Tortuguero outside of turtle season

I was a bit reluctant when I decided to go to Tortuguero, considering it wasn’t turtle season. Why visit a place if you aren’t going to see what it’s famous for? But with 442 bird species, 138 mammal species, and 118 reptile species, there’s quite a bit of wildlife to go around.

Turtle Nesting season Hatching season
Leatherback March – May September – December
Green Turtle June – October September -December

To me, it was undoubtably worth it. Less people. Less stress.

Often described as the Amazon of Costa Rica, Tortuguero is incredibly unique in it’s layout. Not only do you have the beauty of the river on one side, but the beach on the other.

In Tortuguero there is one main street. If you explore around a bit you will find yourself walking on miniature boardwalks through neighborhoods (I walked into a grocery store that wasn’t on my map, only to receive some odd-looks as to say, “What’s a tourist doing here.” I laughed to myself at this and continued on).

Getting to Tortuguero is an adventure on it’s own. Regardless if you take public transportation or drive a car, you will have to take the boat from Pavona to Tortuguero. 

To Tortuguero:      

  •  7:30AM,
  • 11AM,
  • 1PM,
  • 4:30PM


Boat to La Pavona: 

  • 5:30 am
  • 9:00 am
  • 11:00 am
  • 3:00 pm


By “take the boat” I mean  buy a ticket, walk out to the sandbar and ask which boat is yours. If you’re taking the public transportation, it will cost you around 2mil colones (They tried to charge me for “baggage service” but I only had a backpack). The boat is small, and you will swear that the bags on top are going to fall into the river, but as you round each bend of the river the backpacks manage to rest comfortably above you obeying centripetal force.

Where to stay:

Reserve your lodging ahead of time. This town is too small to just “walk up on and look for vacancies”. You’d be running a big risk of not having a room and having to ride the boat back out of town.

Aracari Garden Hostel:

When I arrived a man with my name on his list met me at my boat to take me to the Aracari Hostel. The entrance resembles a secret garden shaded by beautiful plants and trees offering a bit of relief from the Caribbean heat.

“Be careful if you sit under the trees in the hammocks” I was told. “An iguana might poop on your head.”

The Amenities at the Aracari just made sense. These people definitely want you to have a comfortable stay here and to feel at home. For example, I had a night stand connected to my bed. Very simple, but very useful. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stayed in hostels and had to throw everything on my bed because someone else used the one table in the room.

There is soap in the shower as well as hot water. There are 2 bathrooms for 5 people. They clean your room everyday and give you a fresh towel. There’s a public shower that you can use if you need to shower after you check out.

Breakfast isn’t included, however, you have full access to the kitchen and coffee. 

What I did:

Take a Canoe tour.

Walk around, compare prices, or see what your accommodations offer, like at the aracari. A one stop shop. I paid around $25 +$15 park fees. It is possible to rent your own kayak and explore on your own, but if you don’t have a trained eye, you won’t see much wildlife. The guides, even if they are from different companies, practically work together as a team, pointing out animals to other boats.

My guide Luis, was able to point out caymans, spider monkeys, kill bill toucans, Jesus lizards, spiders, iguanas, and other creatures that I would’ve never seen on my own. Luis really knew his stuff. He was very informative about the habitats and behaviors of the animals we encountered.

Don’t take a motorized boat tour. The motors scare away the animals, defeating the purpose of a wildlife watching tour.

Do bring a little snack. The tour is about 3 hours, and I am always hungry, especially in the morning. I tucked a few fruits and granola bars into my bag just in case. It’s always easier to enjoy things when your aren’t hungry.

Do bring your camera. I wouldn’t worry about it getting ruined. Unless the boat tips over, or it rains, your camera will be fine. There aren’t any rapids in the river.

Tortuguero National Park

You’ve already bought your ticket, so be sure to come back and walk around the park. Theres a flat path that parallels the beach (Jaguar Trail) which is almost 2.5 miles roundtrip, making it an easy walk (other than the heat). Take your time in the park and keep an eye peeled for monkeys, birds, deer and other creatures. An iguana didn’t poop on my head, but a monkey came dangerously close to peeing on my head.

This was the first park i’d been to that had “Canoeing/kayaking” paths marked on the map.

Drink Pipa at Luis’

At some point or another you have to experience a pipa, or coconut water directly from the coconut. On the path to Tortuguero there’s a man selling pipa right in front of his house. Following my pipa purchase he pulled out a white plastic lawn chair and offered me a seat. I sat down and had a lengthy conversation with him in Spanish as others walked by. “Pipa Fria, Cold Coco” he would say, occasionally lifting a white dishtowel from a bottle of rum, revealing his secret product, “Coco con Rum” he would say. I couldn’t help smile at this.

Go by Luis and ask him for a “Pipa con Ron.”

When I finished, he pulled out a machete and cut my coconut in half so I could eat the slippery fresh white “coconut meat” inside.

Canopy Tour

In addition to your usual canopy tour, the only Canopy Tour Zipline in Tortuguero has 4 suspension bridges, a scaling wall and a Tarzan swing. Even though in other locations you will find more advertisements focused on thrills, the beauty of the area is the only advertisement this tour needs. My roommate reported seeing monkeys and caymans while she was ziplinning.

Since there’s only one tour in the area, so you won’t have to worry about price comparing and the price is very fair in relation to other ziplining companies I’ve been to in different parts of the world.

Price: $30 a person

How many days do I need?

On a relaxed schedule, Tortuguero definitely deserves a full day. Remember that in Costa Rica it gets dark at around 6pm, so get an early start.

  • Take the 6am Canoe tour
  • Have breakfast around 9:30
  • Catch a canopy tour at 11:30
  • Return for lunch.
  • Use your Park Ticket to walk the Jaguar trail in the national park. (If you’re not a fan of the heat, do this walk later in the afternoon)

Of course you will need to fit in some time to lay on the beach.

Or in a Tree.


-Sweet C



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