Tortuguero, Costa Rica: Off the Resort

Last Updated: August 22, 2019

In the swampy northeastern corner of Costa Rica is the village of Tortuguero. Named by locals long ago as the place where turtles go, this incredible wildlife destination is one of the most important turtle nesting sites in the world. But as much as Tortuguero is about sea turtles, there is more to this small Caribbean town. Surrounding mangroves, canals, and jungle play host to an amazing diversity of other wildlife. Combine this with a vibrant local culture that is eager to share Tortuguero’s story, beauty, and hope for the future, and you have the makings for a completely authentic experience. There are many vacation packages available to visit Tortuguero, but in this post, we’ll focus on helping you create your own unique experience.  

Tortuguero Costa Rica Destination Guide | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

Orientation

Tortuguero village is a community of only about 1,200 people. This small town sits on a skinny peninsula in northeastern Costa Rica with the Caribbean Sea on one side and a wide, jungle-backed canal on the other. Although technically a beach town, not many people venture into the churning ocean due to frequent riptides. Much more appealing are the tranquil brackish waters on the inland side of town. These canals and rivers weave through the rainforest and connect the village to the mainland by boat.

The village of Tortuguero has one main walkway on the canal side that is paved but with no cars. The only traffic you’ll see are the many bicycles and occasional coconut carts. Hotels and restaurants are spread out along the peninsula with a healthy concentration surrounding the paved walkway and nearby boat landing. Others are located off sandy walking paths that weave around homes, the town playground and soccer field, or along the beach. Some lodges are also a short boat ride away, built into the forested banks of the canals.

Toruguero Village | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
The main walkway in town

Tip: Bring a little cash for your trip. While some businesses accept credit cards, many restaurants and some hotels are cash only. Tortuguero recently did get an ATM machine, but it’s a good idea to have a small stash as a backup. 

Getting to Tortuguero

Since Tortuguero is so remote, it is somewhat difficult to access. That being said, it’s totally worth the effort and you don’t need to sign up for a vacation package to get there. 

There are two ways that travelers arrive to the village. One is by domestic flight on a small plane from San Jose. We aren’t currently recommending small plane flights in Costa Rica due to the unreliability of local airlines. Hopefully more companies will enter the market soon and make this a viable option once again. But don’t worry, there’s another way to arrive that makes for a very scenic travel day – taking a boat. Boats leave from the towns of La Pavona and Moin. These boats meander along rivers and canals, giving you a chance to see the rainforest and mangroves close up.

Since getting to Tortuguero can be a bit intimidating, we’ve written a separate post. Check out Getting to Tortuguero for all the specifics on flights, boat schedules, directions, parking, etc.

Transportation to Tortuguero | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Boat taxi heading to Tortuguero

Activities in Tortuguero

Most activities in Tortuguero are focused on seeing the abundant wildlife. In between excursions though, make sure to spend some time walking around town, meeting the local people, and getting a feel for this tight-knit community. We actually really enjoyed just hanging out on one of the many park benches, eating an ice cream cone, and watching the people come and go in their daily routines. In addition to immersing yourself in the culture, here are some other popular things to do.

Tortuguero National Park

The main attraction in Tortuguero is the national park since it encompasses both the beach where turtles nest and the rainforest and mangroves where so many other animals can be seen. There are two main ways to explore the park. On land, there is a ranger station located at the southern end of town (admission $15), which lets you access the park’s few muddy trails. By boat, you can access the park’s four waterway trails, which are basically rivers. Hire a guide to take you or go on your own by renting a kayak. All you have to do is stop by the ranger station dock to pay the entrance fee. If you’re feeling ambitious like we were, you can do both the land and water trails in the same day, using the same entrance ticket. Read our post Tortuguero National Park: A Wildlife Hot Spot for more information about planning your visit.

Tip: If this is your first time in Costa Rica, we recommend hiring a guide for the canals. Monkeys, birds, caiman, lizards, and other intriguing creatures are often hidden in the thick rainforest or camouflaged in the mangroves. 

Canals of Tortuguero National Park | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Kayaking through Tortuguero National Park

Sea Turtle Watching

Four species of endangered sea turtles instinctively return to the beaches of Tortuguero to lay their eggs. With a 22-mile (35 km) stretch of pristine gray sand, it is the perfect setting for these mysterious creatures. Turtle-watching must be done with a registered guide and tours take place at night when the turtles typically nest (around $20 pp). Some turtle species have such few numbers that on any given night only a handful might come to shore. Since the beach is so long, at slower nesting times it can be difficult to witness these events. The most abundant nesters are the Atlantic Green Sea Turtles, which arrive between July and October, so visit then for the best chance. More rare are the Leatherback Turtles, giant creatures that can reach up to six feet long and nest in much smaller numbers from March to May.

Sea Turtle Nesting Tortuguero | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
An underground view of what a turtle nest looks like (from the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s visitors center)

Sea Turtle Conservancy Museum and Visitors Center

Even if you don’t get to see a nesting turtle, you can still learn all about the amazing lifecycle of these creatures. The Sea Turtle Conservancy, a global conservation organization, has a small but nicely done visitors center ($2 entrance) on the northern end of town. The museum and short video do a wonderful job explaining how turtles live and breed and tell more about the Conservancy’s efforts. They also teach visitors why Tortuguero Beach is so important to turtle survival and have a small gift shop if you’re looking for a meaningful keepsake. The Center is an ideal activity for both adults and kids.   

Tip: Plan to spend 2-3 days in Tortuguero. This will allow you to hit all the highlights and get a taste of the local culture without getting bored.

Hotels and Lodges in Tortuguero 

There are many different options for lodging in Tortuguero. You can stay either on the peninsula (near or in the village) or at one of the all-inclusive lodges along the canal. Some guidebooks make it seem like staying in the village is only for backpackers, but we really enjoyed it and saw many other couples and families there as well. There are some great restaurants and plenty of local culture in town, which you might miss out on if all your activities and meals are already planned through a lodge. Of course, there is nothing wrong with an all-inclusive package, but for the purposes of this post, we’ll focus on the options for smaller hotels and B&Bs.

Casa Marbella

This popular B&B is located right in the heart of the village. Rooms are simple, but bright, clean, and comfortable. Casa Marbella is a good option for families, with some rooms holding up to five people. Breakfast is served daily on the patio overlooking the river. $40-55/night (double occupancy). Check Rates and Availability Here.

La Casona de Tortuguero

This small hostel near the soccer field has 10 simple, but fresh and comfortable rooms. With rooms starting at $25 (double occupancy), La Casona is a great value for the area. Each room comes equipped with hot water and a fan to keep you cool. Most have private baths. Good location in between the main area of town and beach. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Tortuguero Hotel Guide - La Casona de Tortuguero
La Casona de Tortuguero

Tortuguero Natural B&B

This is another small bed and breakfast just a short walk from the beach and town. Rooms are basic, yet spacious. The biggest draw of Tortuguero Natural is the friendly, welcoming manager who is always willing to help. Private rooms with hot water and fans are around $55/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Cabinas Icaco Tortuguero

We really enjoyed our stay at Cabinas Icaco. For us, it was in the perfect location, right on the Caribbean Sea and just a short 5 minute walk to town. Our room was spacious and clean, with a private bath, hot water, and a nice deck. The management took a lot of care in the hotel, with fresh paint all around and clean linens every day of our stay. The small restaurant on-site is a great option for breakfast when you don’t want to venture into town. Hammocks overlooking the sea offer a nice place to relax. Some rooms have A/C. $35-50/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Tortuguero Hotel Guide - Cabinas Icaco
Our room at Cabinas Icaco

Aracari Garden Hostel and Suites

For the shoestring traveler, there’s the popular Aracari Garden. Guests love the fully equipped kitchen, comfy beds, and welcoming atmosphere. This small hostel is just a 2 minute walk to town and the beach. Private rooms $40-50. Dorm beds $13. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Restaurants in Tortuguero 

If you’re staying in the village and not at one of the all-inclusive lodges, chances are you will be on your own for most meals. The village is small so of course there aren’t a ton of restaurants, but don’t fret, there are some great options.  

Budda Café

If we didn’t have to check out other restaurants, we might have ended up back at Budda Café multiple times. We ate here on our first night in town and the setting along the canal was really tranquil. Everyone, including kids, is sure to find something on the menu, which consists mostly of fresh pasta dishes, tasty pizza, and homemade crepes. Located next to ICE (the electric company) right on the main strip. 

Tutti’s

Tutti’s is a casual, open-air spot that is best known for its pizza and calzones. It also offers a few typical Costa Rican dishes like arroz con pollo (rice with chicken). Tutti’s is a good option for a hot day because it gets a nice ocean breeze. The service was very friendly and we saw a lot of locals picking up takeout orders—always a good sign. Located just off the main strip, look for the sign.

Tuttis Restaurant Tortuguero | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) at Tutti’s

Soda Heliconia

We ate at this simple typical soda (Costa Rican restaurant) for breakfast a couple of times and loved not only the food, but most of all the hospitality. After graciously agreeing to make us vegetarian omelets, we watched the little boy help mom by walking to the market around the corner to get a tomato and some peppers. A few minutes later and we had delicious veggie omelets made especially for us. Located in a blue building behind the grocery store directly across from the boat landing.

* * *

With Tortuguero’s abundant wildlife and friendly locals, it’s no wonder that this remote village has become one of Costa Rica’s top eco-tourism destinations. Although it may appear easier to just book an all-inclusive package, we hope this post has shown that you can easily plan your own adventure. 

Last Updated: August 22, 2019

Have you been to Tortuguero? What did you enjoy the most? Let us know in the comments below. 

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you book a hotel using one of the links, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read our Privacy Policy for more information.

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29 Comments

  1. Hi Guys,

    Fab review!

    Knowing no ATMs exist in town shows me how off the grid this place is. I love that. Rarely have I traveled anywhere without an ATM, and when I have, it really was in the middle of nowhere. My kinda place…at least for a bit lol…

    Thanks for sharing.

    Ryan

  2. Thank you so much for all this wonderful insight! We are starting to plan our trip in March for my husbands 40th. Your information is helping us immensely! Might use the itinerary help soon, once we get a solid plan!

  3. Great information! We always travel independently, so we love to hear other’s experiences. One question, where did you rent the kayak? I am having a hard time finding any kayak rentals that are not part of a tour.

    1. Hi Michelle, You don’t have to worry about making reservations for the kayaks if you’re not doing a tour. There’s a guy in town to the right of the local association of guides’ office near the town docks that has a ton of them and some hotels offer them for rent too. You can just figure it out when you arrive.

  4. Hello! Your information is wonderful. We’ve been to CR several times but are looking for new places this summer that we have not explored yet. Tortuguero is one of them. Another is Corcovado. Do you have suggestions for Corcovado area? We will be renting a car for a month, in June/July. Thank you for any further guidance you can offer!
    Sincerely,
    Britt (we are a family of three – my husband and myself and our 9 year old daughter)
    Thanks again!

    1. Hi Britt, The Osa/Corcovado is one of our favorite areas of the country. It has two main hubs: Puero Jimenez on the eastern side of the peninsula and Drake Bay on the western. We have detailed articles on each. You can follow the links we just provided for more info, but in general, Puerto Jimenez is easier to get to by car. Drake Bay is best accessed by plane or boat, especially if you are traveling during the rainy season. We prefer Drake Bay because it feels so remote and is surrounded by jungle. It’s more of an off-the-grid experience, but there are also plenty of amenties. Puerto Jimenez is more developed, but is still a very small town.

  5. just found all your other info! This is wonderful. Disregard the above, I found what I was looking for and thank you two for doing this! (I subscribed). Very excited to follow your leads!
    Britt

  6. We are travelling by car from San Jose to La Povana and would like to tour a coffee and banana plantation. Do you have any tips or ideas on how to do this?

    1. Hi Eva, The closest coffee tours are near San José. We recommend either the Cafe Britt tour or Finca Rosa’s Organic Coffee Tour. We don’t know much about banana plantation tours. There are a couple in that area, which are popular with cruise ship visitors. I think they’re in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui and south of Limon.

  7. Hey Jenn and Matt
    I’ve now been living in costa rica for 7 months and I’m currently visiting tortugero with my parents we have been traveling almost all over the country and I’ve used your site a lot to plan out three week trip. So first i just want to thank you both for all the help this site gives and I really hope you guys enjoy costa rica as much as I do !
    Just wanted to tell you that they actually have an ATM in tortugero now just for info.

    1. Hi Alexander, Thanks for letting us know about the ATM. We will update the post. And glad that our site has been helpful with your planning and that you’re enjoying life in CR. We still love it too. Pura vida!

  8. I will be in Limon on the September 1st, 2017 and I am looking for more information about a boat or other transportation from Limon\Mion for September 2nd to Tortuguero. It does not look like there are any flights from Limon to Tortuguero during this time.

    Best Regards,
    Chris

  9. Wild Ginger is closed down for good! I was disappointed to find out after reading the rave reviews, but the owner are packing up and moving to Oregon.

    1. Hi Agnes, Oh no! What a bummer. Thanks for letting us know. We will take it out of our post. It’s really too bad that they closed since Tortuguero doesn’t have all that many restaurants and that was a great one.

  10. Hi Matt and Jenn

    What an amazing resource this blog is 🙂 I am considering visiting Tortuguero with a 9 month old baby and a 5 year old – mainly to share the wildlife experience with our ‘big’ son, but we can’t find any information about whether or not it is advisable to bring a baby there?

    1. Hi Andreas, Tortuguero isn’t the best destination for a young baby because a lot of the activities involve the water. To get there, you either have to take a small plane or a small boat. You can do this if you’re comfortable with it, but it is more work than getting to some other places. The boat ride isn’t bad- it’s along calm water so you don’t have to worry about safety problems too much. When you get there, you probably would not want to do the canal tours to see wildlife, which is the most popular activity, because the boats are very small and aren’t covered so there’s no protection from the sun. You could hike in the national park and one of you could take your son on a night turtle-watching tour or night walk). So in summary, it’s possible, but we would recommend going somewhere else for wildlife that is better for babies like La Fortuna or Manuel Antonio. Be sure to take a look at our Traveling with a Baby in Costa Rica post too.

  11. Hi!
    Thank you so much for creating this website, I’ve used it loads to plan my trip!
    Myself and my partner will be in Tortuguero at the of the month. I’ve contacted the Association of Tortuguero Guides to arrange a canoe tour of the park. We also want to walk the trails on the same day – is this something we can do ourselves or should we ask them to do that as a guided tour as well?

    Thanks! 🙂

    1. Hi Sophie, You will usually see more birds and animals with a guide because they know where to look but it’s not absolutely necessary. If you go slowly and keep your eyes glued to the trees, you should be able to see some things. Tortuguero has a lot of wildlife, and a lot of times, it’s hiding right above you in the canopy and you don’t even notice it unless it moves.

  12. Really useful post, thank you! A couple of questions – is it easy to find self-catering accommodation in tbe village? And do you think it’s possible to find vegan food at any of tbe restaurants there? Thank you!

    1. Hi Hannah, Many of the hostels and lodges in town have common kitchen areas. Vegan food will be tougher but there’s always vegetarian casados (just be careful because the beans are often cooked in meat). You could also get a pizza without cheese from Buddha Cafe or one of their pasta dishes would probably work.

  13. Hi ! I was wondering how you traveled from casa Marbella to budda cafe? I noticed that they are divided by the water

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