Tortuguero –turtles nest– National Park is the largest in the Caribbean area in the development of the marine green turtle, the leatherback and hawksbill turtles, as they all come to nest along the immense beach. The park is located in one of the wetter areas of Costa Rica, in the tropical rainforest in the northern Caribbean coast, where the average temperature is 26C. The vegetation is typical of humid tropical forest with herbaceous communities, swamps and abundant rivers, lakes and canals.
The park is set up to investigate and protect the flora and fauna of the area, as well as to achieve more and better environmental education through the American biologist Dr. Archie Carr, who worried about the future of the turtles, created in 1959, the Caribbean Conservation Corporation to study and protect sea turtles in the region. Carr worked with the government of Costa Rica to establish and create a sanctuary in 1963 in Tortuguero where endangered turtles could nest quietly, turning the area seven years later, in 1970, in the current Tortuguero National Park, one of the most biologically diverse carriers which have identified more than 10 different habitats.
The park has a desolate beach for around 22 miles (35 kilometers), in which nesting about four species of sea turtles. The beach is not suitable for swimming due to the tides, sharks and barracuda abound in the area. Among the birds there are a variety, such as the Royal Terns, Brown Pelicans and Frigatebirds, while waders such as plovers and sandpipers can be seen along the coast. In this beach, about 200-300m (650-985ft) wide, is located the small village of Tortuguero, a settlement of around 600 people, with their wooden houses and tin roofs, a small church and traditional shop and bar. At the heart of the village is a small information kiosk showing a brief video about the conservation of turtles.
Behind is the main waterway of the National Park, which runs parallel to the coast. West of the main road there is a maze of channels that penetrate the forest, wildlife filled, because here are around 400 species of birds, about 57 kinds of amphibians, 111 reptiles and 60 mammals, including many of the endangered animals in the country, such as jaguars, tapirs, ocelots, mountain lions and river otters. The wider channels make it easy to observe alligators, crocodiles, river otters and seven types of freshwater turtles, also birds, among which are toucans, parrots and kingfisher. Manatees can occasionally be seen under water. Similarly, thanks to the large number of exotic shrubs on the ground is easy to observe swarms of butterflies, while the trees provide a home for mammals, including three types of monkeys, anteaters, sloths, bats and many species of ants, including the bullet ants, whose bites can cause an unbearable pain for 24 hours, army ants are swarming with more than one million ants to attack their prey, and the most remarkable, cutting leaves ants, often long lines seen across the forest carrying bits of leaves to their colony for the fungus which they feed. Similarly, the humid atmosphere, it attracts insects that are not welcome, so the visitor must be well protected with some kind of insect repellent. Similarly, it is recommended fresh clothing, capes and umbrellas.
The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is the main nesting site for Marine Green Turtles of the Atlantic, as some 30,000 come here to lay their eggs from July through October, with the largest number of arrivals in September. Green Turtle can weigh up to 200 kg (440 lb), and on the other hand the shell or carapace of the giant leatherback turtle, can measure up to 5 meters (16 feet), making it the world’s largest reptile. The leatherback turtle nests are found south of the town of Tortuguero, and having the largest number of arrivals in February to April. The Hawksbill Turtle and Boba also lay their eggs here. The egg-laying is at night and where the mass arrivals of turtles are known as above.
There are strict rules for visitors. They are not allowed to stay on the beach at night unless accompanied by a guide, cameras and flashlights are not allowed, and only 200 people can see. The fact of seeing these huge sea creatures that come ashore to lay their eggs is a unique experience in wildlife, compared only by the spectacular scene that develops after a few weeks where offspring emerge and begin their journey towards the sea , running from predators. Despite legislation and government protection, even poachers steal eggs from the beaches due to its alleged aphrodisiac qualities and the capture of sea turtles for their meat and for the famous turtle soup.
There are three park stations within Tortuguero National Park, open for visitor attention. The Cuatro Esquinas Headquarters has camping available. It is at the north end of the park, in the town of Tortuguero. You must pass through here to get access to the beach area. Three trails are in this area: The El Gavilan Trail leads southward through the forest about a mile and ends on the beach. La Ceiba and La Bomba trails takes you up Tortuguero hill, to a tower which provides a scenic view of the region.
The Sector Jalova Station is on the south end of the park, near Jalova Lagoon, north of the town of Parismina. The El Tucan Nature Trail begins at the station and parallels the Cano Negro waterway. Two other trails, Tragon and La Ranita Roja, provides short nature hikes.
The Aguas Frias Station is on the western border of the park. You can reach it by turning north off the highway at Guapiles, and driving through the town of Cariari, Pococi. The Los Raudales Nature Trail leads to the scenic lookout point (1,000′) at Lomas del Sierpe. Other nearby national parks include the Dr. Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge and the Corredor Fronterizo Costa Rica – Nicaragua National Wildlife Refuge
Getting to Tortuguero National Park:
From San José, take the Guapiles highway toward the city of Limon. Near Limon, at the Bay of Moin, is the beginning of a navigable canal which leads northward through the Cariari National Wetlands and into the wilderness area of Tortuguero National Park.
The only access to Tortuguero is by boat or by plane. The ships can be boarded at Hamburg Port, just north Moín, schedule early morning departures only, or, alternatively, visitors can enter by the Sarapiquí River in Puerto Viejo.
Take a bus from the route San Jose – Cariari – Tortuguero, which takes 2 hours (Empresarios Guapileños, 2710-7780 / Rubén Bananeros, 2709-8005). To Tortuguero must get off at the last stop in Cariari, take the bus going to La Guees and then take a boat. We recommend buying the ticket a day earlier to be sure your seat is saved and if driving to Tortuguero, a 4×4 vehicle is highly recommended.
You can also take a flight from the Juan Santamaria Airport to the Tortuguero airport, either with Sansa, TravelAir or Nature Air airlines, both with daily flights. For further information about this park contact the Tortuguero Conservation Area (ACTO).
Location: North of the Caribbean coast
GPS coordinates: 10.396217,-83.485778 (10°23’46.38″N, 83°29’08.80″W)
Size: 19,000 hectares (36,000 acres)
Elevation: Just above sea level
Schedule: from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at night only in groups led by permission.
Tortuguero National Park Telephone: +(506) 2709-8086
Fax: +(506) 2710-7673
Tortuguero Conservation Area (ACTO) Telephone: +(506) 2710-2929
INFOTUR Tourist Information: 1192