The second destination on our tour was Tortuguero, wich roughly translates to “land of turtles.” Tortuguero is a remote little village on the Northern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. The only way to get there is by boat or small plane.
Pretty much every city/village offers tours to Tortuguero. We decided to drive to the dock in La Pavona, as that meant our car would be closer to our next stop in La Fortuna. Getting to La Pavona you take a gravel road, which your GPS might not even find.
The boat ride from La Pavona takes about an hour and is really nice. Buy a beer at the docks and enjoy the ride! The boats are covered against the rain, so you will get there without getting soaked. Here’s some info on how to get to Tortuguero.
We stayed at Hotel River View, which as you might guess, has a nice view of the river. It always amazes me how fast the weather can change in the Caribbean. One minute it pours like it’s the end of the world and the next minute, the sun comes out and everything glows emerald green.
Tortuguero is a pretty little village with lots of good little restaurants around town, our favorite one was Budda Café, not only for their delicious food, but also for the location. Again, looking over the water, at any time, but especially for the sunset, is very therapeutic, so I’m willing to pay a little more. My ceviche was to die for!
Tortuguero felt pretty safe and calm at the beginning, but then we saw a young woman, who was obviously totally high, trying to hit an old man with a stick. When we went to ask him what this was about, we saw that he was covered in blood and he showed us stitches on his head and told us he had gotten hit over the head and been robbed for the third time, in the middle of the day, at his home, by a local drug addict. The woman was friends with the robber and was mad at the old lad for calling the police. So, maybe be aware of your surroundings and don’t stray too far from the path at night!
The next day, we went on a little canoe tour through the canals of Tortuguero National Park. You can paddle yourself, or have somebody do the paddling for you, if you want to take photos and/or had shoulder surgery or are just lazy. We had somebody paddle for us and it was a really beautiful and peaceful little excursion on which we saw lots of animals. Don’t take the motorboat tours! It totally ruins the whole experience and you won’t be able to get into the smaller canals.
Note to self: When pulling ones’ pants up over the knees, one should not forget to put sunscreen on them… also take insect repellent!
After the paddle tour, we went into the national park, well, not very far, just to hang at the beach for a little while and jump into the water. They don’t recommend swimming, since there’s supposedly a strong current, a bit splashing around can also be fun.
The main attraction, of course, are the turtles that come to Tortuguero to nest. They come ashore at night and you have to book a tour (which is like 1-2 hours) to go into the park and watch the turtles lay their eggs. I was very disappointed when, after we paid for the trip, they told us, we were not allowed to bring phones or cameras.
I do understand why of course. Haven’t we all been at places where they told us “no flash please” and then 10 flashes get fired? Plainly because people don’t know how to turn them off. Also, some people just don’t give a fuck. I saw an American lady at Jaguar Rescue Center shoving her phone into the sloths face at a 1 cm distance, when we were told to keep 2 meters away from the animals. While her daughter kept flashing the poor Margay Cat without mercy.
When we went to the Tortuguero beach that night, we saw 2 giant leatherback turtles lay eggs and 1 leatherback cover up her nest and make her way back into the waters. I’ve seen turtles in the water while scuba diving and they are so elegant and weightless. Seeing this enormous animal pushing it’s tired body over the sand and into the ocean was very touching.
I saw a turtle lay eggs on a beach in Montezuma 25 years ago. We were hanging on the beach getting stoned and drinking rum and the turtle just came up to the beach and laid its eggs. We were in awe! We watched her in silence and after she had made her way back into the ocean, we covered her tracks, so nobody would steal her eggs to cook them.
Of course, that was a way more intimate experience than the one in Tortuguero, but also one that is not likely to happen again with the diminishing numbers of sea turtles.
So should you go and watch giant turtles lay eggs for $ 25 with a group of 10 people and most likely just catch a glimpse of what’s actually going on? Is it worth it? Absolutely! It’s wondrous and beautiful and makes you appreciate mother nature even more.
Next stop: La Fortuna