Tortuguero, which translates to "Land of the Turtles", is the nearest village to Turtle Beach Lodge. Situated on the Northern Caribbean side of Costa Rica, in the province of Limon, it is approximately 90 miles northeast of the capital city of San José. Accessible only by air or water, it has a number of shops and restaurants and is sustained primarily by eco-tourism. The region is the most important nesting site in the entire western hemisphere of the Caribbean for the green turtle.
Tiny Tortuguero airport annually welcomes tens of thousands of travelers from around the world and the area is the third most visited in Costa Rica. About 1000 people live in the general area and a few hundred reside in the village proper. There are no cars or buses, no horns or fumes and little noise except for people going about their daily lives.
The village is situated adjacent to the 47,000 acre Tortuguero National Park, which is part of the larger Tortuguero Conservation Area. In addition to the park, it encompasses several other wildlife refuges and protected zones in the province and has been designated a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.
The area offers a unique mix of lush lowland rainforest, mirror-surface black-water canals and rivers, the volcanic Cerro Tortuguero and stunning, secluded Caribbean volcanic sand beaches. The park has over 400 trees species and 2200 other plants. Rainfall averages 197 inches (5.000 mm) per year, but it can go up to 236 inches (6.000 mm) in some parts. Elevation goes from sea level to 1.020 feet (311 meters) at the top Tortuguero Hill (Sierpe Hill).
Exploring Tortuguero National Park
According to existing records, sea turtles have frequented Tortuguero National Park since at least 1592, largely due to its extreme isolation. Over the years, turtles were captured and their eggs were harvested by local settlers; by the 1950´s this practice became so widespread that turtles faced extiction. Regulations controlling this mini-industry were passed in 1963, and in 1970 Tortuguero National Park was established.
There are four types of turtles that make Tortuguero their nesting ground:
- The green turtle which is most abundant in the Park
- The Hawksbill
- The Loggerhead
- The majestic leatherback turtle, the biggest sea turtles
The prime nesting period is from July to mid-October (Aug-Sept are peak months). The Park´s beaches are excellent places to watch turtles nest, especially at night. As appealing long and deserted as they are, however, the beaches are not appropiate for swimming. The surf is usually very rough, and the river mouths have a nasty habit of attracting sharks that feed on the turtle hatchlings and many fish that live here.
Green Turtles are the most common turtle found in Tortuguero, so you´re more likely to see on of them than any other species if you visit during the prime nestling season Season. Loggerheads are very rare, so dont be dissapointed if you don´t see one. The giant Leatherback is perhaps the most spectacular sea turtle to watch lying eggs. The largest of all turtle species, the leatherback can grow to 2m, long and weigh well over 1,000 pounds. It nests from early March to mid-April, predominantly in the southern part of the Park.
You can explore the park´s rainforest, either by foot or by boat, and look for some of the incredible varieties of wildlife that live here; Jaguars, anteaters, howler monkeys, colared and white-lipped peccaries, some 350 species of birds, and countless butterflies, among others. Boat tours are far and away the most popular way to visit this park, although one frequently very muddy trail starts at the park entrance and runs for about 2km through the coastal rainforest and along the beach.
The driest months are February/March, and September/October. Often, it rains during the night and the days are sunny and clear until 3:00 PM or so. Turtle Beach Lodge provides ponchos and rubber boots for you, but bring along rain gear just in case. Just don’t let the rain prevent you from going out and exploring – it is all part of the adventure!
Birders will find 309 bird species; approximately half of Costa Rica's identified birds. A good checklist is HERE.
The Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), maintains a reasearch program here - the John H. Phipps Biological Field Station which was founded by Dr. Archie Carr in the 1950s.
The park is home to endangered jaguars, tapirs, manatees and monkey species. Other wildlife includes caiman, sloths, monkeys, bats, iguanas, crocodiles, kinkajous and zorros as well as a an amazing diversity of fish, insects, amphibians and reptiles.
Turtle Beach Lodge is located 5 miles north of the town of Tortuguero.