Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica Tours – Costa Rica Vacation
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This is one of the few Costa Rican national parks where walking isn’t necessarily the best way to see things. The marked trail along the beach is used mostly for observing turtle nesting, but the best way to see most of the park is from a boat. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a workout while nature watching; there are plenty of places to rent canoes and kayaks (cayucas or botes).
The area protected by Tortuguero (turtle catcher) National Park was an archipelago of volcanic islands until alluvial sediments from the interior mountains, filled in the spaces and formed a network of marshy islands. Sand piled up where the river deposited land met the sea, and the turtle nesting beaches of Tortuguero formed. The exceptionally high rainfall, and rich environment where the freshwater meets the sea makes the beaches, canals, lagoons and wetlands of Tortuguero areas of exceptional biodiversity, and opportunity for nature lovers.
Location: Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica
The Park is located on the Caribbean coast 52 miles (87 km) northwest of Limon. By air it is 50 miles (83 km) NW of San José, but the road and canal traveling distance between the two is ~160 miles (267 km).
Attractions Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica
The main attraction of Tortuguero National Park is the turtles. Green Sea (tortuga Verde, Chelonia mydas mydas, Species Account), leatherback (tortuga Baula, Dermochelys coriacea), and Hawksbill (tortuga Carey, Eretmochelys imbricata, Species Account) turtles nest on the beaches here. Green Sea Turtles neared extinction due to hunting of the adults for meat (they are easy prey when they mass to nest) for turtle soup, and poaching of eggs for their supposed aphrodisiac qualities. Dr. Archie Carr of the University of Florida formed the Caribbean Conservation Corporation in 1959 to study and protect sea turtles, and the turtle-tagging program he began at Tortuguero in 1955 continues today.
It’s possible to see stragglers laying eggs during the day, but the mass arrivals (arribadas) occur at night usually under a waning moon. You will need a guide to visit the beaches at night (no one is allowed on the beach unaccompanied after 6:00 pm). For independent travelers, this can be arranged through the kiosk in the middle of Tortuguero village or through your hotel. When you and your guide walk out onto the beach under the starlight to watch the turtles struggle up the beach, dig their nests and lay their eggs, think about their future.
If you are exceptionally lucky, you might chance to see an even more spectacular event, the newly hatched turtles race to the sea. There is some overlap of the nesting and hatching seasons for the different varieties of turtles. The eggs incubate in the warm sand for 7 to 10 weeks before the babies hatch, dig their way to the surface and make the long dark scuttle from the nest well above the high tide mark, across the beach to the surf.
The extensive network of freshwater creeks and lagoons behind the beaches of Tortuguero are home to seven species of river turtles, Spectacled Caiman, Southern River Otters, a number of crustaceans, and over 50 species of freshwater fish. If you take a trip on a tour boat, or paddle a canoe through the freshwater canals you are also likely to see Spider, Howler and Capuchin Monkeys and dozens of species of birds. If you are lucky you might spot an endangered West Indian Manatee.
Atlantic Snook and Tarpon are just two of the species that attract anglers from all over the world to this region. A good friend of ours has taken several trips to the Río Parismina Lodge and counts them among the best experiences of his life.