Tortuguero is only accessible via boat or light aircraft. There are no roads, only rivers, canals, and in the village, footpaths. This area is a place of beauty. The village of Tortuguero is right on the edge of the National Park. The main things to do here revolve around the wildlife.
Boat Tour of the Canals
Take a boat through the canal systems with a guide to spot wildlife, or walk through the National Park trail with the same intention. With the boats you have a couple of different options. Motorised boats, or canoes. I have experienced both, and each were different experiences with different wildlife spotted. On the motor boat, we were able to cover a much wider distance. I spotted animals such as crocodiles, caimans, lizards, tropical birds and monkey’s. When out on the canoe, our guide paddled us the whole way, but naturally we didn’t cover as much ground. We were able to sneak up on easily spooked animals such as the boat billed heron, and whilst I’m not sure if it’s because they are easily spooked, we saw a number of Jesus Lizards in the canoe, but none from the motor boat. The Jesus Lizard of course seemed very apt on Christmas day, but what made it so special is that they have the capability to walk on water.
There is no need to pre-book a tour, your accommodation in Tortuguero will be able to organise a guide and boat for you, otherwise, you can sort this yourself in the village. If you opt to stay in one of the many lodges just outside the village, you may find that the boat tours are included in your package, though these are very expensive.
Walk the National Park Trails
If you decide to hike through the national park trails, I would recommend renting some wellies from any of the rental places as you approach the park entrance. We rented ours from a family house, including a long pair of socks (to prevent rubbing and blisters) for a nominal cost. Upon our return, they had a BBQ going and were selling skewers of meat for an equally low cost.
Wander through the village and along its beaches
The village is very sleepy, but a wander through it is interesting. Pick up a refreshing and bargainous coconut from the centre and sip it whilst walking along the beach. Once out of the town, you will see the rain forest meeting the ocean, where nature has not been too disturbed by humans. The number of crabs that scurry across the beach is phenomenal, though they sense you coming and run to their little holes for cover ever so quickly.
Green Sea Turtle egg laying and hatching
Depending on when you visit, you may be lucky enough to see the Green Sea turtles coming onto the beach to lay their eggs. If you are insanely lucky, you may even see some sea turtles hatch and scurry into the sea. July through to September is when the mothers come onto the beach to lay their eggs, whilst late August to November is when you’re likely to see the babies hatch. In order to see the turtles lay their eggs, you must do this with a guide. Everything in Tortuguero regarding the turtles is very strictly processed. In the 60’s, the critters almost became extinct back due to eggs all being poached for turtle soup. Your guide will head to the village centre where they will take part in a lottery. This will determine what time you go to the beach, and exactly what part of the beach you will visit. Whilst there’s no guarantee you will see the turtles lay eggs, the chances are high. You will not be able to take photos, and flashlights must be switched off so as to not disturb the mothers. Your guide will have a special torch which will allow you to see the action, without causing any upset to the wildlife.
As for the babies hatching, this is pure pot luck and is not regulated in the same way. We got very lucky and saw some. Only because the owner of the cabins we stayed at had spotted them and came to wake us up (We had asked that he did this!)