Spending three days in Tortuguero was a definite highlight of our three-plus years in Costa Rica. We flew NatureAir, a small plane which holds about twenty people, from SJO to TTQ. The twenty minute flight took us over the mountains and through the clouds with a few bumps of turbulence now and then. Good thing the pilot wasn’t toooo bored! The landing was smooth and the terminal open to the elements yet vacant. The onboard flight magazine provided a snapshot of the national park information.
As we approched the Caribbean we noticed what later were confirmed to be turtle tracks. They were everywhere! I was soooooo excited to finally be where I could watch the turtles on the beach coming and going and making their nests. I didn’t think we had a chance of seeing hatchlings though they were around. Nesting starts in July and gestation is two months putting us right at a good time for a possibility of seeing babies as well. Alas, we only saw one amd it had died.
Tortuguero is a very small town with most of its inhabitants being from nearby Nicaragua. There are no cars, just paths meandering through the community and paralleling the beaches. If one drives then one must park somewhere and arrive by water taxi. One can also take a bus and then proceed on the water. Swimming is not encouraged due to the strong currents, though I did see a couple doing just that, and the canals are crocodile condominiums.
Wanting air conditioning, as it is crazy hot and humid there, we sprung for an AirBnB accommodation with just that and an incredible view of the canals from the balconey. Tortuguero Adventures runs its business from the main floor which made arranging tours quite easy. There are several restaurants, though none were extra special. The most expensive one ran about twenty dollars a plate and didn’t open until six o’clock. The Buddha Cafe is on the river. While awaiting our Italian dishes a flower vender came along and was eager to grab the attention of the manager to assure his delivery.
Tortuguero National Park is just a few minutes walk from where we stayed. Being nationals, we only had to pay less than four dollars versus fifteen dollars. Perhaps we will recoup our expenses to become residents….ha! To walk through the park on a trail which parallels the beach or travel by water craft up the canals one needs to pay the daily entry fee. Thus, we took a canoe tour with a silent electric motor, meandered along the park trail until a storm threatened, and went on the night turtle tour all on the same park entry fee.
Andrés, our host, met us at the airstrip and gave us a ride back to his place. First, however, he took us out to the edge of the sea and then back along the canal. He was very excited to spy both Swainson’s and keel-billed toucans and stopped to let us enjoy the sights. We finally told him we were residents, had seen them before, and that we are volunteers at the Toucan Rescue Ranch. We didn’t want to kill his excitement for us but thought it was something to share. Along the way he pointed out various lodgings.
Having arrived early morning, we spent the day familiarizing ourselves with town and discussing tour options with Andrés. Deciding to go on a morning canoe tour with him the next day we opted for a night tour which would let us get to bed earlier than the turtle expedition. We saved that for the next night.
There is just a path which goes from the park to through the central part of town lined with shops, restaurants, and tour agencies. There are two water taxi ports on the canal. Along the way we meandered down to the water where a local, who bragged about keeping that spot tidy, pointed out some tiger herons and green iguanas in the overhead tree.
That first night we met downstairs at the appointed time to meet a different guide and a man we had met earlier, boarded the boat, and whizzed across the canal to another property for the jungle walk. On my wish list for three years was not just to see turtle nestings, but to spy a blue jeans frog. Their coloring is bright red with blue rear legs and backside. Not only did we see one, we saw several! Yes! There were also rain frogs, a tarantula, banana spider, anole, dink frogs, grasshoppers, and bullfrogs. Fortunately, no snakes! Mammals and birds kept themselves hidden as well.
The next morning we were up early as the canal tour was due to start by 6 AM. Andrés had coffee ready and boiled water so I could make an infusion using his herbs on the balcony we shared with him and his girlfriend. There were packages of cookies to tied us over until later on when we could get a proper breakfast. A friendly young Dutch couple joined us for the water adventure.
Just up a bit from the dock was a sloth lying on its back at the top of a tree, perhaps doing its version of the sun salute. After getting our park tickets for the day we headed up the other side of an island and then down some side canals. Along the way we viewed another sleepy sloth who woke up a bit and lifted its head, blue morphos, a caiman, two separate howler monkey babies, a tiger heron, raucous mealy parrots, a pair green macaws flying overhead, an emerald basilisk, anhingas, and a northern jacana feeding amongst the water plants. We hoped to see a river otter but none were around that made themselves known.
That afternoon we entered the park on foot and after navigating some dicey wet areas the path became drier. A few other people were out as well, including two women from Russia! The younger one spoke some English. My college friend Diana had avoided the park as she had heard snakes often lined the trails. Fortunately, we were spared those sightings which was helpful as I spent a lot of time looking up for monkeys. We were rewarded a few times with white-faced capuchins scampering about looking for fruits including a mother carrying a baby on her back, and then with spider monkeys just as we were about to exit. On the ground were several anoles and lizards, the ever-present leafcutter ants, and even a yellow crab not far from the beach. A phallic fungus was even seen! As we returned due to the impending storm we met up with the Russian women who had just seen a land turtle on the side of the path yet we didn’t see it where they said it had been.
The second night an electrical storm came through and wetness continued all morning. We meandered down other paths while waiting for the Sea Turtle Conservancy to open at ten. Bags of sand and concrete pavers were used for people to dry to prevent soaking their footwear as they approached their houses. People bike in the rain, some with umbrellas. Andrés said it once rained for forty-four days straight! Yikes! Down one alley we came across a piñata party with lots of children who had been accompanied by adults. Presumably it was the father of the birthday girl who manipulated the swinging candy-filled wonder while the youngsters tried to break it open to free the sugary delights captured inside.
Tortuguero is a cool, ha ha, adventure to perhaps be repeated!