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Tortuguero With Kids

Updated: Jan 28

With only a few weeks in Costa Rica, it was a tough call between continuing with the Pacific coast and heading further south to Drake Bay, or crossing back East for one last jaunt to the Caribbean. In the end, the dense, jungle waterways of Caribbean Tortuguero National Park, won out, due to the additional travel time and expense to travel further away from our final stop in Costa Rica, San Jose. No regrets - this lush paradise offers a unique blend of wildlife encounters, natural wonders, and conservation efforts that certainly created cherished memories for a lifetime!



Getting here:


As ever throughout our Central American adventure, we began a long journey via road in our rental car. Coming up from La Fortuna, in the northern centre of the country, the 3.5-hour drive was one of the more straight forward, flat, safe (but actually, less interesting) drives of the trip. That all changed once we got to the car park though!

 

If you’re visiting Tortuguero, you’ll be staying in the National Park, which is only reachable by boat. If you plan to drive to Tortuguero, you must leave your car in a parking lot at La Pavona, the pier to Tortuguero. Set your route to La Pavona (Embarcadero a Tortuguero), Limón, Roxana and you’ll find plenty of safe, long stay parking areas for around $10 per night.

 


The boat from La Pavona to Tortuguero departs from La Pavona Pier daily at 7:30 am, 1 pm, and 4:30 pm; there is a café at the embarkation point. Not much on the menu, but it provided toilets and some shade! The small, flat, wooden boat passes through the quiet rainforest waterways, arriving at the Tortuguero Pier 1.5 hours later. From the “hub” (tiny finishing village), you can get a water taxi or prearrange a further boat to your accommodation, ours was 10 mins up the river and our guesthouse collected us. Don’t overlook the journey as part of the adventure; we spotted caymen, lizards, countless birds, monkeys playing on the banks, as well as the beautiful scenery on our trip, everyone loved it.

 

Where to stay:


Our usual attitude of “cheapest place with a pool” was a fairly good choice here. We stayed at the Caribbean Paradise Eco-Lodge, dated, basic rooms but nice pool, very quiet (only 1-2 others guests!), nice food and above all, spectacular wildlife.



Our first day was spent relaxing eating, napping, swimming and playing games in the gardens to the sounds of toucans, howler monkeys and what felt like a million other birds, insects and mammals. We are in isolated countryside here; a tangled mess of rivers and canals between tiny scraps of land. Monkeys and sloths come down from the trees into the gardens all the time. A huge crocodile casually swam past at one point when chilling out on the deck of the reception area too (with bats overhead)! A magical place, a true jungle lodge.

 

Turtle Nesting Spectacle:

 

One of the most captivating experiences in Tortuguero is witnessing sea turtle nesting. As night falls, the beaches come alive with the sight of massive sea turtles emerging from the waves to lay their eggs. We considered a few different areas (and species) for this hit-list special, and glad we settled on this.

 

After another day in paradise, floating in the pool watching the monkeys climbing in the trees above our heads, we headed for dinner at the main drag (and arranged our jungle river tour for the next day). At 8pm, (way past the kids bedtimes!) we met our guide, who gave us a good talk about conservation and explained the rules and regs of the trip. These would include near silence for certain parts of the visit, and instructions that only special red-light torches were to be used by our guide only, to disturbing the mothers in their trance. He then led us down the jungle track where we carefully picked our way through mounds and craters of sand on Tortugero beach, in pitch blackness, to our destination.



A mother Green Sea Turtle, roughly the same size as me, missioned up the beach, dug out her nest and laid her 100-120 eggs in the sand. We then watched her, and a second mother nearby bury and camouflage the lot. It was an absolute highlight of the trip. The older kids (7, 3) managed really well on foot during the evening trek, the newly turned 1-year old dosed on and off in the carrier, and thankfully kept quiet! There was a bit of complaining from little legs so late on the way back from the beach, but that was quickly seen off when we spotted a prehensile-tailed porcupine in a tree, poison dart frogs and some raccoons thanks to our guide. We then took a little moonlight boat back 10 mins through the black jungle canals to our lodge, arriving back around 10pm.  

 

Up Close with Wildlife on the Jungle River Tour:

 

Toruguero is miles and miles of wetland and coastal jungle with the occasional small community jutting out from the rainforest. The main strip of businesses at the dock is surrounded by waterways leading off to dense expanse of green, teeming with wildlife. Navigating the park's extensive network of canals on a boat tour is a must-do activity!

 



We arranged a boat tour easily when in “town” for dinner the previous evening. Picking us up from our accommodation platoon early in the morning, our guides boat took us exploring down the narrow, and (sometimes very) shallow, canals. We watched the jungle grow thicker and thicker the further we went; it was amazing we didn’t get stuck in the crazy tangle of roots! Our guide/driver really added to the experience, he was great with the kids and helped us spot caimans lurking at the banks (five times!), basilisk lizards, vipers and boa constrictors in the trees, and a kaleidoscope of bird species. The highlight, as it often is when we encounter them, was when the din of the howler monkeys when they decided to crash through the peace and calm! The kids just love spotting them, swinging from tree to tree. We also saw a few capuchin monkeys scampering along the branches, the vibrant flashes of toucans and parrots in the treetops, poisonous bugs, and even a sneaky coati, before suddenly out of nowhere, the sky opened a torrential downpour on us! Luckily, we were heading back anyway, and as we headed through the warm rain, it really hit us that this was our last rainforest, our last day trip, our last adventure before heading back to the UK. We made a list of things we’re looking forward to about coming home to try and fight back the sadness.

 

Environmental Protection and Conservation:

 

I feel a special mention needs to go out for Tortuguero's green efforts. As is always the case in Costa Rica, we were especially impressed in Tortuguero National Park for its shining example of environmental protection. The park and local organisations are dedicated to preserving the delicate ecosystems and the vulnerable species that call this place home. Measures are in place to minimize human impact, such as strict regulations during turtle nesting season and guidelines for sustainable tourism practices and policing of waste management – no rubbish, and ultimate respect everywhere.

 

In Summary:


Tortuguero is a paradise for families looking to instil a love for nature in their children. I’m not sure we’ve ever been anywhere where flora and fauna was so abundant and in your face! As cheesy as it sounds, every moment was an enchanting way for kids to connect with the park's biodiversity. Whether you're witnessing the mesmerising sea turtle nesting, encountering exotic wildlife on your doorstep/balcony, or learning about environmental conservation efforts, Tortuguero is a destination that fosters a deep appreciation for the natural world.

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