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The Parque Nacional Tortuguero (Tortuguero National Park) is a large national park and protected area on the northern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Famous for its turtles, this is a teeming nesting ground for 4 species of sea turtles, including the endangered Green Sea Turtle species.
While a peaceful stroll along the marked pathways and beach trails will take you past many turtles (and their eggs), the park is best navigated by kayaks or canoes (known as cayucas or botes). This allows you to explore the park’s dense rainforest landscape, winding your way through lagoons, creeks, and freshwater passages. Keep an eye out for dozens of native species of tropical birds, monkeys, and caimans.
Tortuguero National Park consists of 19,000 hectares protected land, and includes beaches, freshwater rivers, estuaries, and tropical lowland rainforest. It has been a designated turtle nesting sanctuary since 1963, and was declared a national park in 1970. The elevation ranges from sea level (0 metres) to 390 metres at the peak of Cerro Tortuguero. In ancient history, this area was an archipelago of volcanic islands, but over the millennia sediment from the mountains nearby has helped to fill in the gaps and create a marshy, boggy landscape.
One of the reasons that Tortuguero is so lush and rich in wildlife is its plentiful annual rainfall, which nearly reaches 6 metres – yes, 6000 mm – per year. It can rain heavily at any time, so ensure that you pack appropriate rain gear no matter when you go. The wettest months are December, June and July, while the drier months are February, March and September. The average annual temperature is 26 °C, so it is reliably warm, humid and tropical all year round.
Of course, you should consider the nesting seasons of specific turtle species when determining the best time for your visit. The Green Sea turtles and Hawksbills nest through July to October (with the peak in August), and the Leatherback nest from February to April. That said, you will see individual turtles throughout the park no matter when you plan your trip.
Learn all about turtles, and spot them in the wild
Everyone visiting Tortuguero is here to spot turtles in the wild, and this park certainly does not disappoint. Leatherbacks, Hawksbills, and Green Sea Turtles nest on these beaches in the thousands, drawing tourists from around the world. Conservation programmes are in place in every corner of the park, as the Green Sea Turtle was nearly hunted to extinction in the past.
While you will likely witness a turtle or two laying their eggs in the daytime, the real action takes place at night. Tours are compulsory, and your hotel can help you to arrange a guide, or you can do so at a dedicated kiosk in Tortuguero village. Your guide will point out the turtles digging nests and laying eggs, and you might even witness the freshly hatched turtles making their great race to the sea. This is a breathtaking and delightful sight that will remain with you forever.
Explore the riverways, canals and lagoons of the park
Of course, turtles aren’t the only wildlife that call Tortuguero home. When you paddle your way through the freshwater lagoons, creeks, and rivers, you will likely also spot Southern River Otters, Spectacled Caiman, more than 50 species of fish, and if you are really lucky, an endangered West Indian Manatee. Make sure that you also look up, because you can see gorgeous birds and Spider, Howler and Capuchin Monkeys jumping from tree to tree.
Engage in sport fishing
Fishing is another popular activity in the Tortuguero area, and sport fishers from around the world make their way here. While no fishing is permitted in the park itself, the surrounding areas are teeming with Atlantic Snook and Tarpon. Local lodges and guides are more than happy to help you arrange fishing trips to areas where this activity is allowed.
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