Guides bring guests close to nesting sea turtles. // © 2015 iStock
Feature image (above): Sloths are known to hang out at local lodges. // © 2015 iStock
Costa Rica’s climate is hot and steamy year-round, and Tortuguero is no exception. Located on the northern, Caribbean side of the country, Tortuguero National Park is a rainforest that heats up during the day but cools down enough at night that a simple ceiling fan can do the trick when families are trying to sleep off a full day of activities.
Parents and children can expect to walk into a zoo of creatures that are native to this land, including sloths, monkeys, crocodiles, toucans, green macaws, turtles, basilisks and more. Families looking to take a break from the beach to discover the wild side of Costa Rica will find activities in abundance here.
Tortuguero isn’t the easiest spot to get to, which is why many visitors will want to take a tour that leaves San Jose via bus instead of trying to get there themselves. Three days is an ideal length of stay for travelers wanting to get a taste of this tropical region, and a Tortuguero visit is best scheduled at the beginning or end of a trip to Costa Rica, because no rental car is required.
Many companies and lodges offer guided tours, and packages often include the bus and boat ride into the national park, lodging, all meals at the lodge and one or two tours. Excursions often incorporate a walking tour into the village of Tortuguero, a motorboat tour of the canals, kayaking the smaller canals and guided canoe rides that let visitors get close to local animals. But the evening turtle tour is really why most people travel to this region.
Seeing sea turtles, which have been nesting on the beaches of Tortuguero for generations, is a highlight for many people visiting in July through October (hatching typically happens October through December). Lodges can arrange for small groups to meet up with a local guide, who is allowed to bring guests near one of the nesting females.
The beaches are patrolled at night to prevent poaching, and spotters find nesting turtles for guides. The Sea Turtle Conservancy in town provides education about the importance of the sea turtle, especially the endangered green turtle.
Lodging options in the national park include spots such as Mawamba Lodge, with cabins large enough for families, a swimming pool, access to the beach, tours that leave directly from its docks (there are no cars in the park) and buffet-style meals. Air-conditioning is rare in this area, but ceiling fans work their magic as the sun sets.
Families should note that if they only want to play on the beach, Tortuguero is not the spot to head to. The waters off its coast are home to sharks and barracudas — not the kinds of creatures parents want swimming with their children.
Families will see ample wildlife in Tortuguero, sometimes quite close up. Sloths are known to nap at the lodges and don’t really mind if guests take a picture with them. Just don’t touch these slumbering mammals; they are not as cuddly as they look. They are, however, just one of the many types of animals that travelers are sure to fall in love with when they visit one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful national parks.