Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond
Costa Rica

Tortuguero National Park

The boat eases its way through the brown, quiet waters of the canal. Everyone sits with cameras at the ready to photograph jungle wildlife that could materialize at any moment in the dim recesses of the nearby rain forest.

Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero National Park; © Costa Rica Tourism Board

Chirps and whistles of birds betray their presence as they call from the undergrowth flanking the waterway, but the dense vegetation keeps them hidden.

The highly trained guide breaks the green monotony with an exclamation of “Sloth”! He points high up into the canopy of a huge rain forest tree and describes the location of this peculiar rain forest animal.

Cameras start to zoom in on the ball of fur that is a Three-toed Sloth hanging from a high branch, when loud, strident squawks suddenly echo through the forested, cathedral-like canal.

The guide calls out, “Great Green Macaws!” and points up the canal to three, large, long-tailed parrots with exotic green, blue, and red plumage that lights up in the morning sun like avian stained glass.

The huge, endangered parrots swoop into a massive Almendra tree and clamber through the branches to pluck and crack open the rock-hard seeds with their massive bills.

The guide explains, “These majestic birds have become endangered as a result of deforestation and logging of the Almendra, their preferred food source.

Fortunately, Tortuguero National Park provides habitat and protection for them as well as jaguars, sea turtles, and an incredible number of plants and animals species”.

“Did you say jaguars? As in the big, spotted cat?” asks a retired American from New Jersey.

“Yes, jaguars as in the big spotted cat with a bite so strong that it routinely cracks open the shells of sea turtles to feed on them”.

The visitors to Tortuguero, Costa Rica murmur in surprise and someone inquires, “How likely is it that we will see one?”

“Well, to be honest, not very likely but you do have a chance because jaguars are seen more often in Tortuguero National Park than in other areas of Costa Rica. I actually saw one last week and after we dock the boat, whoever is interested in going can do the fifteen minute hike with me to see if the big cat is still hanging out in the same area.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?”

“No, because this jaguar likes to nap on the other side of a small canal and we will be careful about not getting too close to it in any case.”

“Let’s go then!”

“A jaguar! That’s incredible!”

“What’s that up there in the tree?”

The Costa Rican guide looked up to where they were pointing and exclaimed, “Spider monkeys feeding on a fruiting fig! I will bring the boat closer for pictures.”

Comfortable Jungle Tours in Costa Rica
Tortugeuro turtle nesting
Tortuguero turtle nesting; © Costa Rica Tourism Board

Tortuguero National Park is one of the top ecotourist destinations in Costa Rica.

Whereas rain forest wildlife is typically difficult to spot and photograph because of the dense vegetation, animals are easier to see in Tortuguero, Costa Rica because most of the wildlife spotting is done from quiet boats that ply forested canals.

This mode of wildlife observation doesn’t frighten the animals as much, is much more comfortable than trekking through the steamy, muddy, mosquito-ridden jungle, and also allows one to cover more territory.

This Costa Rican national park was mainly set up to protect nesting grounds of sea turtles and although those ancient reptiles are often seen on the beach, the park is just as good for spotting rain forest animals such as sloths, caimans (a type of small alligator), toucans, parrots, iguanas, and even jaguars that feed on nesting sea turtles.

Costa Rica hotels in Tortuguero

Despite the fact that Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica is one of the wildest areas in the country, a variety of eco-hotels and eco-resorts ensure that this is one of the more comfortable places in Costa Rica to experience the rain forest.

Tours to the rain forests of Tortuguero are also enhanced by the local Caribbean-flavored culture. It’s hard to think of a better way to finish off a day of exciting boat tours through the Costa Rican jungle than by visiting a friendly, Caribbean restaurant with excellent food.

Getting to Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero can be reached by a quick flight from San Jose on local airlines (small planes), by driving three hours from San Jose to the village of Pavona and continuing by boat from there, or by taking a boat from the town of Moin near Limon.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
February 17, 2020

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