Tortuguero National Park is located in a remote corner of the Caribbean coast in Costa Rica. It covers around 312 km2 of beaches, estuaries, coastal waters, rivers, and tropical rainforest. Tortuguero was first protected as a turtle nesting sanctuary in 1963 and the main attraction is the spectacular turtle season. Green sea turtles, leatherbacks, and hawksbills all nest on the beaches here. The area used to be an archipelago of volcanic islands until sediment from the mountains filled in the spaces and formed a network of marshy islands. Sand piled up and the turtle nesting beaches of Tortuguero were formed. Beyond the coast lies a tropical rainforest crisscrossed by a network of freshwater creeks, canals, and lagoons. Nicknamed the ‘Amazon of Costa Rica’ you can find caiman, sloths, howler monkeys, manatees, and even jaguar.
Average rating: 3.0 (good)
Average cost: entrance to the park is around $15. Activities such as kayaking can cost around $35 per trip.
Best time to visit: the best time to visit Tortuguero to see turtle nestings is July – October. For the best weather head in September and October.
How to get there: to get there you can fly to the tiny village of Tortuguero or get a bus to Pavona then hop on a boat.
Typical activities: animal watching, boat trip, jungle trek, kayaking
Number of reports: 2
Wildlife in Tortuguero
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:
Caiman – 100% of visitors (2/2) reported sightings
Tortuguero’s extensive network of canals (often dubbed the ‘Amazon of Costa Rica’) provide the perfect home for spectacled caimans. Caimans are relatively easy to see in the area and sightings are pretty much guaranteed on tours. Look out for them sunning themselves on the river banks when on boat trips in the area. Or if you are feeling adventurous take a trip out on the river at night and shine a torch along the banks. When exposed to light caiman eyes gleam a shining red, creating an unforgettably eerie experience.
Green sea turtle – 0% OF VISITORS (0/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The main attraction at Tortuguero is the incredible spectacle of hundreds of green sea turtles clambering onto the beach to lay their eggs. Since the park was established populations have declined worldwide. But nestings at Tortuguero have increased nearly 500%. Today around 20,000 green turtles nest here each year. The largest colony of nesting green sea turtles in the world. While it is possible to see stragglers during the day, the majority arrive at night. You need a guide to visit the beaches after 18:00 which can be arranged at hotels or in Tortuguero village. The main nesting season runs from July to October. If you go during the season chances of seeing this incredible spectacle are pretty much guaranteed (unfortunately we went at the wrong time of year!). Later on in the season you may even get the chance to see the newly hatched turtles race to the sea.
Hawksbill sea turtle – 0% OF VISITORS (0/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle is the rarest turtle species found in Costa Rica. The hawksbill nesting season runs from July to October with a peak in August, although it is possible to see individuals at any time of the year. Of all the turtle species in Tortuguero, hawksbills are the most rarely seen species. A study of the population in the area found a significant decline in the numbers nesting of around 77-95% between 1956 and 2003. This is a result of excessive turtle fishing across their migration route to Nicaragua and Honduras. Due to the declining numbers and their solitary nesting habits, encounters with this beautiful species are rare.
Jaguar – 0% OF VISITORS (0/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Tortuguero is one of the only places in the world where jaguars are known to prey on nesting sea turtles. Research suggests that green sea turtles are the most frequently targeted prey for jaguars in the park. Although it is not thought that they present a threat to the population of turtles that nest on Tortuguero’s beaches. A camera trapping study identified 18 individuals within the park suggesting a population density of around 5.8 per 100 km2. While there are jaguars present, the chances of sighting them are low. Reports on TripAdvisor suggest they are seen infrequently by visitors to the park but for most people sightings are unlikely. As of 2017 an area in the southern part of the park has been closed to protect jaguar habitat and help support the population in the park.
Leatherback sea turtle – 0% OF VISITORS (0/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Leatherback sea turtles nest on the beaches of Tortuguero between February and August, with the highest numbers arriving in March and July. The best spot to see them is near Barra de Pacuare, in the southern part of the Tortuguero canals. While green sea turtle populations have increased in the area, records suggest there has been a decline in leatherback nests since monitoring began in 1995. There are sightings of leatherbacks on TripAdvisor however they are relatively few and far between. The best chances seem to be at Casa Grande Ecolodge where visitors can get involved in a volunteer monitoring programme.
Manatee – 0% OF VISITORS (0/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The world’s fragile West Indian manatee population is endangered. They were thought to be extinct in Costa Rica until a small group was discovered in the remote lagoons of Tortuguero National Park. Estimates suggest there are up to 100 manatees inhabiting the lagoons of Tortuguero and Barra del Colorado. Although Save the Manatee Foundation suggests that they still do not know whether or not there is a viable population. Chances of seeing one of these slow-moving, graceful creatures are relatively slim. They don’t like noise so if you are looking for manatees avoid boats with motorised engines and try a kayaking tour. Look out for them feeding at the surface and you might get lucky!
Howler monkey – 50% OF VISITORS (1/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Mantled howler monkeys are one of the most common of the monkey species found in Costa Rica. There are good chances of seeing and even better chances of hearing them when staying at lodges in the forest. Waking up to their booming calls as the dawn breaks is an unforgettable jungle experience! They are less active than other monkeys so can easily be overlooked – look out for brownish-black balls in the treetops. As they are canopy dwellers, look up into the tops of the trees when on boat rides along the rivers.
Sloth – 50% of visitors (1/2) reported sightings
There are two species of sloth that live in Costa Rica – the Hoffman’s two-toed sloth and the brown-throated sloth. Both species are found in Tortuguero. Sightings of these fascinating creatures are frequent year-round – particularly for the brown-throated sloth. The Hoffman’s two-toed sloth is nocturnal and so more difficult to find. To spot them listen closely for leaf rustling and look up at the canopy treetops where they spend most of their time. Or better yet take a walk with a trained guide who is experienced in spotting them.