Tortuguero is world renowned for its sea turtle nesting season, though HoneyTrek travel experts Mike & Anne Howard found six ways to discover wildlife all year round.
Every summer, travelers flock to Tortuguero to see tens of thousands of giant sea turtles nest, and their adorable babies crawl into the surf. Though the rest of the year offers 800 species of incredible wildlife … without the crowds. The northeast corner of Costa Rica encompasses 11 different habitats (rainforest, rivers, mangrove, lagoons, beaches, etc.) creating a stunning array of landscapes and incredible biodiversity. Of course, the nesting sea turtles offer an unforgettable experience, but if you’re equally enamored by toucans, caimans, iguanas, monkeys, jaguars, and sloths, here are six more ways to get wild in the “Amazon of Costa Rica.”
Put on some muck boots and romp around the lowland Caribbean rainforest, teeming with 400 species of trees and 2,200 species of plants. High in the passion fruit and ceiba trees, you’ll spy capuchin, howler, and spider monkeys swinging from the branches and nibbling on fruits, or perhaps a three-toed sloth taking a snooze. Low to the ground, you’ll find poison dart frogs and massive green iguanas (you’ll likely see them by your hotel too … these beautiful beasts are everywhere!). Head out on a trek with a guide for maximum sightings or you can hike the two-mile Gavilan Trail on your own.
With so many nocturnal animals and a staggering diversity of insects (there are over 300,000 species in Costa Rica!), a night hike is a must. Walking slowly with a flashlight, shining it from tree to tree, allows you to focus on the rainforest’s micro wonders. With a symphony of insects as your soundtrack, you’ll likely find the red-eyed tree frogs, praying mantis, gold orb weavers, and countless other curiosities.
Fun Fact: Golden orb weaver spiders produce silk that’s five times stronger than steel!
Kayak the Canals
Paddle Tortuguero National Park’s extensive network of creeks and lush lagoons, keeping your eyes and ears open for wildlife, like river turtles, speckled caiman, otters, and even the illusive West Indian Manatee. Along the banks, water-loving birds like great blue herons, kingfisher, and egrets won’t be hard to spot. Boat tours are also available, but being in a nimble, motorless vessel, brings you closer to the wildlife and serenity of the canals.
Zipline the Canopy
For extra thrills with your flora and fauna, zipline between the trees. Ninety percent of life in the rainforest is found in the canopy, so you’ll be eye to with bromeliads, orchids, toucans, and monkeys. At Senderos Aereos, traverse the hanging bridges and zip from seven different lines, some as long as 500 feet. The aerial perspective and adrenaline rush will put a whole new spin on your jungle exploration.
Anytime you’re outside in Tortuguero, you’re basically on a birdwatching adventure. Seeing a flock of macaws flying overhead, flashing their rainbow-hued feathers, is a near daily occurrence, though take a walk or boat ride with an ornithologist and you’ll see dozens of Tortuguero’s 330 bird species. With their powerful monoscopes and heightened senses, your guide will help you identify keel-billed toucans, crested eagles (the second largest bird of prey), and salty tailed trogons like a pro.
Volunteer with Sea Turtles
If you adore turtles, absolutely come during the nesting season and help protect the four species that call Tortuguero home. The Sea Turtle Conservancy, the world’s first and arguably most accomplished organizations of its kind, offers volunteer programs from March-October. In the beginning of the season you can collect data on the 2,000 lb. leatherbacks, as they dig their nests in the black sand and lay 100 billiard-ball-sized eggs. Come September, survey the thousands of hatched eggs and baby green turtles that scurry to sea. In addition to helping the tortugas, these 1-3 week programs leave plenty of time to enjoy all the wildlife Tortuguero has to offer.
Tortuguero Mini Guide
Getting There: Tucked between the Caribbean ocean, rivers, and jungle, Tortuguero is one of Costa Rica’s most remote national parks — only accessible by prop planes and boats. The major river routes are accessed from Moín, La Pavona, and Caño Blanco, while daily flights leave from the capital, San José.
When to Go: For fewer tourists, less rain, and the world’s largest turtles, March-May is the sweet spot. Remember, there will always be rain (they get 20 feet annually) and there will always be wildlife, so visit when it suits your schedule.
Where to Stay: Tortuguero village has a local-meets-backpacker vibe. It’s a great base for independent travelers looking for last-minute lodging and tours; the centrally located Aracari Garden is a great budget option. For a more luxurious riverside retreat, we’d recommend Tortuga Lodge with rustic-chic rooms, serene pool and gardens, a network of hiking trails, and tons of nature excursions.
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