Northwest of San José, Tortuguero is a large area of untouched rainforest and a wetland of extraordinary biodiversity – recognised by the Ramsar Convention.
The rivers within the park are home to seven species of river turtle, spectacled caiman, southern river otter, and the endangered West Indian manatee. The rainforest, with more than 400 species of trees and roughly another 2,200 plant species, offers refuge to jaguar, three-toed sloth, and three of Costa Rica’s four species of monkey: Geoffroy’s spider monkey, mantled howler, and white-headed capuchin.
Something approaching 400 different species of birds have been recorded here, with many kingfishers, toucans, blue herons, peacocks and parrots. Other inhabitants include basilisk lizards, poisonous frogs and enormous fish-catching bulldog bats.
The beaches are a key nesting ground for endangered sea turtles and the highlight of any stay is a beach walk after dark to watch green and hawksbill turtles coming ashore to nest between July and September (peaking in August), or leatherbacks between February and April – although individual stragglers may be seen at almost any time of year, day and night. Nesting activity peaks at the height of the rainy season, but in this humid, tropical area showers are frequent all year round.
The only way to reach Tortuguero is to fly by light aircraft from San José, or drive down to the flat coastal strip, with its monoculture landscape of dense banana plantations, and take a boat into the national park. Once there, activities centre around boat trips on the creeks and lagoons behind the beaches, walks and birdwatching.
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