No roads, Tortuguero canals of Costa Rica
No roads can take you to Tortuguero, but a boat or a small plane will.
A Traveler’s Memories
Tortuguero, Limon, Costa RicaTwo weeks before our trip we decided to book a tour that included bus and boat shuttles, lodging, three meals, tour in Tortuguero Canals, a short visit to Tortuguero town and a kayak trip. So, this is what we know so far about this place, Tortuguero National Park is a protected area located on Costa Rica's northern Caribbean coast and it is full of wide open canals with a big variety of animal species like crocodiles, monkeys, birds, fishes and lizards.
Saturday, 6 am. Sunny day. We can't be more excited to begin this experience. We have heard that is an exotic place, surrounded by water and with lots of different animals. Therefore, let the journey begin!
We took a colorful bus in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica; this bus was easy to find because it had some decorations of animals and plants of tropical forests alluding to the theme of our trip.
On our way to Cariari, we made a stop to have breakfast and watch the blue jean frogs (Oophaga pumilio), tiny amphibians that usually live in Costa Rica's rainforests; and the Ceibo tree, a species of large trees found in tropical areas. Three hours later, we arrived to a small dock called La Pavona, where two boats were waiting for us, one for the people and the other one for the baggage.
It's 10 am and we are ready to start this adventure.One hour and a half of boat trip and we arrived to our hotel, we got a welcome cocktail and indications of the tours.
After lunch, we borrowed a two-person kayak from the hotel and went to explore the canal. For me kayaking is always a top experience, and this time was no exception. Let’s say that 90% of the time was just us in the middle of the canals, only two kayaks and four friends, no one else (except for the creatures below, above and around us.. Well, yes I have to confess that we felt like if somebody else was watching us). Suddenly we were immersed in the woods, feeling the nature's breeze and watching around us to detect any of these animals. A couple of times a boat or canoe passed us by and we felt small waves created by the movement of the boat, and then a moment of peace again.
Sunday, 5 am. We woke up early in the morning to take a tour in the Tortuguero Canals. A very experienced guide helped us watch some beautiful animals, like the Anhinga, a bird who after enjoying a dive stays on top of a tree with open wings until they get dry. We also saw three-toed sloths, basiliscus lizards, toucans, crocodiles, capuchin monkeys, tiger herons, green macaws, among so many others. Definitely, a paradise for those who enjoy nature.
9 am. We decided to arrange a nature tour in the Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge. This place is more remote than Tortuguero and thereby receives less visitors. It worth a visit as we are so close.
Barra del Colorado is part of Tortuguero Conservation Area and is located in the northern Caribbean coast. This is the largest wildlife refuge in Costa Rica with over 31 kilometers of rivers, canals, lagoons and marshes, that connect to the rivers San Juan and Colorado to the north and Tortuguero to the south. This place is so isolated and is only navigable by boat. Our local guide and boat captain, Tony, begins the journey telling us that he was raised in Barra del Colorado, how lucky we are, he has sailed these wetlands all his life. He also build boats, like the one we are sailing on today.
The weather here is hot and humid. This is one of the rainiest areas of Costa Rica, it rains all the time. We took this trip in July, so we were expecting a lot of rain, we were surprised that we only got some afternoon showers. This, far from being a bad thing, was really great, we had a very sunny and hot morning and then this occasional rain was enough to cool off. And most importantly, this is the reason why the environment here is so rich and green, with its lush vegetation and mangroves, rivers and abundant variety of wildlife. A raincoat and a rain cover or plastic bag was all we needed to keep our high-tech devices dry and enjoy the trip!
We spent around three hours just sailing countless kilometers of canals, relaxing to the sound of nature and taking pictures, always in an alert mode waiting for any animal to appear. Every time Tony detected an animal, he stopped the boat and slowly approached it to get a better look.
Then we went to the hotel for lunch and got ready for the last boat trip to the village of Tortuguero to enjoy the rest of the afternoon, we had a short walk along the beach and a narrow street with some shops and markets.
Monday 9 am. Ready to go back to La Pavona where a bus was waiting for us to get back to the city of San Jose and end this magic adventure.
A Traveler’s Information
- Location: Limon, Costa Rica, Central America.
- Coordinates: Tortuguero: 10°32′28″N 83°30′08″W / Barra del Colorado: 10°41'30.5″N 83°43'11.6″W.
- Area: Tortuguero: 18,946.9 hectares of land and 52.265 marine hectares / Barra del Colorado: 92,000 hectares with 50 kilometers of coastline.
- Classification: Tortuguero National Park, 1975 / Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge, 1985. Both part of Tortuguero Conservation Area.
A Traveler’s Tips & Tricks
Recommended options to get there
- By touristic bus and boat through Cariari and La Pavona dock – more scenic and the better option is to book a complete package that includes tours, accommodation, food and ground transportation.
- Rent a car and leave it in a parking lot in La Pavona, take a boat there – if you choose not to arrange a tour package and do it by yourself it will probably be more expensive and complicated.
- By plane (a 35 minute trip) – faster way and aerial view of the canals, recommended if you don't have a lot of time but still want to visit the canals. Make sure to book a tour package before making the trip.
Take with you
Comfortable clothing, water (remember to stay hydrated), waterproof jacket (welcome to the tropical wet forest!), hiking or sport shoes, sandals, red light lamp (to see turtles during the night at the beach), camera, sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, insect repellent and immense desire to explore and learn.
Things to do
- Go exploring the Tortuguero Canals.
- Rent a canoe or Kayak (you can borrow them for free in some hotels).
- Zip lines and suspension bridges.
- Trails for wildlife viewing in the park and in some hotels.
- Hike the Tortuguero Hill.
- Take a night tour to watch the sea turtles lay eggs on the beach.
- Take a tour to explore the canals of Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge.
- Make a short visit to the Tortuguero Village.
- Be prepared to see lots of animals living free in their natural habitats.
- Wide variety of tour packages: 1 day trip, 2 days/1 night, 3 days/2 nights, 4 days/3 nights itineraries, other custom packages. Normally will include all the meals, lodging, tours, transportation and local guides.
Best months to visit
- March-June, to watch the spawning of the leatherback turtles.
- July-October, to observe the green turtles.