America,  🇨🇷 Costa Rica

Costa Rica: the secret life of Tortuguero

One day in late spring we make the decision: let’s go to Costa Rica! We book a flight to San José as well as a small off-road vehicle. The nature destination par excellence in Costa Rica is Tortuguero National Park, so that’s where we are headed.

Costa Rica, pura vida! This is the motto of a small country that covers only 0,03% of the planet’s surface but it’s home to 6% of the world’s biodiversity. Are you wondering why Costa Rica is worth a visit? Because it is one of the happiest countries in the world! That’s what statistics reveal. Green is everywhere and people are aware that nature must be protected and preserved as an invaluable (and unique) human heritage.

We rely on the efficient Riverboat Francesca. It’s an organization managed by Fran and Modesto, a very nice couple. Fran is from US (I have to admit, at first I thought she was British because of her aplomb), Modesto is an amazing nature guide who enchants all visitors with his enthusiasm and his infectious laugh. There are two places left on the boat leaving on 12th August and we get them!

Ready, steady, go: Tortuguero, here we come!

Meeting time in Moin is at 9:30 am and we arrive right on time. We take a long boat trip before reaching Tortuguero village, based in the heart of the Tortuguero National Park. We are going to navigate through an extraordinary piece of engineering that links the lagoon and the rivers of this area. Through the Tortuguero Canals we will go deep into the tropical forest, leaving civilization behind, and making a full immersion in nature.

Tortuguero, here we come!

We travel together with a lively group of American students of Santa Clara University, California. They are going to make on-field-researches on the animals that populate the forest and their habitat. There is a German girl too, she’s about twenty years old or so. An engineering student at home and a wandering traveller abroad. She has recently visited South America and Panama. Wow, I love these enterprising boys & girls! No fear at all and a bright future ahead of them!

Navigation along the Tortuguero canals

Modesto skillfully drives the boat and everyone on board is silent, as if we are entering a temple. Our eyes scan the luxuriant vegetation. The hum of the boat engine is very loud in my head, or maybe the noise is amplified by the silence of the place.

Steering along the canals

Every now and then Fran nods at Modesto. He slows down, stops the engine and shows us where to look. A couple of caimans appear in the water. They camouflage themselves in the mud and stare at us. We’re afraid of them and after an intense reciprocal eye-contact we slowly move away, trying not to disturb.

Caimans (apparently) smile at us

We resume our navigation and one by one the inhabitants of the forest come out to say hello: there are monkeys watching us from the treetops, colourful birds and shy iguanas camouflaged among the greenery. We are surrounded by lush, thick vegetation that hides important secrets. During our three hours trip we can’t see any human settlement, except for few fishermen’s huts. In Tortuguero National Park Mother Nature reigns supreme!

Monkey watching us from the treetops
Iguana enjoying the sunlight

Exploring the surroundings of Tortuguero village

Finally, we reach the Laguna Lodge, an eco-friendly hotel built on a narrow strip of land that stretches between the lagoon and the Caribbean Sea. We quickly drop off our luggage and enjoy a couple of hours exploring the surroundings. It’s really hot outside, it must be about 85-95°F with a humidity of 100% maybe but we are so excited that the clothes clinging to our skin is the last thing on our minds!

A long pristine sandy beach stretches behind the Lodge. The surging and wild Caribbean Sea is right in front of our eyes and it beats against the coast with thundering waves.

The surging and wild Caribbean Sea

After a half an hour walk we reach the village of Tortuguero: it is a small human settlement made of wooden houses. There are some facilities for tourists, the Tortuguero National Park Visitor Center and little else. No banks, no ATM (it sounds strange, doesn’t it?). The bright colours of the buildings are a typical characteristic of the Caribbean. Everything here is very simple and essential.

Sea turtles

This is one of the most important places in the world for sea turtle reproduction: each summer many turtles come here to spawn and it is possible to participate in night walks to see this incredible event. There are obviously strict rules in the park and night walks must be guided and guarded by rangers. During the day there are no particular restrictions and it is possible to go for a walk on the beach (forbidden activities and permitted ones are clearly shown on wooden signs).

A magical night

In the evening we join a guided night walk hoping to see the ancient ritual of the spawning. There’s suspense in the air. It’s dark and any sort of light is forbidden.

The guide takes us to the beach and tells us to stand by the sea and wait. At some point, a dark figure comes out from the sea. We can barely see it in the moonlight. A big turtle is coming from distant seas in order to give birth to baby turtles.

The animal is in a trance-like state and follows its ancestral rite. It seems to be guided by a higher will. It slowly runs up the beach, choose a place for the eggs and digs a hole. Then dozens and dozens of perfectly round-shaped white eggs start to fall down, they seem like ping-pong balls. The turtle is totally unaware of the fact that humans are so close to her.

We are completely immersed in darkness, holding our breath and keeping silent. We are literally charmed by this magical event and we loose track of time. At the end of the ritual, the turtle tries to hide the hole filling it with sand and leaves. She leaves the eggs to their fate and go back to the sea. After a while, she disappears forever.

Traces left on the beach by sea turtles

The morning after: the awakening of nature

The morning after I wake up early. Was it real or just a dream? Doesn’t matter, there’s no time for thinking! Meeting point is at 6 am at the dock. We are going to spend a few hours on a boat safari along the canals, looking at the wonderful plants and animals that live in the park.

This place exceeds our highest expectations and our camera works unceasingly taking pictures of this wildlife.

We can see rare birds and colourful toucans resting on the treetops. Lonely iguanas are enjoying the morning sunlight, and vivacious monkeys are jumping from one branch to another, as in a dizzy dance. There are also the lovely sloths, helpless creatures who spend all their life hanging on trees. Find a branch, eat a leaf. What else?

Toucans resting on the treetops
Costa Rica red-eyed tree frog

The tropical forest around us

Fran and Modesto lead the boat in the shaded canals, there is a sort of impenetrable vault over our heads made of such thick vegetation that only few sunbeams can penetrate through it. We are small creatures inside an explosion of trees and exotic plants reflected in the standing water. It’s like having another forest beneath us, and we are fully wrapped in a landscape that could not be greener.

Shaded canal in the forest

In Tortuguero National Park days go by just like that, overwhelmed by Mother Nature. You rest for a while and a few moments later you find yourself going on a boat trip or paddling a canoe you have just rented. Thanks to all the people who turned this place into a protected area!

The forest is an explosion of trees and exotic plants

The last morning, while leaving the hotel, a really funny sloth says “goodbye” to us hanging upside down on the small tree in front of our door. Finally the intruders are leaving. Will it be an adieu or a au revoir?

A curious sloth

Useful peanuts:

  • If you reach Tortuguero by boat, you’ll have to bring with you only a small bag or a rucksack (only pack the essentials).
  • Do not forget to bring mosquito repellant, sunscreen and your camera (telephoto lens are recommended).
  • Wear comfortable clothes (long trousers and long sleeves will protect you from mosquitos and sun). Feel free to leave your five-inch heels at home.
  • For information about local activities: www.lagunatortuguero.com.
  • We stayed at www.lagunatortuguero.com.
  • Central America and the Caribbean are your favorite travel destinations? if you’re looking for inspiration you can read the experience of Gloria Sonda traveling Cuba in this post.
Nadia Bravo

Dreaming of imaginary space journeys and uncharted planets is what I used to do when I was a child. Planning my own routes here on Earth is what I do now. Each time a new destination. My travel partner in crime is Ale, my better half and definitely a much better photographer than me. Then there’s me, of course! I am the one who studies and plans. A travel couple who looks for beauty, new horizons and different points of view.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.