Wildlife Safari Through Tortuguero National Park

Nature Air Costa Rica
Flying to Tortuguero on Nature Air
Tortuguero, Costa Rica

Rainforest covered mountains stretched out into the distance. My small single-engine plane began its descent towards a sliver of runway in the middle of all the green.

I was on my way to Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica. A remote area of wilderness only accessible by boat or aircraft. Despite its out-of-the-way location, it’s the country’s 3rd most visited park.

We landed, I grabbed my bag, and strolled over to a water-taxi waiting along the canal nearby. Waterways and canals weave their way throughout Tortuguero — making boats the main method of transportation here.

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Tortuguero Town Costa Rica
Tortuguero Town

Visiting the Jungle

Our boat slowly puttered through Tortuguero Town. With colorful homes constructed right on the edge of the water, most residents can swim in their front yard. My destination was Evergreen Lodge, comfortable and environmentally friendly cabins located on the edge of the National Park.

There’s a network of pristine rainforest trails behind the property, allowing guests to look for wildlife. Which is exactly what I did as soon as I arrived.

The path was lined with ancient trees rising into the sky searching for water & sunlight while vines and other vegetation filled in any gaps. Parts of the trail include narrow suspension bridges that hang above tropical swampland.

Tortuguero Jungle Costa Rica
Rainforest Trails Behind Evergreen Lodge

Keep Your Eyes Peeled

It was on these twisting trails that I was lucky to spot one of my favorite creatures, a tiny Strawberry Poison Dart Frog. At only a few centimeters long, these frogs can be pretty difficult to find under thick jungle canopy that blocks the sunlight above.

However this particular one happened to jump from the trail into a pile of leaves as I approached, the sudden movement giving it away. I managed to get a few quick shots before it disappeared again into the underbrush.

Colorful dart frogs secreet toxins from their skin as a defense mechanism.

In fact the reason they’re called dart frogs is because indigenous groups would coat blowdarts with the poison for hunting. So don’t eat this strawberry…

Dart Frog Costa Rica
Strawberry Poison Dart Frog

Monkey Business

Tortuguero National Park is home to 3 species of monkeys, and I saw them all. Howler monkeys hoot & holler from the treetops like imaginary monsters from your worst nightmares. They work great as natural alarm clocks!

But in reality these animals aren’t as scary as they sound.

Spider monkeys and White-faced Capuchins also call the area home.

Every evening a large family of Capuchins would swing through the treetops around the cabins on the hunt for food. If you happen to be eating outside, and not paying attention, it’s possible to lose your meal! These furry critters are smart.

White Faced Capuchin Monkey
Capuchin Monkey on Stakeout Duty

Touring the Canals

In the afternoon I joined local guides Michael & Eddie for a boat trip through the water canals that make up Tortuguero. As we stopped at a dock to pay the park entrance fee, a giant male green iguana could be seen on shore.

A few meters away from the iguana, a baby crocodile was sunning itself on a downed tree.

We weren’t even in the park yet and I was spotting animals all over the place!

Armed with a pair of Swarovski CL Pocket binoculars, I was able to easily spot colorful tropical birds like the Keel-Billed Toucan and endangered Green Macaw perched high in the trees along the edge of the water.

Tortuguero Canals Costa Rica
Boat Trip Through Tortuguero Canals
Tortuguero Crocodile Costa Rica
Baby Crocodile Getting Some Sun
Snowy Egret Bird Costa Rica
Snowy Egret

Animals Everywhere

What else did I spy on the 2 hour safari trip through Tortuguero? All kinds of birds, like the Snowy Egret, Bare-Throated Tiger Heron, and Anhinga. We found a few speckled Caimans (in the crocodile family) and a Black River Turtle too.

Along with all the wildlife, simply cruising slowly through the jungle canals listening to the animals was very peaceful and relaxing.

Back at the lodge I feel into a deep sleep as powerful evening rains poured down over my cabin. They don’t call it a rainforest for nothing!

Baby Turtle Tortuguero Costa Rica
Baby Green Turtle on the Beach

Sea Turtle Surprise

The most popular reason to visit Tortuguero National Park is an army of Green Sea Turtles that lay their eggs on the black sand beaches each year. However most of the baby turtles hatch in September & October.

As this was early December, I was too late to witness babies running for the ocean. Or so I thought…

Before I caught my flight out in the morning, Henry from Evergreen asked if I’d like to join him to search for any delayed hatchlings. With his 16 years of wildlife guiding experience, we might just have a chance.

After an hour of searching old nests with him, we found some. A sea turtle can lay about 100 eggs in a “clutch”, and this particular nest had 3 stragglers. I watched them run awkwardly through the sand into waves as the morning sun rose.

A wonderful end to my Tortuguero wildlife experience in Costa Rica. ★

Travel Planning Resources for Costa Rica
Accommodation: Evergreen Lodge

Packing Guide

Check out my travel gear guide to help you start packing for your trip. Pick up a travel backpack, camera gear, and other useful travel accessories.

Book Your Flight

Book cheap flights on Skyscanner, my favorite airline search engine to find deals. Also read my tips for how I find the cheapest flights.

Rent A Car

Discover Car Hire is a great site for comparing car prices to find the best deal. They search both local & international rental companies.

Book Accommodation

Booking.com is my favorite hotel search engine. Or rent local apartments on Airbnb ($35 discount!). Read my post for tips on booking cheap hotels.

Protect Your Trip

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance.

Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Costa Rica
Suggested Reading: Monkeys Are Made Of Chocolate

READ NEXT: Chasing Snakes In Costa Rica

Are you planning a vacation to Costa Rica soon? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Costa Rica

THANKS FOR READING

Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 9 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel more with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving tips.
Matthew Karsten
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Leave a Comment

26 thoughts on “Wildlife Safari Through Tortuguero National Park”

  1. Hi Mathew,
    Was hoping for some advice. Our family wants beach resort and rainforest. Do you know how best to pull that off in a one week period? Thanks.

  2. I know this is a very girl question but not really done this sort of travelling before !
    I am visiting the tortuguero national park in April/May 2015 and wanted to know if you would recommend shorts or long trousers ? And walking boots/trainers or open trekking shoes?

    Many Thanks

  3. Awesome picture of Tortuguero! Thanks for highlighting its gorgeousness and inspiring us to see it. The strawberry poison dart frogs are fabulous photogenic too. I love its vibrant colors and modish booties!!

  4. Great to have found your site, i live in Costa Rica and glad you stopped by and saw the best of it, at least your laptop wasnt stolen like in Panama!, Wish i would have found your site sooner, I would of come join you in some of your adventures!

  5. Great pics, I have been to CR, but not to Tortuguero, this will be definitely on my list, maybe after that down until Panama – Bocas del Toro.

  6. Awesome account of Tortuguero! I lived in Puerto Viejo off and on for about two years but inexcusably never made it up there. Next time I will for sure, it looks incredible. Do you plan to head down to Puerto Viejo? Let me know I will connect you with all of the best people ;)

  7. When I was in Costa Rica I had to choose between this place and Corcovado. It definitely was a tough choice as Corcovado is amazing and it is evident that Tortuguero is to from your amazing photographs.

    • I’ve been to both now, and while Tortuguero is beautiful, Corcovado beats it in my opinion. Just because of it’s remote location, which makes for less visitors. You have to work a bit more to visit Corcovado.

  8. Costa Rica really seems like a pre-civilization paradise. Strangely, I never think about it when I consider where I want my travels to take me. Thanks for reminding of the beauty of this country!

    • There are plenty of civilized towns and cities in Costa Rica, but the country has done a great job of preserving its wild side too.

  9. I’ve visited the Pacific side of CR and Arenal, but always wanted to check out the Caribbean side. I love the idea of nature trails right on the property and the canal tour sounds perfect!

  10. Fantastic post Matt! We spent some time exploring CR but didn’t make it to Tortuguero National Park. Thanks for highlighting its beauty and inspiring us to return and see it for ourselves.

    The Strawberry Dart Frog is such an enigma! I love it’s vibrant colours and stylish blue booties!!

    • I vote it’s the coolest amphibian out there. Plus I love strawberries.

      Dart frogs are super photogenic too. If you can find them!