San Jose to Tortuguero by bus
Our original plan to get from San Jose to Tortugureo was by bus. Well really it’s bus – bus – water taxi.
You head to the Gran Caribe Bus Terminal and head upstairs to get a ticket to the town Cariari, buses start running at 6am, 9am, 10:30am and then I believe your last chance to make it in time for the water taxi is the 1:00pm bus. (2 hour ride and 1600 Costa Rican)
From Cariari you catch the bus to La Pavona, the schedule is set so you have the ability to catch this bus. (1.5 hours 1100 Costa Rican)
Arriving in La Pavona the boats will be waiting for you to take you over to Tortuguero as they wait for the bus to arrive, the last boat is at 4:30pm. (Cost is 1600 Costa Rican per person and 1100 per bag, which goes on a seperate boat). Be prepared for a bit of rain, the taxi boats are typically covered but you can still get wet.
San Jose to Tortuguero by Plane
When you catch the bus to Cariari it goes via route 32, all the other options will take you at least 6 hours. When we were in San Jose there was a massive landslide on Route 32 and this no longer became an option for us. Not wanting to give up on seeing Tortuguero we opted to fly, Nature Air is a domestic airline, costs can vary depending on the weight of your baggage, but 60-90USD is the range you’re looking at.
The reason weight is so important on these flights is the plane is a small 12 seater propeller plane. I promise you it will add some excitment to your trip, it feels nothing like flying in the big planes we’re use to. Click here for a video coming into Tortuguero. The views you get of Costa Rica are quite amazing! So if you want to skip the bus stations and are willing to spend quite a bit more money then this is the way for you. A trip from San Jose to Tortuguero is about 25 minutes in the air. You get dropped off at what I can only call a small rain shelter, there are boats waitig to take you to your accomodations but if possible I would strongly encourage setting up pick up from where your staying. Since our trip got very mixed up we couldn’t do this and the 5 minute boat ride cost each of us 5000 Costa Rican (he has originally asked for 10USD each which is way more).
Tortuguero, Costa Rica
The reason you get picked up by boat is that Tortuguero is along a river that runs parallel to the ocean. This creates an amazing eco system since the salt water and fresh water mix together. You can technically get all the way to Limon via this river but it’s about 80 kms! The government dredged some areas so that all the rivers connected for transportation, mostly of wood as Tortuguero use to be a saw mill town. You can still find some of the old equipment laying around from the 1950s. In the 1970s Tortuguero became a National Park, it originally started because of sea turtle conservation. A man name Harold from the USA wanted to protect the turtles so he would fly over in his water plane and collect eggs and baby turtles and take them back to the states. After a couple years it was discovered that all the babies he was taking back to the states were swimming all the way back to this same beach in Tortuguero! He then changed his plan and he worked to open this National Park.
The eco system in Tortuguero is like nothing else, the salt water mixing with fresh water makes it viable for fresh water fish, otters, manatees, alligators, crocodiles as well as sharks, baracoodas, etc. They also have many jaguars and other various cats within the national park.
Exploring Tortuguero National Park
There are a lot of different ways to explore the national park. Our hostel Tortuguero Adventures Guesthouse was close to the entrance so they offer kayak trips or canoe trips into the park. I would strongly suggest you find one of these options or better yet, just stay at this hostel! When we were paddling through the quiet beautiful rivers a boat with a motor would come along and be A) load B) clear polluting and C) takes away the entire experience. Honestly the people in the boats start photoing you like you’re an animal. To get into the park it is 8700 Costa Rican, this ticket offers all day access, by boat or land.
Our host Andres was our guide and he was the first to start using a silent electric motor on the back of his canoe in 2006 – something he is very proud of. His cost as a guide was 11,700 Costa Rican per person. When we were out exploring he gave us endless knowledge about the park and various fauna, birds and ecosystem. Having him as a guide was extremely valuable, he is such a nice guy and so passionate about the environment.
Tortuguero National Park is a secondary forest since it was logged in the 1950s but it looks as lush as you could ever imagine. In 50 years a forest in Costa Rica can be restored where as in Canada it would take way way longer (upwards of 400-500 years) due to our seasons.
Andres wife Ellena is a biologist with the National Park so between the two they care so much about the environment and have the knowledge of proper practices. While staying at their hostel you also have free access to the kayaks so if you wanted to go out again you’re more than welcome to use them.
Visiting the park by land is also possible (with your ticket), there is a 2.5kms loop but you can also walk along the beach, every 100m there is an entrance into the land side of the park. Along the beach there were huge holes from where the sea turtles come up and lay their eggs. We weren’t lucky enough to see any but we sure tried!
If you happen to stay at Tortuguero Adventures Guesthouse you will also be greeted by two lovely dogs and one bird named Poo! Poos nest fell down and him and his siblings were discarded into the forest but they went in and rescued him and are trying to reintroduce him into the wild but this type of bird grows up very slowly. He is 6 months old and slowly learning to start to feed himself.
We then flew out of Tortuguero to a town called La Fortuna. While loading into the plane to head there we had to stand on a scale with our carry on to be weighed and then weigh our checked baggage. Our names were written on a sheet of paper and we jumped on the plane. Very old school!
Off to La Fortuna, see you soon!!