Tortuguero National Park is the gem of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. The park has been described as the “Amazon of Central America” where the main mode of transportation around the area is by boat. Getting to the park requires a little extra planning as you need to take an hour long boat ride into the park, but the rewards are worth the effort as the park is teeming with unique wildlife. Here are the top 5 things to do in Tortuguero National Park.
1. Canoe / Kayaking Tour
The best way to experience Tortuguero National Park is on the water, and my favorite mode of transportation on the water while visiting was by canoe. A canoe tour allows you to get up close to the wildlife without scaring them away with a boat motor. With a guide steering the canoe, this allowed me to still be able to take photographs while enjoying the beautiful scenery.
Kayaking is another phenomenal way to explore the canals that includes an added workout. I opted for a canoe tour so I could take photographs, but a guided kayaking tour gives you more freedom with creating your own path through the waters.
2. Boat Tour
Riding in a boat through the canals of Tortuguero is an incredible experience that gives you a front row seat to the beauty of this Caribbean gem. Admire the jungle canopies hanging over the water as green herons and tiger herons hunt for food. See crocodiles basking on the shores and look up in the trees for howler and spider monkeys. This real life jungle cruise excursion fulfilled my childhood fantasies and made me want to come back to do it again. The one hour boat ride in and out of Tortuguero is a highlight in itself, but take a boat tour to explore the canals and see wildlife at every turn.
3. Turtle Tour
One of the biggest draws to Tortuguero, quite literally named “turtle”, is the chance to see sea turtles laying their eggs on shore, and baby sea turtles hatching and crawling out to sea. Visit between July and October for the best chance to see the spectacle. A popular nesting ground for several species of sea turtles including green sea turtles and giant leatherback turtles, take a tour between July and October for the best chance at witnessing the event.
4. Cerro Hill Hike
A great thing to do on land in Tortuguero National Park is to hike up Cerro Hill. Take a water taxi from Tortuguero, or join a guided tour that will lead you up stairs to a lookout point over the surrounding area of Tortuguero. The trail is well maintained and is essentially a staircase leading to the top. On the top there is a viewing platform where you can see the canals, the town of Tortuguero in the distance, and out to the Caribbean Sea. It’s also a great place for seeing wildlife as we saw howler monkeys, spider monkeys, vultures, giant spiders and several other bird species. It’s a nice change of pace from the water tours and something worth doing if you are in Tortuguero for a few days.
5. Exploring the Town of Tortuguero
The town of Tortuguero is the entryway into the park. If you are taking a public boat from La Pavona, it will drop you off in Tortuguero from where you can hop on another water taxi to your lodge if you are staying outside the town. Tortuguero is a functioning town with local restaurants, souvenir shops, and a myriad of tour options. It’s worth taking a stroll through town, as a walking path connects several of the lodges to the town. It’s also one of the access points to enter the national park.
Tortuguero National Park is a special place in Costa Rica and worth visiting if you love wildlife. For more information on my experience and what the park is like check out my Guide to Visiting Tortuguero National Park.