Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park – Costa Rica’s home to the nesting sea turtles

Tortuguero National Park, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast 52 miles north of Limon, is a key nesting site for the world’s most endangered species of sea turtles. It is one of Costa Rica’s best ecotourism destinations.

Quick facts

Location: Northern Caribbean coast, accessible by small plane or boat only
Hours: 8am to 6pm daily; night visits through authorized tours
Admission: $7 per person, but will be included with a tour package
Recommended: Book a night tour for the best chance to see the nesting turtles

Tortuguero has a rich environment of beaches, canals, lagoons, wetlands and rain forest. This protected area was once a group of volcanic islands that eventually formed marshy islands where turtles began nesting on the beaches.

There are many lodges in the area, including Parismina Lodge, Turtle Beach Lodge, and Laguna Lodge.

This little guy has almost made it to the sea!
Creative Commons photo by Eric Fredericks

Getting to Tortuguero National Park

There are no roads to the park. It is accessible only by boat from Moin near Puerto Limon or via small plane.

Therefore, it is suggested that, rather than traveling there independently, visitors consider going on a tour. Tour operators can be found in the small village of Tortuguero, which also offers options for lodging and restaurants.

Visiting the park

Along the beach there is a marked hiking trail where you can observe the turtles nesting. There’s also a second trail that takes visitors between the forest and the beach for a little over a mile. The highest point along this trail is almost four hundred feet high above the area, with an old lookout tower at the top that offers a scenic vista.

The best way to see Tortuguero National Park, however, is by boat. If not on a tour, visitors can rent canoes or kayaks. No camping is allowed in the park but for a small fee visitors can camp either at the northern end of the village or at the Ranger Station at the southern end of the village. Drinking water and restrooms are available there.

Area weather

Be prepared for rainy weather, as almost 20 feet of rain falls on Tortuguero each year, with the wettest months being December, June and July. The temperature averages 79 degrees F year-round.

The famous sea turtles

Visitors can expect to see many species of turtles, including the green sea, leatherback, and hawksbill, nesting on the beaches. Most will be laying their eggs at night, for which guides can arrange a visit after 6 pm. For those visitors traveling independently, arrangements for a night visit can be made in Tortuguero village.

One spectacular sight, if visitors are lucky enough to catch it, is the newly hatched turtles rushing to the sea.

Other inhabitants of the park

There is an expansive network of canals and lagoons in Tortuguero National Park which contain seven species of river turtles. Also making their home in these waters are the Spectacled Caiman, Southern River Otter, and at least 50 species of freshwater fish.

Canoers and kayakers will also be able to spot Spider, Howler and Capuchin monkeys, as well as many species of birds, or even a West Indian manatee. Fishermen are attracted to the area by the availability of Atlantic Snook and Tarpon.

Some of the beautiful flora to be seen are heliconias, the tropical plants that appear to be clusters of lobster claws, aquatic lilies, wild plantains, passion fruit trees, and mangroves.

Park fees and times

Entrance fees to the park for individuals is $7 at the gate, or a discount 4-day pass, with the entrance fee included if you are on a tour package. Tortuguero National Park is open from 8 am to 6 pm but can be accessed for night visits by authorized guides and groups.