Central and Northern Caribbean Coast
Central and North Atlantic Coast
Costa Rica boasts a handful of extra-special off-the-beaten-path destinations, the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. And you guessed it – Tortuguero is one of them.
Located deep within the Caribbean lowland jungles on the North Atlantic Coast, there are only two ways you can get to Tortuguero village and national park. The first, and most common, is by boat. The area is a veritable network of natural canals, rivers, lagoons, and wetlands, and getting around is almost entirely by waterway.
Flying with one of the country’s small domestic airlines or by charter is the other option for getting to Tortuguero. There is a small landing strip near town that services flights year-round.
From San José, visitors should take Highway 32, which passes through the dense rainforests of Braulio Carillo National Park and descends down the Caribbean slope towards the Atlantic. Your destination is La Pavona dock – gateway to Tortuguero National Park. Taxi boats – the covered tour-boat type – leave Pavona approximately four x per day during daylight hours.
The boat ride to Tortuguero takes about one hour and is an adventure in itself. The journey winds through densely forested waterways teeming with bird and animal life. Caiman, monkeys, lizards, and dozens of marine birds, not to mention the stunning jungle flora of vines, orchids, bromeliads, and towering trees are just the beginning of the natural splendor you’ll encounter in Tortuguero.
Most ecolodges or hotels in Tortuguero will include (or help schedule) transportation to and from La Pavona as part of the stay.
In addition to exploring the glassy canals and jungles of the region, visitors are drawn to Tortuguero for the turtles. Meaning ‘turtle hunters,’ Tortuguero was first populated by fishermen and poachers making a living from hunting (and harvesting the eggs) of the giant Atlantic Green and Leatherback sea turtles that arrive annually to the rugged Caribbean shoreline.
Costa Rica established the Tortuguero National Park in 1975 in efforts to help protect the marvelous creatures and their eggs and preserve the vast wealth of flora and fauna harbored in the forest and water habitats.
Advance reservations and a certified naturalist guide are required to enter the park. Most turtle nesting tours are at night when the females make the journey from the sea to the warm sands to nest under the cover of darkness. Visiting the park by day is also a recommended way to see the fascinating coastal habitats. Beware, however, swimming is not recommended in the area due to the strong riptides and dangerous waves and surf.
Visitors should also not miss the charming and colorful town of Tortuguero. The locals are primarily Afro-Caribbean in origin and speak an English-Patois dialect known as Limonense. Expect to hear the smooth beats of Reggaeton and sample some savory creole cuisine characteristic of the area as well.
Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí
Not to be confused with Puerto Viejo of Limón Province on the South Caribbean Coast, Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí Canton borders Nicaragua to the north and is part of Heredia Province. The town is primarily known as the launching point for whitewater rafting tours on the Sarapiqui River, a tributary of the much larger San Juan River that flows eastward out of Lake Nicaragua.
The region is also an important destination for biologists to study the ecological wealth harbored in the pristine rainforests, and river and coastal habitats. Several private wildlife reserves and ecolodges welcome visitors to explore and learn about flora and fauna. Birdwatching tours, hiking, and horseback riding are popular pastimes for visitors.