Tortuguero National Park - Nature, Turtles, Hiking, Culture and More
Tortuguero National Park is the entrance way to one of the most ecological diverse displays of flora and fauna in Costa Rica boasting a waterway of famed beauty It is also the most important area in the western Caribbean for turtle preservation, as it is here where the Green Turtle (Chelonia Mydas) and others come to lay their eggsTortuguero National Park is the entrance way to one of the most ecological diverse displays of flora and fauna in Costa Rica boasting a waterway of famed beauty. It is also the most important area in the western Caribbean for turtle preservation, as it is here where the Green Turtle (Chelonia Mydas) and others come to lay their eggs. Protecting marine turtles was a principal reason for the creation of the park, for its black-sand beaches are also nesting grounds for the gigantic Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys Coriacea), the attractive Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys Imbricata) and the brown-colored Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta Caretta).
Located in Costa Rica's northern Caribbean region, just 80 kilometers north of the city of Lim?n, this protected wildlife area was created in 1975. The park is comprised of a network of natural and navigable canals and lagoons of grand beauty that cross the park in a Southeast to Northeast direction. They are home to species such as Manatees (Trichechus Manatus) and Crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus); fish oddities like the Tropical Gar (Atractosteus Tropicus), which is considered a living fossil; and amazing birds like the Great Blue Heron (Ardea Herodias), the largest of its kind found in the country, and the Northern Jacana (Jacana Spinosa), famous in the animal kingdom for it is the female that defends her family's territory while the male takes care of their hatchlings.
The park encompasses itself covers an extension of 26,156 hectares of solid ground and approximately 50,160 hectares of marine territory. It presents a vast diversity of ecosystems, among which the most noted are swamp and marsh lands leading to extremely humid forest habitats that house an abundance of tree life of great ecological value. Standouts include Crabwoods (Carapa Guianensis); Banaks (Virola), which are recognized for their golden fruit; and the illustrious Swamp Palms (Raphia Taedigera), whose leaves can reach up to 15 meters in length and can be found lining the canals and tinting their waters black due to the plant's high tannin content.
In general, the park's rich species content can be appreciated in the more than 400 kinds of trees, around 2,200 varieties of plants and 405 types of birds, the latter amounting to half of all existing bird species of Costa Rica and more than can be found in all of Europe. This vast diversity is present in the amphibian, reptilian, fish and insect populations of the region.
Tortuguero also presents a vast cultural richness. Its Caribbean location makes it one of the main centers of the Afro-Caribbean culture in our country. A large portion of the local population is of Jamaican descent and conserves the traditions, food and many religious believes of their ancestors. Their dishes are spicy, with coconut serving as a base ingredient in most recipes. One of the most popular is the 'Rondon', a tasty fish and vegetable stew made with fresh coconut milk. There is no lack of restaurants and small eateries in the town of Tortuguero, which also features traditional Costa Rican food.
Getting to Tortuguero: NatureAir's scenic half -hour flight is a great way to soak in incredible views, including spectacular sightings of turtles in the ocean. Tortuguero's airstrip is closed temporarily due to improvements being made, and in the meantime the alternate airstrip of Barra del Colorado is being used. The route by ground is also very scenic and a great adventure by land and sea, or land and river. The wildlife along the way is abundant and definitely a worthwhile part of the experience.
Lodging: A number of hotels surround the canals and offer packages that include transportation from San Jos?, lodging, food and the entrance fee to the park, plus a guided tour of the canals. The wonderful Manatus Lodge offers an elegant experience with delicious cuisine. The tour to watch marine turtles in action during nesting season (June to October) is amazing and often offered separately. An additional hiking tour up the Cerro Tortuguero is also available, featuring a spectacular view of the canals and adjacent flat lands.
Several local restaurants and a quaint marine turtle museum are found in the town of Tortuguero itself. The cost of visiting the museum is by donation, with the goal of supporting the investigations of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, which studies the reptiles of Tortuguero. The turtle tours are limited and done very carefully at night with special lights in small groups as to not disturb the nesting patterns of these magnificent creatures.
The nature and culture of Tortuguero is a wonderful opportunity to experience one of Costa Rica's most important areas for turtles, as well as overall natural diversity while at the same time enjoying the rich Afro-Caribbean influences present there. No matter if you are a first time visitor to Costa Rica or returning, it is an important and exciting destination.
Lisa Khajavi is a Costa Rica Travel Designer and member of Nature Vacations Costa Rica Nature Vacations is the premier travel agency of NatureAir.com, the first carbon neutral airline in the world. For a list of top hotels and lodges in Tortuguero feel free to visit us here: Tortuguero Costa Rica Hotels and Lodges