head to La Pavona.

Things to Note

  • Waze is the best free app for driving directions in Costa Rica.
  • Put La Pavona, not Tortuguero, as your destination in your GPS.
  • Leave as early as possible in the morning so that you will have plenty of time to catch a water taxi even if you hit traffic.

Option #2: Shared Transfer

road to tortuguero

Best For: Solo travelers or couples. People who don’t want the stress of driving or the price of flying.

A shared shuttle service is a good option because everything is taken care of for you.

These transfers will take you by shuttle and then by boat to the village of Tortuguero.

This takes the stress out of having to park your car at La Pavona or organize the boat ticket on your own. 

Option #3: Flight

How to Get to Tortuguero: The 6 Transportation Options

Best For: People who would like the fastest and easiest route to Tortuguero. Not on a tight budget.

Sansa Airlines offers direct flights to the Tortuguero Airport from the domestic terminal at San Jose International Airport twice daily. 

Price: This typically costs about $120 per person. 

Flight Time: The flight takes about 30 minutes

Considerations: 

  • The domestic terminal in San Jose is not located in the main international airport. It is a 5 minute walk away. Give yourself a few hours between your international and domestic flight.
  • If you don’t do well with small planes, this is not for you.
  • If you want amazing aerial views, this is for you.
  • If you are short on time, this is the fastest way to get to Tortuguero.
  • If you are on a tight budget, this option is not for you. 

Check Flight Prices and Availability

Option #4: Packaged Tours to Tortuguero

tortuguero costa rica beach

If this all seems a bit overwhelming to you, you might want to consider taking a multi-day tour to Tortuguero from San Jose. 

This is a great option if:

  • You don’t want to rent a car
  • You want to take the stress out of planning everything yourself
  • If you are flying in and out of the San Jose International Airport and want to add a visit to Tortuguero on to the beginning or end of your trip. 

Our top two Tortuguero tour package suggestions are:

Tortuguero Jungle Expedition

⭐️ RATING: 4.6/5 Stars on TourRadar | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  3 days | ✅ Book it!

This three-day tour package includes:

  • Pickup and drop off from your San Jose area hotel
  • Transportation to and from Tortuguero
  • 2 night of hotel stay in Tortuguero
  • 2 Breakfasts, 3 Lunches, 2 Dinners
  • A Tortuguero National Park Boat Tour and a Naturalist Walk

Check Availability and Book the Tortuguero Jungle Expedition

Tortuguero National Park Tour – 4-Day Independent Adventure

⭐️ RATING: 4.9/5 Stars on TourRadar | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  4 days | ✅ Book it!

This is an independent adventure. In other words, this tour can be done on any day. The company arranges everything for you, but you are not stuck with a particular group for all activities.

This tour includes:

  • 1 night at a hotel in San Jose
  • 2 nights at a jungle lodge in Tortuguero
  • 3 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 2 dinners
  • Guided hikes and boat tours in Tortuguero National Park
  • All transport between San Jose and Tortuguero plus included activities

Check Availability and Book Tortuguero 4 Day Adventure

Additionally, you might consider planning your entire Costa Rica itinerary as a guided vacation.

Here are two tours that we love which include a visit to Tortuguero. 

Cycle Costa Rica

⭐️ RATING: 4.9/5 Stars on TourRadar | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  14 days | ✅ Book it!

In my opinion, this is the coolest multi-day guided tour that you can do in Costa Rica.

This is an 11-day adventure that includes a lot of bike riding through beautiful scenery.

You will visit San Jose, Tortuguero, La Fortuna, Guanacaste, and Manuel Antonio.

Check Availability and Book Cycle Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s Natural Wonders

⭐️ RATING: 4.6/5 Stars on TourRadar | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  11 days | ✅ Book it!

This 11 day tour will take you to San Jose, Tortuguero, La Fortuna, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio.

Highlights include:

  • See wildlife on a boat tour in Tortuguero National Park
  • Hike the Arenal Volcano or relax at a hotel spring in La Fortuna
  • Explore Manuel Antonio National Park and see widlife
  • Soak up the sun and enjoy a beach day in Jaco

Check Availability and Book Costa Rica’s Natural Wonders

Option #5: Private Transfer

Best For: A large group or family

With a private transfer, you will take a comfortable bus just for your group to La Pavona. From La Pavona you will need to organize the boat on your own.

We work exclusively with Adobe Transfers. They are a trustworthy company with excellent drivers.

From downtown San Jose to La Pavona will cost a few hundred dollars.

This seems like a lot, but it is for the whole bus (which fits up to 14 passengers). So, if you are a big group this is most likely the most cost-effective option.

Get a Private Transfer Price Quote Here

Option #6: Public Bus to La Pavona from San Jose

la pavona boat

If you are on a very tight budget it is possible to get to the La Pavona dock by local bus. However, there is no direct route and it can get a bit complicated as far as timing everything correctly. 

You will need to take the bus from San Jose to Cariari and then switch to a bus that goes to La Pavona.

San Jose to Cariari

  • Depart from: The Caribbean bus terminal (Caribeños or Gran Caribe) in Barrio Tournon.
  • Departure Times: 06:30 am, 09:00 am, 10:30 am, 1:00 pm
    • Note: Later departures won’t reach Cariari in time for the last bus to La Pavona. Take the 6:30 am or 9:00 am bus to be safe.
  • Ticket Information: Available at the terminal counter for approximately $3.50 / ₡1600.
  • Route Length: It should take about 2 hours to get to Cariari, but it could take a lot longer with traffic

Cariari to La Pavona

  • Departure Point: Buses to La Pavona wait at the Cariari bus terminal. Look for guides or locals at the terminal for assistance. In rare cases, check for buses outside the terminal.
  • Departure Times: 05:00h, 09:00h, 11:30h, 15:00h.
  • Ticket Information: Purchase tickets on the bus from the driver for about $2.20 / ₡1100.
  • Additional Note: La Pavona is the last stop on this route.

More Info About Tortuguero

tortuguero costa rica
  • You don’t need to spend a ton of time in Tortuguero. I think that two nights (four at most) is enough time to see everything.
  • However, I definitely think it is worth visiting even though it is a hassle to get to. It is just such a unique place.
  • The best time of year to visit Tortuguero is between July and September. This is the dry season on the Caribbean and the best time to see the main attraction of the area (turtle nesting).
  • One of the best things you can do in Tortuguero is to take an early morning guided canoe ride through the Tortuguero River canals . You’ll likely see a wide variety of wildlife in this protected area. If you do this you will need to pay for entrance into the Tortuguero National Park as well as your boat tour. I suggest taking advantage of that admission and take a hike through the national park in the afternoon. 
  • We created a complete Tortuguero packing list for everything you might want in your luggage. Also, on that subject, don’t forget that a large travel backpack will be easier to use here rather than a suitcase.
  • Tortuguero is a small town that doesn’t have any cars. You will need to walk everywhere.
  • Keep in mind that a lot of the more high end hotels are not located directly in downtown Tortuguero, but on the shore across the river. To get into the downtown area most of these hotels provide a boat service. A lot of the mid-range to budget-friendly hotels are directly in town. 
  • There are no ATM’s in Tortuguero and not every place takes credit card as payment. So, make sure to get some cash in USD or Costa Rican colones ahead of time.

For more info check out our complete guide to Tortuguero with the best hotels, restaurants, things to do, and more!

Conclusion: Transportation to Tortuguero

In conclusion, getting to Tortuguero can be an adventure, but overall I think it is worth it. The village is amazing and the boat ride feel like you are going to Jurrasic Park.

Now that you know all of this, which transportation option will you choose?

If you have any questions about planning your trip don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!

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