Tortuguero National park: Hot steaming coffee, bright-coloured fresh fruit on my plate and I’m looking up where the sun-rays are making their way through the palm leaves. Two people are talking in Spanish somewhere near me. I can hear their muffled laughter. „Pura Vida!“ It is breakfast time at Mawamba Lodge in Tortuguero National Park. Suddenly, the silence is interrupted: „Look, look, look!“ – our guide and biologist Alex comes up to us with quick steps and waves us to come nearer. Our breakfast can wait for now. We do not waste any time and follow our guide, because we know there is something new for us to discover. A bird, or maybe a snake? This time, Alex shows us a porcupine which is hanging very relaxed on a branch of a tree, looking down to us. Having an animal life like this would be great. We are in the middle of the Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica and are discovering the country from its purest and wildest sides. A real encounter between human beings and nature. There is no journey more exciting than this!n!

Tortuguero National Park

Costa Rica - Tortuguero National Park - from above2

Tortuguero National Park with rivers and rainforest – view from the airplane

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The place that turtles come to – Tortuguero National Park

This park is special because every year something incredible happens: Turtles are coming to the Tortuguero National Park to lay their eggs. The Tortuguero National Park even got his name from this great spectacle of nature. „Tortuga“ means „Turtle“ in Spanish. The sea turtles also meaningfully contribute to the constantly growing tourism rates. The Tortuguero National Park is located in the north east of Costa Rica and the 20.000 hectare area is under conservation since 1975. Since that time, the National Park provides a reliable source of income for many locals. But the park is not only the home of turtles: Crocodiles, sloths, caimans, monkeys, dartfrogs, river turtles and bullet-ants can be discovered in the jungle of Tortuguero. Furthermore, a variety of bird species is living in this area. Almost half of all in Costa Rica registered reptile and bird species are expecting me on my journey through Costa Rica.

Costa Rica - Tortuguero National Park - turtle beach

To this beach the turtles will come for hatching their eggs

With plane, car and boat, the journey to Tortuguero National Park begins

Back to the beginning of my journey. Still in Germany, I discover on Sunday morning that my feeder flight from Hamburg to Frankfurt was canceled. Despite of all efforts, there is no possibility for me to book another flight on the same day. Spontaneously, I have to leave five hours earlier with the train to Frankfurt. At Frankfurt Airport I meet the first fellow travelers and at 10pm German time my Condor flight departs in the direction of Airport Alajuela near San José where we arrive after nine hours flight just in time for the sunrise. Tortuguero can only be reached by water or by air

Here, Alex (Alejandro) Castro is welcoming us. „Pura Vida!“ he calls out for us and greets us with the typical saying and attitude towards life of the people in Costa Rica. He accompanies us for the next days as an acknowledged expert and gives us a broader understanding of Costa Rica‘s flora and fauna. „Pura Vida“ – that’s what they call everything here. Thank you! You are welcome! Great! I like that – pure life!

Alex does not waste time and we directly start our journey with the car from Alajuela in direction Tortuguero. From the western edge of San José we drive in the direction of the Caribbean. At first, we travel through San José. After that, Highway 32 will take us to the north-east in a wide arc. We cross the Braulio Carillo National Park with its impressive forest and we pass by seemingly never-ending fields of banana plantations. Once we have to stop in order to let the banana pulley pass, which is pulled only by a single worker’s muscle strength. Bananas are one of the top export products in Costa Rica.

 

After approximately two and a half hours we arrive in La Pavona. The most common and convenient route to Tortuguero goes via Cariari and La Pavona. Our journey with the car ends here, because for those who want to explore the nature in the national park exclusively, it is only accessible with the boat. Boats are leaving from La Pavona (Rancho La Suerte) approximately at 07:30, 13:30 and 16:30. However, it is recommended to make arrangements with the tour providers beforehand.

Boats will be our means of transport for the next two days. In La Pavona, they are already waiting for tourists, natural scientists, locals and us. During the next one to two hours I already completely delve into Costa Rica’s nature. The route to the Mawamba Lodge takes us through the river system of Tortuguero. The nature here is incredibly beautiful. „Look!, Look!, Look!“ – on the right we can see a Barethroated Tiger Heron, on the left a caiman is waiting for us. The Bats are so well-camouflaged that they are barely visible to the naked eye.

My bed in the middle of Tortuguero National Park – the Mawamba Lodge

We arrive at our destination, the Mawamba Lodge. The special feature of our accommodation is its location, because the lodge is surrounded by water on both sides. While the landing pier is located on a branch of the river, the other side of the lodge’s compound adjoins to the beach. This is where the sea turtles come between July and October to lay their eggs. During this time, the Mawamba Lodge and Tortuguero National Park experience their peak season. Guides and small groups of tourists proceed to the beach at night and observe the animals with the help of special night lamps.

We are happy that we came during the off-peak season and can enjoy the silence. We may not be able to see sea turtles, but we discover a lot of different animals at the lodge. The porcupine hanging from the tree, an elephant beetle is clinging to a branch of a tree and huge iguanas are standing motionless in the shade of palm trees. At night, I have the feeling that my bed is located directly in the nature. I can hear the noises of animals in the jungle everywhere.

The first encounter with the rainforest in Tortuguero National Park

The next morning, we start our day before breakfast at five o’ clock. Because of the time difference (minus eight hours) we don’t have a problem with getting up so early. According to Alex, now it’s the best time to observe nature’s awakening. We depart with the boat. The boat tour to the smaller tributary streams of the Tortuguero National Park is already an adventure. The boat floats on the wide branch stream, accompanied only by the sound of the water and the purring electric motor. Most of us close their eyes and enjoy the airstream in their faces. At this point in time, everyone is fully awake. The driver purposefully takes us to the smaller tributary streams in the Tortuguero National Park. Only now, I completely realize the massiveness of the rainforest. Huge trees, ferns and vines create an impenetrable covert made of plants. “Look!, Look!, Look!” – we can see the first monkeys, and directly afterward an American Anhinga standing next to a Black River Turtle and trying to dry his feathers.

 

What about a more touristic tour? Trip to the small village Tortuguero

The village Tortuguero is located on the small strip of land between the Caribbean beach and the broad jungle river that runs parallel to the beach. The village has only about 500 inhabitants. While in earlier times many of them could earn a living from fishing, they concentrate more on the steadily growing tourism these days. Even the locals handle all their tasks by water, which is why boats are the most important means of transport. If you need a boat, just position yourself near the riverside and flag down one of the water taxis.

Tortuguero is the only village in the National Park which is why it doesn’t surprise me that a trip to the village is part of most of the tourists’ programs. From our lodge it only takes 20 walking minutes to the village, so we walk there along the beach, stroll around on the promenade of the village and listen to the music that is played here and there. Somewhere, two men sit on the terrace of their colorful house, smoking. Somewhere else, coconuts are sold and in the end of the street the monkeys enjoy their life in a tree. Now, during the off-season it is easy to take a relaxed stroll through the village. During the high season you can find crowds of tourists pushing each other through the small street of the village.

 

Traveling to Costa Rica during the rainy season?

It is the beginning of June now and the rainy season has already begun. However, this shouldn’t stop anyone to come to Costa Rica because it is low season then and you can find silence instead of big crowds in every hotel and lodge. It is easier to observe animals and prices are generally lower than during high season. Usually, it rains once a day and the showers are short but intense. And afterward you can continue to enjoy warm temperatures between 27 and 30 degrees. The hotels are well prepared for the showers of rain and offer umbrellas to their guests. We were quite lucky in June and experienced only one short shower during the three days that we spent in Tortuguero National Park.

The season for observing sea turtles

People who really want to observe the turtles are advised to travel to Tortuguero National Park between July and September. During that time, the park is getting crowded with tourists and nature-lovers. The turtles come from the sea to lay their eggs at the beach in Tortuguero. In the past, green sea turtles were hunted and prepared by the locals. Because the turtle is at risk of extinction it was declared as a protected animal in 1975. Even today, locals are trying to protect the turtle populations. During the breeding time, voluntary helpers come to the beaches at night, patrolling to keep the turtle’s enemies away. Who is interested in this projects will find on the site of Costa Rica Volunteers more informations. People who really want to observe the turtles are advised to travel to Tortuguero National Park between July and September. During that time, the park is getting crowded with tourists and nature-lovers. The turtles come from the sea to lay their eggs at the beach in Tortuguero. In the past, green sea turtles were hunted and prepared by the locals. Because the turtle is at risk of extinction it was declared as a protected animal in 1975. Even today, locals are trying to protect the turtle populations. During the breeding time, voluntary helpers come to the beaches at night, patrolling to keep the turtle’s enemies away.

Why it’s worth it to book a private guide

It is highly recommendable to have a guide for visiting National Parks. Together with a guide, the tour with the boat or walking distances through the National Park will become a real adventure. One the one hand you get to know the flora and fauna much better and on the other hand you can dive much deeper into the country and its culture.

  • A guide can give advice on the best regions in the country and in the National Parks and the probability increases to see interesting animals and plants.
  • With his knowledge about flora and fauna the guide can illustrate more complex links between the ecosystems of the National Parks.
  • Together with the guide you can look for animals and plants that are of special interest for you, because he knows places, nesting sites and behavior of those.
  • He will help you to train your eyes and sharpen other senses so that you can learn to discover animals and plants by yourself in the National Parks.
  • He knows places where poisonous animals live and can therefore protect you from bites and stings.
  • He knows the country and people and can convey their sense of life.
  • The guide has many contacts and can use these to make the tour even more interesting.
  • He provides you with background information about the conservation of nature and knows the rules of the country.
  • He has knowledge about the weather conditions in the country and can make recommendations for appropriate clothing during the tours.
  • He is mostly equipped with valuable binoculars and you can zoom in on animals that are actually far away.

In this film you will find some impressions of the journey. Andrea Morgenstern travelled with us and has put together some impressive moments.

Other National Parks in Costa Rica

There are 25 National Parks to discover in Costa Rica

  • Arenal Volcano National Park
  • Barbilla National Park
  • Barra Honda National Park
  • Braulio Carrillo National Park
  • Cahuita National Park
  • Carara National Park
  • Chirripó National Park
  • Cocos Island National Park
  • Corcovado National Park
  • Diria National Park
  • Guanacaste National Park
  • Irazú Volcano National Park
  • Juan Castro Blanco National Park
  • La Amistad International Park
  • La Cangreja National Park
  • Las Baulas National Marine Park
  • Los Quetzales National Park
  • Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Maquenque National Park
  • Palo Verde National Park
  • Piedras Blancas National Park
  • Poás Volcano National Park
  • Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park
  • Santa Rosa National Park
  • Tapantí National Park
  • Tenorio Volcano National Park
  • Turrialba Volcano National Park

Some Tipps for the tour to Costa Rica

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Hinweis: Die Reise in den Tortuguero Nationalpark Costa Rica erfolgte in Kooperation mit Visit Costa Rica.