Getting to Tortuguero

Last Updated: February 21, 2020

In our last post, Tortuguero Off the Resort, we shared some amazing things to do in Tortuguero and also suggested where to stay and eat. But if you’re planning a trip to this remote Costa Rican village, your biggest concern is probably how to get there. In this post, we’ll take the mystery out of getting to Tortuguero and lay out the two different options.


Transportation to Tortuguero | Two Weeks in Costa Rica


Tortuguero is no doubt a little hard to access. Sitting all by itself in the northeastern corner of the country and surrounded by swampy mangroves, the village is accessible only by small plane or boat. Although many of the hotel websites will have you believing that you need to book a package to get to Tortuguero, getting there on your own is actually quite easy and inexpensive. Here are your two options:

Option 1: Flying to Tortuguero

Good for: Visitors short on time

Downsides: Cost- this option is more expensive; Safety concerns (see below)


The fastest way to get to Tortuguero is to fly on one of Costa Rica’s domestic carriers. Sansa and Aerobell both make daily flights from the capital of San Jose that will get you to Tortuguero’s small landing strip in 30-60 minutes. From there, it is just a short boat ride to the village center or your lodge. Prices vary by carrier and the time of year, but expect to pay between $70 and $125 per person each way.

We previously really liked domestic flights in Costa Rica and flew on them ourselves. However, in the recent years, there have been some safety concerns about how the industry is regulated and a few tragic crashes. There has also been some reliability issues with some of the carriers. For these reasons, we aren’t currently recommending domestic flights as the best travel option. 


View From Small Plane | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
The view from a domestic flight


Tip: At certain times of year, like during parts of the low season (May through November), only morning flights are available to Tortuguero. This may require you to stay overnight near the San Jose airport on your day of arrival. If you want to make the best out of your time in San Jose, check out our post, How to Spend 1 or 2 Days in San Jose.

Option 2: Tortuguero by Boat

Good for: Anyone with a rental car or taking a shuttle; Budget travelers (can arrive by public bus; public boat is reasonably priced).

Downside: If driving, your rental car will be unused while in Tortuguero. 


A more popular way to travel to Tortuguero is by boat. Even the locals use this method. The boats are long and skinny and generally hold between 10 and 25 passengers. They snake their way from the mainland, going through rivers and canals, to reach Tortuguero. The ride is almost like a tour with breathtaking views of lush rainforest and birds and animals along the banks.


Public Boat Tortuguero | Two Weeks in Costa Rica


There are two towns on the mainland that provide boat service to Tortuguero, La Pavona and Moin. Which one you choose really depends on where you will be coming from. If you’re coming from San Jose or other inland destinations like La Fortuna, La Pavona is the best option. Moin, on the other hand, is a longer boat ride (3-4 hours), but more convenient for those traveling from Caribbean coast destinations like Cahuita or Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

It’s important to note that there are both public and private boats at each location. Hotels and tour groups use the private boats as part of their packages and people who arrive on their own typically use the public boats which keep a set daily schedule.

Tip: Be prepared for rain if you’re taking the public boat taxi. Although they typically have a canopy overhead, you can still get wet if it is pouring, which it often is in this region. Luggage is generally wrapped in a tarp, but a large plastic bag for your suitcase and something watertight for your valuables is recommended. Dry bags like these ones are good for your phone, camera, and other electronics.


Tortuguero via the Boat from La Pavona

Best option if you’re coming from San Jose or inland destinations like La Fortuna

Besides the boat landing in La Pavona, there’s not much else in this small riverside town. The facility, in the middle of farm country, is nice though with a large building that includes an open-air restaurant, small store, bathrooms, and plenty of places to sit. There’s also ample parking at La Pavona if you have a car.


La Pavona Docks | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Boat taxis at La Pavona. The boat to the far right is for luggage.


Schedule: Boats depart from La Pavona four times a day (7:30, 11:00, 1:00, and 4:30). These times are not exact as the boat will wait for the local bus to arrive from San Jose via Cariari before departing. It is best to arrive early to ensure you don’t miss the boat. The trip to Tortuguero takes a little over an hour.

Cost: ₡1600 (around $3) per person, one way. Buy your tickets at the restaurant inside the main building once you arrive. Luggage goes in a separate boat, which follows along, and is paid for separately when you board. We paid ₡1000 (around $2) per bag.

Getting to La Pavona by Bus

Taking the public bus from San Jose is an inexpensive way to reach La Pavona. From the Gran Carib terminal in downtown San Jose, you take a direct bus to Cariari (about 2 hours). Once in Cariari, you can connect with the bus that leaves for La Pavona (about 1.5 hours). The La Pavona bus now leaves from the same station, previously you had to walk a few blocks. As we mentioned above, the boats wait for this bus so don’t worry about being late.

Taking a Shuttle to La Pavona

Private shuttles are one of the easiest ways to get to La Pavona. The cost for these shuttles varies depending on your starting location. As an example, a private shuttle from the San Jose area to La Pavona is around $200 (for up to 4 people). Shared shuttle companies don’t typically service the La Pavona Docks but there is one option that leaves San Jose at 6:00 a.m for $50 per person. If you need to arrange a shuttle to La Pavona, you can do so through our Shuttle Booking Page.

Driving to La Pavona

Arriving to La Pavona by car is a good option if you’d like to keep your rental car for the rest of your time in Costa Rica. It’s an easy drive from San Jose and the cost of parking is reasonable.

Parking: $10 per day. The spaces are covered and the lot is guarded at night but don’t leave any valuables in the car, just in case.


Parking La Pavona
Parking area at La Pavona


Directions: From San Jose, take Route 32 towards the small city of Guapiles. Slightly east of Guapiles on Route 32, there is a large gas station called Service Centro Santa Clara. Turn left here and drive toward the town of Cariari (north on Route 247, not marked). In about 8 km (5 miles), turn left before the railroad tracks. Drive a few hundred meters/yards and then take a right, crossing the tracks. Continue through some small towns and banana plantations, following signs for Tortuguero. Around the town of Cuatro Esquinas, the road turns to dirt (bumpy but still flat, no 4×4 required). Continue until you see the large parking area and building.

Total drive time from Guapiles to La Pavona is about 1.25 hours.

If you plan to drive and need to rent a car, check out this special discount for our readers to save 10-25%. 


Tortuguero via the Boat from Moin

Best option if you’re coming from Puerto Viejo or Cahuita on the Caribbean coast

An alternative to La Pavona are the docks at Moin, just northwest of the city of Limon. This way is more expensive and takes longer but might be more appealing to those traveling to or from the southern Caribbean coast. Moin is a port town and very industrialized, but once you get into the canals, the mangroves and rainforest are pristine. The Moin docks also have secure parking and are accessible by bus or taxi from nearby Limon.


Views going to Tortuguero | Two Weeks in Costa Rica


Schedule: Boats generally leave the Moin docks at 10:00 a.m. and the ride through the canals takes about 3.5 hours. We recommend arriving at the docks well before 10:00 a.m. to secure your spot.

Cost: The cost is around $35-50/pp. You may have to negotiate the fare; the more people in your group, the better. Since this route is not as common for the independent traveler as La Pavona, we recommend speaking with your hotel in Tortuguero about booking transportation in advance.

Getting to Moin by Bus

From Puerto Viejo, Cahuita, or other Caribbean destinations, take the bus to Limon. From Limon, there is a local bus that goes to Moin about every half-hour, but we recommend a taxi to the docks (around $10), which is faster and easier.

Shuttles to Moin

From Puerto Viejo, Cahuita, or other Caribbean destinations, there is a great shuttle option that includes the boat to Tourtuguero as well. The cost is around $75 per person. Round-trip options are also available. Contact us through our Shuttle Page for help booking.  

Driving to Moin

Parking: Parking is available in the fenced-in lot next to the docks. There is a large gate and 24-hour security guards on duty. As far as we know, the price for parking is negotiable and typically less than $5 per day. 

Directions: About 7 km (4 miles) west of Limon, look for the exit off Route 32 going toward Moin. Take this road and drive through the industrial area (large oil tanks on your left). Continue about 2.5 km (1.5 miles) until you go under a railroad bridge. Take a left after the railroad bridge and keep straight, passing the main road on your left. Next, take a left on a gravel road leading to a warehouse-like building (if you go over a bridge with water under it, you have gone too far). Go through the gate to access the boat docks. The security guards will show you where to park.

Which route to Tortuguero did you take? Have any updates or experiences to share? Leave us a comment below.

Looking for more information to plan your trip? Check out these articles: 

  • Packing List: For a general list of what other clothing you should bring as well as essential gear, check out our packing list.
  • Money Matters: Wondering what to budget for your trip? Read our Money post for information on how much things costs, currency exchange, and tipping.
  • Driving in Costa Rica: What to Know Before You Go – If you are still on the fence about renting a car, read this for basic driving info.

Last Updated: February 21, 2020

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  1. Hi Guys,

    I haven’t been to this beautiful park/area but would do the small plane bit. Being close to the land and appreciating the landscape vibes with me. I am a bit tired of long haul flights in monstrous planes; 36,000 feet high you see some beauty but forget that you’re still in the atmosphere. Definitely want a nice little change up.

    I imagine morning flights during low season are about avoiding the MONSTER storms you see in the noon time? I recall wicked T storms every afternoon in Quepos during low season. Vivid lightning, heavy ass rains and sometimes, howling winds. Intense stuff!


    1. Hi Ryan, Yeah, the morning flights during the rainy season are likely to avoid storms. They can get pretty intense and who wants their flight to be cancelled because of bad weather? It’s probably also because tourism is generally slower that time of year so they reduce their flight schedule a bit. Thanks for reading!

    2. Hi there! Thanks so much for all the information provided. We are a family planning a trip to Costa Rica during the dry season. If driving with a rented car, as a day trip from San Jose area, and then taking a public boat from La Pavona, once we reach Tortuguero, how do we access the National Park, please? Or does the boat ride go through the national park itself, and is the main goal of the trip? Then do we just ride right back to La Pavona? Or can we explore more the national park and wildlife in Tortuguero once there? We would very much like to keep this as a day trip, and get back to San Jose before dark. Kindly advise. Many thanks!

      1. Hi Liat, It would be hard to do Tortuguero National Park as a day trip from San Jose because as far as we know, the last boat from Tortuguero to La Pavona is at 2:45, so you would be very rushed, unless you caught the 7:30 am boat from La Pavona, which would require leaving San Jose very early. The next time the public boat taxi is offered is 11 am, which doesn’t help much. If you really want to keep it as a day trip, you could try to find a private boat to take you at a custom time. Other than that, the best option is to go for a night. The ride through the mangroves to Tortuguero is nice, but to see the canals of the national park, you have to take a separate boat. You should read our Tortuguero National Park post for more information.

        1. Hello Jenn and Matt,

          Thanks very much for your reply. It seems that it would indeed be too difficult to do it using public transportation. Is there a reliable tour guide or tour company that you would recommend for this trip please? I saw online that there are such day trip tours offered, where they pick you up from your San Jose hotel at 5:30 am, then pass through the Braulio Carrillo National Park, then a private boat to Tortuguero. But the reviews for the few companies that run such tours were not good ones. Any thoughts? Thanks again, Liat

          1. We know of reliable companies that do day tours to Tortuguero from Cahuita and Puerto Viejo, but none out of San Jose, unfortunately. Sorry we can’t be of assistance.

  2. Hello Jenn and Matt

    Thanks for the very helpful insights and information for travelling around Costa Rica! I’m planning a surprise anniversary trip for early October and would love your input and have a question regarding transportation from Tortuguero to Cahuita. Here’s what I have so far: Decided to forego a rental car and splurge on private transfers so we could both enjoy the surrounding are and not stress about the driving, private transfer from SJO to Turrialba (La Cascada Bed and Breakfast 2 nights), next day river rafting on Rio Pacuare with Tico’s River Adventures, next day private transfer to La Pavona, catch public boat to Tortuguero Village, staying overnight at Tortuga Lodge&Gardens. Would love to do the canoe tour with Karla’s Travel Experience (still trying to get in touch with her). The tricky part is getting from Tortuguero to Cahuita (our next destination). So far Caribe Shuttles seems best bet, though pricey because we want to leave later in the day which means private van. I read your info. of getting to Tortuguero via the boat in Moin, can you do this in reverse to get from Tortuguero to Moin and then catch a bus from Moin to Cahuita? Any ideas how to best go about this? We’re then going to spend next several days spread out over Cahuita and Puerto Viejo as I’d read October is usually nice weather “summer-like” in that area. We’re staying at Playa Negra Guesthouse, Banana Azul, and Pachamama River Lodge. Thanks again for all the practical advice and suggestions your provide. I very much enjoy reading your articles!

    1. Hi LeAnn, What a wonderful anniversary treat! Your itinerary sounds great. On your question about getting from Tortuguero to Cahuita, it is definitely possible to take the boat in reverse from Tortuguero to Moin. We haven’t done it ourselves, but know that boats do run daily. It’s a long trip (3-4 hrs.) so costs around $30-40pp. You can’t arrange it in advance like you would a shuttle, but your hotel will be able to help you so just ask when you arrive. Once you get to Moin, unfortunately, there is no bus that goes direct to Cahuita. You have to stop in Limon first, which is totally doable, but makes for a longer trip. If you go this route, take a cab from the Moin docks to the bus station in Limon. If you wanted to avoid the bus altogether, you could also just take a cab the whole way to Cahuita, but it will probably be fairly expensive because it’s about an hour trip. Not sure how much the Caribe shuttle costs but it might end up being only slightly more expensive, all considered, and worth it to avoid the hassle.

  3. I was emailing with Jenn and I assume you have had your wonderful baby boy, congratulations!
    Can you tell me the number of hours it takes to drive in a rental car from La Fortuna to La Pavona (assuming I am going by way of Cariari)? I will want to leave my car in La Pavona while I’m in Toruguero.
    I have had difficulty finding this information and road conditions.


    1. Hi Jenn, The estimate on Google Maps of about 4 hours is pretty accurate. You’ll want to go La Fortuna to San Miguel to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui to Guapiles. This is a well traveled route, along all smooth, paved roads that aren’t too mountainous.

  4. Hi there thanks for all the info – just wondering do you know if you can park a hire car at or near limon airport – thinking to drive from Puerto vieja caribe town then fly into tortugeuero – then drive onto la fortuna but then there’s question of our luggage which too big to do Sansa with
    Thanks Karin

    1. Hi Karin, It’s not a great idea to leave your luggage in the car while you’re gone in Tortuguero, even if you leave it in a guarded lot. It would probably be fine, but we wouldn’t risk it. Have you thought about taking the boat to Tortuguero instead, that way you can take your luggage? There’s the longer one from Moin, right near Limon, or if you prefer a shorter boat ride, you could drive to La Pavona, park, and then take the boat from there. From La Pavona, you’ll be closer to La Fortuna for afterwards too.

    1. Hi Lorna, To get to La Pavona from either La Fortuna or Sarapiqui, you’ll take Route 4 to Highway 32 and Guapiles. Then follow the directions we give in this post (from San Jose) to get from Guapiles the rest of the way to La Pavona. It’s not a bad drive at all, along well maintained paved roads until you get closer to La Pavona where it turns to dirt. We have another article on our website with more specific info on what the roads are like that you could take a look at too: Road Conditions on Specific Routes in Costa Rica.

  5. Thinking of flying into Tortuguero from San Jose during our trip in March. Would like to spend a few nights there then journey down the coast. First questions…Is there a way to get to Limon from Tortuguero? If so, we would like to rent a car in Limon, and then return it to San Jose. Do rental companies in Costa Rice allow different pick-up and drop-off locations?

    1. Hi Rennie, Yes, there is a shuttle boat that goes from Tortuguero to the Moin docks (near Limon), which is about $35 per person. It doesn’t run every day though so make sure to have your Tortuguero hotel help you with the arrangements. Some rental car companies will meet you in Limón/Moin, including Adobe who we recommend on our Rental Car Discount page. When making the reservation, you just have to put in Puerto Viejo/Limon as the pickup location and write that you will be at the Moin docks in the notes. There will be an extra fee for the delivery.

      1. Hi Jenn and Matt. I enjoy reading your tips and using your great website. We plan to take the boat from Moin. Is there a boat that goes every day to Tortuguero? You said something about boat to Moin from Tortuguero not departing everyday. How an I tell? We plan to take a boat on Thu (somewhere at the end of the year) and take the boat back on Sat (after couple nights). Does it make sense? How can we tell in advance that there would be a boat in and out? thank you so much!

        1. Hi Kobi, We had to research this recently for a client. There is a boat in and out of Moin every day as long they have enough people to make the trip, which usually isn’t a problem. It leaves Moin for Tortuguero at 10:00 a.m. The people who own the boats (Tropical Winds Transport) have a couple of different boats but if you wanted to be careful, you could make a reservation in advance (best done by your hotel unless you speak Spanish). Another option if you’re coming from Cahuita or Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is to go through a shuttle company called Carib Shuttle. It’s more expensive but they take care of everything for you and it includes a shuttle van ride to the dock.

          1. thanks for your reply.
            If we would like to take the boat from La Pavona, can we as the rental car to take the car and return it after 3 days?

          2. Yes, some of the rental car companies, including the one we work with, will do pick ups and drop off at La Pavona for an additional fee. For Adobe, you can request it by selecting Guapiles/PN Tortuguero as the location and adding a note to the reservation about what times you want them to come get the car.

    1. Hi Bev, We heard about some isolated incidents a while back but nothing lately so we wouldn’t worry too much about it. It is a remote area, but heavily trafficked with lots of rental cars, buses, and shuttle vans. Just avoid driving when it is dark and have your route planned in advance so that you don’t get lost. We did not feel unsafe at all when we drove it.

  6. Hi!
    We will be driving from la Fortuna to Pavona, but we wnt to make sure we arrive on time to get on the boat (we are a gtoup of 7 including kids).. Do you know where we can get accurate boat schedules? Thank you!

    1. Hi Christine, We give the schedule in our post. I don’t think it changes very often, but if you wanted to double check, you could ask your hotel in Tortuguero. They should have the most current information.

  7. Hi!

    I am travelling to Tortuguero soon, while I will be going by shuttle from La Fortuna, I’m flying back to San Jose. I’m trying to find out how I get to Tortuguero Airport from Hotel Tortuguero Beach, but they only seem to refer to transfers to San Jose airport in their details for 160USD Is it easy to get to the airport for the early morning flight? Do you think the Hotel will help me organise this? Thank you.

    1. Hi Kristin, The Tortuguero airstrip isn’t far from the main area of town, where your hotel is. You can easily grab a water taxi there from the public dock. I don’t think you need to arrange this in advance. Since these flights run regularly, there are always boats around to make the trip. Just ask your hotel for help when you arrive.

  8. Hi,
    Thank you so much for the tips. I will be taking option two, from Puerto Viejo to Tortuguero by boat. It seems quite an adventure. I will go to La fortuna after. So, lets say, i will have to take the boat to La Pavona, and then take a bus, right? Thqnks for your help, once again!

    1. Hi Andreia, Yes, to get from Tortuguero to La Fortuna you will take the the boat to La Pavona, then the bus. Just follow our directions above in reverse: La Pavona to Cariari (this is where you will get on the bus to San Jose). In San Jose, you need to go to a different bus station to get the bus to La Fortuna. This website is usually good for the bus schedule but they don’t have La Pavona for some reason. Any good guidebook should have the schedule though. Good luck with the trip. It’s adventurous but a lot of fun!

  9. We have just returned from a great trip in Costa Rica. We ran into a situation with the public boat taxi and private boat taxi that I would like to let the company which runs the public boat taxi know about. Do you know how I can contact whomever is in charge of the public boat taxis and parking lot at La Pavona? If it is Asoprotur I have their email. Thanks.

    1. Hi Cathy, Not sure who owns the public boat taxis. I checked our files and we paid cash last time we went so don’t have a receipt. Our receipt for the parking says Canales del Tortuguero S.A., though, so if they own both, that could be a lead. I don’t think that the local guide association (Asoprotur) has anything to do with it.

  10. Hi, My friend And I arriving at 11pm to Liberia Airport,our check in into our ABNB is not till the next day at 3pm, would you recomentd we use the downtime to do a trip to tortuguero? what is the earliest/safest time we can star driving from LIR to tortuguero.

    Just 2 girls

    1. Hi Lucy, If you are flying in at 11:00 p.m., you should stay overnight near the airport because there isn’t much in the area and we don’t recommend driving at night long distances. There is a Hilton right across the street from the airport. Tortuguero is very far from Liberia and cannot be done on a day trip, unfortunately. Not sure where your AirBnb is to suggest an alternative that would make sense. Just make sure that whatever you do you’re careful about leaving all your stuff in the car. Costa Rica doesn’t have a lot of crime, but vehicle break-ins, especially of rentals, are one of the biggest.

  11. Thank you SO much for this blog with very useful tips for traveling (with kids). I cannot thank you enough – you have a treasure trove of information here.

    1. I failed to mention that we’re using public transit from San José to Tortuguero. However, we’re trying to figure out how to leave Tortuguero to end up in Puerto Viejo and then onward to Boca del Toro/Isla Colon for a few days. It seems like we could take a ferry to Limón? However, I can’t find that info on the public transit schedule. What do you recommend?

      1. Hi Angie, You will do the route Tortuguero via the Boat from Moin (see above) in reverse. This is also a boat taxi service. Moin is right near Limon. As far as we know, this route doesn’t have a set schedule, which is why you’re not finding anything. Boats do run daily, though, so you shouldn’t have a problem. Just ask your hotel in Tortuguero about how to best make the arrangements when you arrive. They will know.

  12. First time to CR. We are senior citizens. Have a car, but do;t want to drive or fly. Or take a tour from SJ. Advice? Public buss, hotel in TORTUGUERO and take boat?


    1. Hi Jere, If you don’t want to drive or fly, you could take the public bus or a shuttle. The bus is slower but there is a direct option from San José that only requires one bus change, we think. Then you could take the boat taxi in La Pavona and stay at one of the lodges in town in Tortuguero. You should read our post Tortuguero Off the Resort, where we talk more about this kind of independent travel.

  13. Hi! We booked a holiday to CR from Feb-March. We want to go from SJ to tortuquero with a rental car, i’d read something that it is not easy to do it by yourself? What do you
    recommend. If you do it by yourself what about the car, i also read something about la pavona, but is there always space ? And also do you have to book your excursions and accomodation before or can you do it there ? Hope to hear from you. Thankyou

    1. Hi Kim, Yes, it’s fairly easy to arrive on your own in a rental car and we recommend it regularly. La Pavona has ample parking and we have never heard of there being a problem with the lot being full. February/March is high season so we do recommend booking your lodging in advance. Lodging in Tortuguero is limited so it does fill up. Tours can be booked in advance or easily done once you arrive.

  14. Howdy folks, my hubby and I are visiting Aug 17-30 we would like to go tortuguero. We will be in San Jose. Im sure you have had this question before so sorry its a repeat. Where to we catch the boat/water taxi? What do we do with the rental car? Thanks for all your help. I have tried to figure this out it seems a bit difficult. I totally trust your words of wisdom.

    1. Hi Char, Read above for info on where to catch the boat taxi (either La Pavona or Moin). You can leave the car parked at the boat docks if you want, or you can pick up the rental car afterwards. Some rental companies, including the one that we work with, will drop off the car at the docks for a fee. They come from their nearest office with the car and go over the paperwork right there. There’s more info on our Rental Car page.

  15. Would it be feasible to fly from La Tortuguera to San Jose and catch a flight out home (international) the same day if that was afternoon/evening?

    The issue if we go from San Jose to La Tortuguera is we lose 1 day because the flights in October between SJ and LT are daily in the morning.

    However I don’t want to miss my flight home if there’s a delay with airplanes (although I would imagine it’s a little more reliable than the buses which can be delayed too)


    1. Hi Natalie, If your international flight isn’t until later in the afternoon, you should be fine. The small plane flights are pretty reliable and they take you right into San Jose International (be sure to select SJO as your arrival destination). You do have to check in and go through security again, but as long as you have at least a 1.5 hour cushion, you should be fine.

  16. Hi! Do you have an address for the boat and covered parking in La Pavona? I was hoping to be able to put it into a GPS?



  17. This has been so helpful, thank you! I was wondering if you can help me out with a few questions. I am going to be flying into SJO on Sept. 15 which is Costa Rica’s Independence day. I figured that there extra traffic but will the public bus still be running as we as the ferry boats to Tortuguero? Will the parades make me miss the connections to the boat? Would it be best if I took a shuttle instead? Anything will be helpful! Thank you again for all your help!

    1. Hi Brian, As far as we know, you shouldn’t have a problem traveling by bus on Independence Day. Some bus routes do run on a reduced schedule on certain holidays like Christmas and New Years, but I don’t think it applies to Independence Day. The boat company that runs between La Pavona and Tortuguero is private so that should also be running as usual. Parades and other festivities could delay things a bit so we recommend getting on the bus as early as possible in case you do run into a problem. You don’t want to be stuck in La Pavona because there is nothing there.

  18. Hi Jenn and Matt!

    I am planning a trip with a friend of mine for next April and Tortuguero is high on our list. We are going to rent a car to tour around parts of the country but when we head to Tortuguero and Cahuita we will probably be using public transport. I am wondering if you know what would be easier, heading from San Jose to Tortuguero via La Pavona and then taking a boat down to Moin and a taxi to Limon to continue travelling south or would it make more sense (or no difference at all) to head down to Cahuita first and then make our way up the coast to Tortuguero and back to San Jose? The other option is to go back to San Jose both times but that may be a waste on time. Any advice would be much appreciated!


    1. Hi Patricia, The boat from Moin to Tortuguero doesn’t run as regularly as the one from La Pavona. So we would say to go San Jose to Tortuguero via La Pavona and then after, to take the boat down from Tortuguero to Moin and a taxi to Limon, then onto Cahuita. Your lodge in Tortuguero will be able to help you with the logistics for getting the boat to Moin, which will be easier to figure out there than from Cahuita. Hope that makes sense.

  19. Hi! I love your site and have found so much helpful information about the places we are planning to travel to!
    We are planning to do a roadtrip (in a rented car) from San Jose>Atenas>Monteverde>Bijagua(Rio Celeste)>La Foruna(Arenal)>La Pavona(Tortuguero)>Irazu in January.
    I was wondering if you think getting a 4-wheel drive vehicle is a necessity (or if you have any specific tips for this journey that I may have missed)
    Thank you 🙂

      1. Hi Courtney, You need a 4×4 for the drive to Monteverde (Route 606 portion- see our Driving to Monteverde post) and a 4×4 is helpful around Bijagua too, which has some rough dirt roads. Some people do the drive to Monteverde in a 2wd SUV but we recommend having a 4×4 because you never know what you’re going to get for road conditions. Better safe than sorry. If you haven’t seen it yet, you could also look at our Road Conditions post for the specific routes you will be driving. Be sure to check out our Rental Car Discount for the car too- we get 10% off and free extras.

  20. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    Thanks so much for creating this blog – it is beyond useful and has got me even more excited for my trip!! I’m visiting in December and planning to get a rental car and head up to Tortuguero, parking at La Pavona. Would you advise booking parking in advance (if it’s even possible?) at this time of year?

    Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Natasha, We don’t think it’s possible to reserve parking in advance. It’s not really needed either, as there is quite a bit of parking and we have never heard of the lot being full.

  21. Hi,

    Thank you for the helpful information! We have got a question. Are the busses from San Jose to Cariari and to La Pavena, and the public boat from La Pavena to Tortugero still in service during Christmas?
    Also, Are restaurants in Tortugero open during Christmas (dec. 25 en 26 dec.)?

    Thank you 🙂

    1. Hi Sanne and Bram, Almost all the buses in Costa Rica run on Christmas so it should be fine. You could double check with your lodge there just to be sure, though. Should be the same for the public boat taxi. Most restaurants will be open because this is peak season but you may find a few that are closed.

  22. Hi there,

    Firstly thanks so much for this blog! Its brilliant and has been loads of help in planning our upcoming trip to Costa Rica! After 2 nights in Tortuguero we’re planning on driving down to Puerto Viejo. I think this will take us roughly 4hours and we’re in no rush as we’ll have around 4 or 5 days once there so wanted to ask if there was somewhere along the drive you’d recommend us staying to break up the drive.

    Thanks in advance

    1. Hi Gabby, From Tortuguero, the fastest way to get to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is to take the boat taxi that goes to Moin near Limon (and not La Pavona, which is farther). That is a longer boat ride but saves time overall. Once you get to Moin, it’s not a long drive to Puerto Viejo, which is good since there aren’t many places to stop along the way until Cahuita, which is very close to Puerto Viejo. If you’re leaving a car at La Pavona, you could stop in Guapiles to break up the drive a little. It’s a small city where a lot of locals live.

  23. Thanks for the great info in this post!
    I fly out of SJO on April 1st of this year (Easter Sunday). Because of this I was hoping to leave Tortuguero on the 30th of March (Good Friday) but from what I’ve read in other places the busses don’t run. Is this true? If so, should I just book a shuttle or is leaving on the 31st an option? Thanks!

    1. Hi Frances, Not all public buses will be running on Good Friday. We’re not sure about the ones from La Pavona to San Jose in particular. You should ask your hotel on Tortuguero, as they are local to that area. The safest bet would be to just book a shuttle.

  24. Hi Jenn, we have a car rental and are heading from the southern Caribbean to tortuguero. I am wondering if we can still drive to La Pavona and take the boat instead of from Moin. The reason being is that we need to go straight to San Jose right after Tortuguero.

    We will be coming from Cahuita to go to Tortuguero Feb 17 – 20. Then spending the last nigĥt in San Jose before our fligĥt on the 22nd. Does it then make more sense to drive from Cahuita to La Pavona?

    thank you.

    1. Hi Christopher, Yes, in that case, we would recommend leaving the car in La Pavona and taking the boat from there so that you’re closer to San Jose for after. In terms of driving, the times are almost the same but the boat ride from La Pavona is a lot less. Good plan, makes sense!

  25. Thanks, that’s really useful information. We were wondering if we could connect between Toetuguera and other parts of the Caribbean coast without going back through San Jose and our guidebook wasn’t clear on it so thank you very much. We’re going to spend July travelling atound Costa Rica and I’m just starting to plan it! So excited!?

  26. Hi! We are planning a trip in the first week of September to visit the Caribbean coast and wanted to start with Tortuegero by rental car. Do you think we need to be concerned about the condition of the roads and being able to actually get there in case of foul weather? We are planning on staying a night near the hotel and then leaving first thing the next morning. Thank you so much!!

    1. Hi Beth, You should be okay driving from San Jose to the boat docks in La Pavona. The one thing to be aware of is that during the rainy season, there are sometimes landslides on the highway to the Caribbean coast, Route 32. This causes road closures while crews do necessary repairs. There are alternate routes but they take longer. Just something to be aware of.

  27. Hi Jenn and Matt. We were in Costa Rica recently (March 2018). We used public transport for all our journeys The bus from San Jose from Gran Carib Terminal was easy and cheap to Cariari. There was a Tortuguero Tourist stand in the bus station right by the lane where the bus leaves from. They were very helpful and gave out good information about Tortuguero.
    At Cariari the next bus for La Pavona was waiting for us and we were charged $4 each for the bus and boat trip to Tortuguero. There was no extra charge for luggage on this public boat. Our return jouney was still cheap but not as smooth as we had to wait 30 minutes at La Pavona, walk a short distance in Cariari and wait 45 minutes for the bus to San Jose. (We are both in our 60s speaking very little Spanish but found Public buses easy and cheap to use).

    1. Hi Trevor, That’s great to hear that your travels by public transport went well for the most part. Good to know that you were charged for the bus to La Pavona and boat in Cariari and that there was no separate luggage charge. Thanks for the detailed report- we’re sure it will help other travelers.

  28. Thank you for this block,
    we will be traveling by car in C.R. How long does it take from La Pavona to Manzanillo? And from Manzanillo to Manuel Antonio?

    1. Hi Ren, It’s about 3.5 hours from La Pavona to Manzanillo. To Manuel Antonio, it is a very long trip of around 7-8 hours depending on traffic. You could break up the drive with an overnight near San Jose.

  29. Hi!

    I am planning my trip to Costa Rica in November, I am planning on following your tips on travelling from San Jose to Tortuguero by public transport.

    Do you know the bust times, or where i can find them for the bus that departs in San Jose?

    I guess i would like to leave Gran Carib terminal early in the morning on 11th November 2018.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Kian, This website has detailed information about taking the bus, with times, etc. We’d compare it against a guidebook like the Lonely Planet to make sure it’s still accurate. Someone recently commented about their experience taking the public bus too. Scroll up to Trevor Morgan on May 1, 2018.

  30. Hi Jenn & Matt,
    Just ran into your site and love your stories and so much usefull info.
    Next week me and family will be arriving at CR from the Netherlands and start our 3 week roadtrip through this amazing country.
    Looking at the wheather last couple of days and all the fludding issues I’m getting a bit nerveous. We will start our trip coming from San Jose to Torugeuro and praying the rain will give us a break during the day. We planned to park our car at La Pavona. Have you any idea if La Pavona is reachable by car these days?
    Thank you in advance.

    Best regards.

    1. Hi Ron, As far as we know, Route 32 from San Jose to the Caribbean coast is open, except that they have been closing it from 6 pm – 6 am as a precautionary measure in light of the flooding. The road from Guapiles to La Pavona should be fine. Hope that is consistent with the experience you have. Safe travels! FYI- You can check for road closures in Costa Rica by following this link to the government website. Click Listado for the list of roads.

  31. Hello Jenn and Matt,
    Thank you for your feedback and advice.
    Looking forward to visit CR.

    Have a good day.
    Pura vida!

    Ron & Lia

  32. Hi Jenn and Matt!
    My 2 kids and I are so excited to visit the last week in August. Renting a car and heading to Tortuguero via la Pavona. We arrive at 12:06 PM into San Jose. I’m wondering if you have recommendations on a hotel near La Pavona to get an early start the next day on the 7:30 boat ride. Your site is fantastic by the way. So much more detailed than others I have visited. Thank you!

  33. Hi,

    Thank you so much for this really helpful info. Based on the boat times, it looks like we will either be cutting it very close or won’t be able to make it onto a boat the day we fly in, since we get in right at noon. Do you know how long it takes to get from the airport to the bus stop in San Jose? If it looks like we won’t be able to make the whole trip to Torguguero in one day, do you recommend staying over in San Jose, or would you recommend staying over in Cariari or La Pavona? Thank you in advance!

    1. Hi Liv, If you’re planning to take the bus, we would highly recommend staying overnight in San Jose near where you’ll catch the bus and getting an early start the next day. That way if anything is delayed, you won’t be stranded. There’s very little around Cariari and La Pavona.

  34. Hi, thank you so much for all this helpful info, I’m learning so much! I’m hoping you can recommend a place to stay en route between SJO and Tortuguero. We’ll arrive to SJO at noon, so it looks like we won’t be able to make it all the way to Tortuguero via public transport the day we arrive. Would you recommend staying in Cariari or La Pavona? Or would we be better off staying in San Jose?

    1. Hi Liv, I think you’d be better off staying in San Jose (near the bus station), then you can get the early bus to Cariari the next morning. There’s really not much in Cariari or La Pavona.

  35. Hi, I love your website! Thanks for all the info!
    I am planning to drive from San José to Pavona, leave the car there and take the taxi boat to Tortuguero. Have you had any feedback lately on the conditions of the roads? Also, is the road to get there mountainy? It will be my first time driving outside the city. Thank you for your advice!

    1. Hi Sophie, Sometimes the highway from San Jose to Guapiles (Highway 32) experiences landslides and flooding when there has been a lot of rain. Right now, there’s less rain on the Caribbean slope so you should be fine. Highway 32 is through the mountains so definitely drive it during daylight hours. The backroads from Guapiles to La Pavona are a mixed of paved and dirt, but normally in fine condition. Our Road Conditions post has more details about conditions on Highway 32.

  36. We took the bus from San Jose to La Pavona and then the boat trip down the river and to Torguguero. It was a fun boat ride in and the Captain obviously knew the waterways like the back of his hand, impressive, and I am a whitewater kayaker who knows how to read a river. We left 3 days later on the boat to Moin. $35, 4 hours, fantastic scenery, crocodiles, roseated spoonbills, howler monkeys, sloths. The trip to Moin was one of the highlights of our 2 weeks in Costa Rica.

  37. Hi Jenn & Matt
    I’m in Costa Rica for language school till Dec. I’m staying in Tuis near Suiza and Turrialba. Would love to go to Tortuguero. I don’t have a car. What would you suggest. I can leave as early as Thurs afternoon and would need to return Sunday afternoon.



    1. Hi Sue, We’d check with your language school but the fastest route via public bus would probably be Turrialba to Siquirres to Guapiles and on to La Pavona. This website is a good place to start for figuring out the bus schedule. Good luck!

  38. Hello!

    Thank you for a very informative webpage.
    We are a family (two adults and two teenagers)
    We are going to Costa Rica in February for two weeks.

    We arrive in San Jose Airport at night time and want to go to Tortuguero the next day and spend two nights in Tortuguero – sounds like it is enough?

    I’m in doubt how we get there in the smartest way when we after our days in Tortuguero would like to rent a car and move on to an area near Castro on highway 141 and after our tour around Costa Rica will return the car in San Jose Airport.

    My plan for the Tortuguero-trip is:
    Day 1: arriving at San Jose Airport and sleep at hotel in San Jose
    Day 2: heading from San Jose to Tortuguero – by bus and boat – sleep at hotel
    Day 3: stay in Tortuguero
    Day 4: heading from Tortuguero/ La Pavona to Castro-area in a rented car

    But do we have to go back to San Jose to rent a car or is it possible to rent it near La Pavona or other cities on the way to San Jose?

    Do you have any recommendations on how we should plan our trip till and from Tortuguero?

    Best regards Jonas

    1. Hi Jonas, Yes, it is possible to rent a car right from La Pavona. With the company that we work with, you just select Guapiles/PN Tortuguero as the pickup location. The company doesn’t have an office there but they will send a rep to meet you with the car at the boat docks in La Pavona. Here’s the link to our rental car discount page where you can check rates and availability.

      To get from San Jose to La Pavona, you can either take the public bus from downtown or a private shuttle. The bus option takes a little longer but isn’t bad. The private shuttle would pick you up directly from your hotel in San Jose and take you right to the docks. This would be $207 total for the 4 of you. If you decide on the shuttle, we can help you arrange it. Just contact us through our shuttles page.

  39. Hi Jenn and Matt
    We are traveling to Costa Rica in 2 weeks(!!!) and have most of our 3 week trip planned and booked (including rental car for 1 week – thanks for your recommendation and discount). We were planning on traveling to Tortuguero and Drake Bay with public transportation. I just discovered the existence of Aerobell and would like to ask if you can recommend them? Also many thanks for sharing the information that you do on your website. It’s really been a big help for planning our trip!

    1. Hi Claudia, They are a very new airline and we haven’t heard anything about them. So we’re really not sure. We’re not recommending them to clients yet because we aren’t familiar with their safety and other standards. Let us know how it goes if you fly with them.

  40. hello,
    i would like to know if the information here is still valid.
    we come by car from manuel anotonio and need to go to Tortuguero.
    as the drive it self take 5 hours minimum, i guess we can only take the last boat.
    should we come earlier?
    any tips and comments would be super appreciated.
    thank you

    1. Hi Nadav, Yes, this article is still current except that we aren’t recommending small planes as much anymore.

      If you don’t want to stay overnight somewhere on the way, we’d recommend getting an early start from Manuel Antonio to try to make the 1 pm boat from La Pavona. That way if you miss it, there’s still the 4:30 pm option and you aren’t stranded, as there isn’t much in the area.

  41. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    Thank you for all your clear information. I actually just had one quick question: do you know if the busstations and times are still the same as when you wrote this blog?

    We will be travelling from San Jose to Torteguero by public transport in April.

    Thank you in advance.

    Kind regards,
    Maartje Spieksma

  42. This is a great site. Thank you! We are 2 adults and 2 kids traveling in early Oct to COsta Rica. Planning on 1 night in San Jose (since we get in late), then early bus to La Pavona, boat + 2 nights in Tortugeuro, then back to La Pavona to get a rental car. Then drive to Cahuita/Puerto Viejo area for 4nights. Then drive back to San Jose. I’m a little worried about trying to cram in too much and not letting my family just be mellow. I’d thought maybe we’d just do the Puerto Viejo area for the entire stay, but the more I read about Tortuguero, it sounds like we should go for it. Is there anything we should axe out of this plan? What would you do if you were me? 🙂 We love to chill, snorkel, swim, hike, kayak, etc. Kids will be 7 and 8 when we are there.

    1. Hi Tara, Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. We had a baby right when you sent this comment. We think this is a great plan and have found from traveling with our children that having a lot of structure makes for an easier trip. It doesn’t look like you’re trying to do too much by going to only Tortuguero and Cahuita. You could always just play it by ear and wait to book any tours until you arrive. Hope that helps!

  43. Hi everyone, we were last week in Tortuguero. Unfortunately the ATM does not work anymore (it was robbed weeks ago) and it will take time to replace it (if they will do it..).
    Some restaurants or groceries accept credit card some not.
    Pura Vida Costa Rica!

  44. Hello,

    A friend of mine and I will go to Costa Rica this November. We will fly from Amsterdam to San Jose and want to pick up our rental car at the airport. We will arrive the day at 7 p.m. and have booked a hotel for that day. We don’t want to visit San Jose and directly go to Torteguero the next morning (day after arrival day). To do so, the idea is to drive to La Pavona to park the car and take the boat from there. Do we need to book a tour in advance or is it possible to do this after arrival with the boat? If we have to book it in advance, can you recommend something? It is not the season that the turtles will lay their eggs, but still worth it to have a look?

    Thanks in advance for your feedback

    1. Hi Evelien, You should be able to book a canal or turtle watching tour last minute. Go talk to the Association of Guides when you arrive (their office is close to the public boat dock) or your hotel may be able to help. In November, there is a decent chance of seeing sea turtles so ask around when you get there to see if it would be worth booking a tour. Have a great visit!

  45. Hi Jenn and Matt – I found your comments really helpful and I’m now more confident about driving to La Pavona. Do I need to book car parking in advance? Thanks Jo

  46. Hi…….really enjoying your site. Very informative. In early stages of trip planning to CR for March. Am interested in the Canal and boat tour up to Torttuguero. Not sure where to embark yet. It looks like an up and back day trip. Is that correct? We are interested in staying at a Wilderness or Eco Lodge too. Are there some in that area or would you recommend other areas as our entire vacation will cover 3 weeks.? Thanks for any info you can share. Regards Chris

    1. Hi Chris, Yes, Tortuguero would be a good addition to your itinerary and we’d recommend spending 2-3 nights there. It’s too fast paced to try to do it as a day trip. If you have 3 weeks, better to devote at least a couple of nights to checking out the canals and national park. Here’s a link to our Tortuguero destination guide. There are lots of ecolodges there. Our post has some recommendations but there are a lot of choices.

  47. Thank you so much for this information! I am planning a trip to Tortuguero and trying to make sure we have times right so we don’t miss flights leaving. We are planning on leaving from La Pavona to San Jose on our last day of our trip. Do boats leave Tortuguero at 730 am? When I talk to our Bnb owner they are wanting to charge a lot of money for a private ride. What would you recommend or know a site with local transportation information?
    Thanks again for all of the help with planning! Emily

    1. Hi Emily, As far as we know, the public boat from Tortuguero leaves daily at 5:30am, 9:00am, 11:00am and 2:45pm (confirm this with your hotel in case of any recent changes). I don’t think you can buy tickets in advance. You would have to wait and buy them when you arrive in town. If you’d rather book in advance, we know of a company that has an affordable option (around $55 pp) but they only have a 12:00 pm departure from Tortuguero so you would need to leave the day before your flight. Email us at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com if you’re interested in getting more information about this. Otherwise, you could take the boat from Tortuguero early in the morning and then we could help arrange a private shuttle back to San Jose but it will be around $210 for up to 5 people. The pickup time at La Pavona would be custom. Hope that helps!

  48. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    We are getting married in La Fortuna in May and will be staying around 10 days. The places we’d like to visit are Monteverde and Tortuguero (and of course La Fortuna). Is there a particular order you would recommend? We were thinking Monteverde first (coming from either SJO or LIR, not sure yet), then La Fortuna, and then Tortuguero, then finally fly out from San Jose.

    PS – We are also coming from Boston!

    1. Hi Tracy, How excited to be getting married in Costa Rica. Congratulations! If you fly into San Jose, we’d recommend starting in Tortuguero then heading to La Fortuna and ending in Monteverde. If you fly into Liberia, Tortuguero will be farther so then we’d do the reverse so that you end in Tortuguero. Hope that helps!

      1. Thanks for the quick response! Is there a way you would recommend to get from La Fortuna to Tortuguero? Going to from La Fortuna to San Jose to La Pavona to Tortuguero somehow doesn’t seem very ideal!

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