From July through October female turtles return to their natal or birth beach to lay up to 120 eggs a time. They are often matched in numbers by tourists eager to see the reproduction cycle of these beautiful and threatened creatures.
The laying takes place on Tortuguero Beach, 22 km of protected coast inside Tortuguero National Park. There are conditions to viewing to minimize disturbing the turtles as well as ongoing monitoring and protection carried out by the Caribbean Conservation Corporation . Volunteer opportunities are available.
The park, located on the northern Caribbean coast, consists of 19,000 ha of protected rainforest threaded with waterways rich in bird, reptile and animal life. Tortuguero Village, alongside the National Park has the usual tourist services as well as Caribbean-style cooking, freshly baked banana bread and a night life including cocktails.
Green turtles lay their eggs only at night with the peak breeding season being July and August. Turtle rookeries can only be visited with a licensed guide where it is possible to watch eggs being laid or hatching. The cost is USD10 for Park entrance fees plus USD15 for a guided tour of about 2 ½ hours.
Points to Remember:
- As tempting as it is to photograph the turtles camera equipment and flashlights are forbidden on the beach as ambient light disturbs the turtles.
- Wear dark clothing.
- Apply insect repellent.
- Tours include information on the species of turtles that visit Tortuguero Beach and their life cycles.
- Turtle sightings are not guaranteed.
Other Wildlife Tours
Most visitors also take a tour along a labyrinth of waterways to do some wildlife spotting. Species often sighted are;
- Birds like the roseate spoonbill, herons and jacana to name a few.
- Animals like monkeys and sloths.
- Reptiles like crocodiles, lizards and fresh water turtles. One of the stars is the basilik lizard, commonly known as the Jesus Christ lizard because it literally walks on water.
The Tortuguero Information Centre can help with guides.
Package Tours to Tortuguero from San Jose
Tours from San Jose normally include transport and accommodation at a lodge north of Tortuguero Village (meals included). The tour usually includes a waterway tour or two and a night tour to the sea turtle rookeries.
Tortuguero National Park
Entrance to the Park is at Cuatro Esquinas ranger station headquarters at the northern end of Tortuguero Village. From here there is a 2 km nature trail to explore.
Apart from turtle watching on the beach, the Park is accessible only by boat, either on a tour or by renting a canoe.
A narrow dirt trail is the main road through the village with waterways on one side and the sea on the other. Accommodation in town is budget and mid-range.
North of town are lodges which cater mainly to package tour groups. Lodge accommodation tends to be upmarket with impressive tropical gardens and swimming pools. With the exception of 2, lodges are not within walking distance of the village.
Getting to Tortuguero
Buses leave from San Jose to Cariari (3 hours) where another bus connects to La Pavona. From there it is a 2 hour boat trip to Tortuguero Village. Confirm times before travelling as timetables change often.
Costa Rica is famous for its national parks. Others include remote Corcovado National Park, the popular cloud forest parks of Monteverde and Santa Helena and Manuel Antonioa paradise of white sand beaches and coconut palms.