Information for Independent Travellers to Tortuguero Costa Rica
This page is for the independent traveller who wishes to visit Tortuguero Costa Rica. It has been started with basic "How to get to Tortuguero" travel information but will be expanded with other useful themes in time. You will see below that it is easy to get to Tortuguero on public transport. Please stay tuned.

Last update: Sept 30, 2006.

Note: This will be updated soon. Please refer to the site www.tortuguerovillage.com for current details and prices.

Scroll down to see information about the various ways to get here and read about important traveller information at the end.

This page is a service provided by the Tortuguero Information Center. It operates as a not-for-profit information center with the goal of being an objective source of up-to-the-minute information about Tortuguero. If you are reading this on the original www.geocities.com/tortugueroinfo/main.html website you are reading up to date information. If not, go there now. Good, recent guide books are valuable and convenient travel companions. We hope to pick up where many of the guidebooks leave off due to the permanent nature of their medium.

We provide information and even make recommendations but we cannot assume responsibility for the products or services provided by the various businesses or guides. Unfortunately, like many travel destinations, Tortuguero has its share of hawkers and touts trying to sell tours, lodging and transport. We hope to show what is actually on offer so you can make informed decisions. Travel smart, check with other travellers to the area and seek out all your options and you should have a very enjoyable and interesting visit to one of the most fascinating places on earth.

If you have any questions, comments (typographical or factual suggestions) or require more detail or help in communicating with one of the services listed below please communicate with the Tortuguero Information Center. Phone (506) 833-0827 or 709-8011. Fax 709-8094. Email tortugueroinfo@yahoo.com The center is located in front of the catholic church in the middle of Tortuguero Village.

How to get to Tortuguero:

The following is a summary of the options available to the independent traveller who wants to find his/her own way to Tortuguero village. These are not ALL of the ways and means to travel to Tortuguero but are the ones that are generally considered free of package-oriented or commission-paying options.

Privately run companies provide practically all transport in Costa Rica. In the case of Tortuguero only the buses and planes provide a public service with prices regulated by the government. Since there are no roads to Tortuguero, most visitors arrive in expensive, all-inclusive packages that are very lucrative to the travel agencies who sell them. As a result, information about independent travel has unfortunately remained somewhat of a mystery and has been erroneously referred to as expensive and even dangerous. You will see below that travel can actually be rather inexpensive and as long as one is responsible and respectful while remembering that they are travelling in a country which is probably less developed than their own, can be interesting, safe and adventurous.

This information contains some caveats based on a large amount of feedback received by the center over the years. It is updated constantly due to the inevitable changes and improvements to the infrastructure of this developing country. Many travellers have commented that they would have benefited from having known more about their options before coming to Tortuguero.

For those looking for TOURS while in Tortuguero, these can be arranged by asking around in the village (don't be surprised if someone not-so-innocently tells you that a recommended guide is not available). Be persistent. There are several excellent local guides who speak English or even German and French. Some of the restaurants work on a commission basis so if you want to find a recommended guide ask in one of the souvenir shops or at the Tortuguero Information Center.



Basically there are five ways an independent traveller can get to Tortuguero. Here they are in no particular order:

1. By air:
Sansa (506) 221-9414, fax 255-2176 www.flysansa.com info@flysansa.com
Nature Air (506) 220-3054, fax 296-2316 www.natureair.com

Note: Only Sansa offers a boat ride (US $5 pp.) to Tortuguero village (2 miles down the beach). Victor Barrantes, a bilingual local guide, is the Sansa representative in the village (709-8055). He can be found at the airport upon arrival of both Sansa and Nature Air flights if you need a ride to the village.

Both airlines fly in and out of Tortuguero once per day early in the morning. The one-way fare was recently $65 and $70 per person respectively. The rate depends on season. Please check the web sites for current prices.


2. By Lodge/private transport bus/boat (only when space available):

Call one of the Tortuguero lodge or tour operators of your choice at 5:00 p.m. the night before you travel to Tortuguero. If there is space available you may be picked up at one of the San Jose hotels on their route the next morning between 6-7:00 a.m. Tell them you only need a ride to Tortuguero village.

Price ranges from US $45-$100 or more per person one-way including breakfast. This is not reliable unless buying a complete package as space is often unavailable. They try to send the smallest bus/boat to accommodate their full-package clients.

Fran and Modesto Watson offer complete packages via Moin but may provide transport only when they have space available. Call them at (506) 226-0986 or by email fvwatson@racsa.co.cr

3. Via Limon/Moin:

a) By bus:

Take the 6:30 a.m. bus to Limon from the Gran Caribe bus terminal (221-2596) in San Jose (no later or you may miss the boat connection in Moin). Buy the ticket one day in advance during the high season or you may not find room on this bus!. Take a taxi (US $4 for 10 km) to the JAPDEVA boat docks in Moin for the Tortuguero canals. A bus is available to Moin but the taxi is cheap and fast.

The boat owners in Moin recently formed a co-operative and there is a loose rotation organised to give all the captains a chance to take people to Tortuguero. You will have to negotiate a price. There is bargaining power in groups so try to pair up with someone before arriving at the docks. Prices may run from $50-$70 per person and a chartered boat may cost US $200 or more return. These are water taxis and don't have a fixed daily service. Make sure your boat has all the necessary safety equipment required by Costa Rican law: lifejackets for each passenger, paddle, bailer, fire extinguisher.

Alexis Soto and Sebastien Torres (beeper 900-296-2626) are partners in a reliable (virtually daily) boat service to and from Tortuguero. They only speak Spanish but their captains speak some English and have well-trained eyes to find animals along the way. They travel on most days and provide a covered boat and ponchos. You can reserve beforehand by calling them directly or (if you are uncomfortable speaking Spanish) by contacting the Tortuguero Information Center. Cost: about US $50 return or $30 one-way per person in a shared boat if you arrive on time for boat departure (10:00 a.m.). They will wait until 10:30 if they are expecting you after which time they will have to leave. Arrival in Tortuguero is around 2:00 PM. They are one of the most reliable operators and the most fair with putting travellers in touch with previously recommended guides in the village. Some of the other independent boat captains from Moin work only with specific guides in the village on a commission basis who may not speak English or may tell you that the guide you have been recommended no longer lives there or that they don't know them. Insist if you have someone's name. If you have no luck come to the information center in front of the catholic church in Tortuguero village and you will be put in touch with the guide you seek (or have suggested to you a good one that suits the tour, language and budget desired).

The return trip to Moin departs from Tortuguero at around 10:00 am. This allows you time for a second morning tour of the rivers (if staying in Tortuguero two nights and in case the first morning is rained out), and time for breakfast before leaving. You should be back in Moin before 1:00 p.m. This will give you plenty of time to get back to San Jose or down to the southern Caribbean coast during daylight hours.

Note: If you are planning on travelling only one-way along the inland waterway between Tortuguero and Moin it is more interesting to go to Tortuguero via Moin rather than the other way. This is because the boat makes more wildlife viewing stops on the way to Tortuguero than when leaving. If you arrive late there is sometimes a late boat to tortuguero at 2:00 but usually only in the high season. It's better to try to pair up with at least three other travellers.

b) To Moin by rental car:

Take Braulio Carrillo highway towards Limon leaving no later than 6:30 a.m. To get to the Moin docks leave the San Jose-Limon highway a few miles before you get to Limon. You will see the exit to Moin on the highway and on any good map. You will exit to the left after passing a gas station on your right (signposted). Go past the oil refinery and under the only train bridge and you will immediately see an entrance on your left to a gravel road that leads to the JAPDEVA docks for TORTUGUERO. This is BEFORE you get to the huge international freight loading docks. Turn left after the big oil pipelines coming out of the ground to your left. DO NOT cross over a bridge (you will have gone too far). Just ask around once in the area and someone will tell you how to get there (JAPDEVA is pronounced "hap-DAY-vuh"). You will have to pass through a security gate. Just mention the word "Tortuguero" to the guards and they will direct you to the dock where the boats leave. The boat captains and touts who are always there will tell you where to park the car. You'll see from the security gate that the compound is safe with 24-hour guards. You will need to pay the guards a couple of dollars per night spent in Tortuguero upon your return. See above for boat information.

4. Via rental car to the Cano Blanco Marina:

This is the route all the big lodges use to get to Tortuguero. Although there can be many boats here, most of the captains and guides are under strict orders not to take on any passengers that aren't part of the package tour.

It's best not to get stuck here without first having confirmed your water transport. There are usually independent captains waiting here for people who get stranded by the second (and last) bus to Siquirres for the day or those who arrive here in a rental car having followed the enigmatic "Parque Nacional Tortuguero" street signs located on the main highway. They will either offer to take you to Tortuguero for an amount similar to the Moin boats that travel much further or will take you to the town of Parismina a few miles south of the southern end of the Tortuguero National Park. They can take you into the National Park from Parismina which is pleasant enough but it is 25 miles from Tortuguero village and is not quite as good for viewing wildlife or the Green sea turtles during the nesting season. It is however a better location for observing Leatherback turtles during their nesting season between March and May.

Take the Limon highway as far as the town of Siquirres. Take the exit to the left before the overhead bridge into the center of town. Cross the train tracks and follow the signs to Tortuguero National Park. Drive the 37 km past the towns of El Carmen, Maryland and keep following the most travelled road to the marina called Cano Blanco (about one hour: this is a rough road). Before La Pavona (see below), this used to be the point of land closest to Tortuguero that could be reached by car. There is secure parking at the marina. The local boats generally charge around US $100 for a pick up or drop off in Tortuguero from Cano Blanco.

5. Via public bus and boat through Cariari and La Pavona.

This route requires a short introduction to eliminate some possible confusion you might encounter on the way. One source of the confusion comes from the fact that La Pavona does not yet appear on any map. Secondly, there is more than one transport company offering boat transport along the Suerte river. All of them are private transport companies that charge more to foreigners than locals, and to varying degrees each one works with a limited number of hotels and guides in the village on a commission basis. Some use recommendable guides and some don't. You have no way of knowing. Several of the most recommended and experienced guides don't agree with paying commission to companies that should only be operating a public transport service so you will have trouble finding them through these transport companies. Guides are usually recommended for good reason. It is your right to seek one out. Be politely insistent.

First of all the route operated by the competing companies COOPETRACA and Clic Clic via La Pavona is usually the cheapest way to get to Tortuguero. It is the route the locals from Tortuguero use to get out to the banks and other essential services in Cariari and Guapiles. It is the route recognized by the municipality, national park service and Tortuguero local government as the official public route and receives municipal funding for its road maintenance.

Note: During a few days of the year this route may not always be transitable especially during high rainfall or no rainfall (too little water in river). If you want to check if the river is passable (especially if you have heard of very stormy conditions on the Caribbean coast) call one of the transport companies listed in your guidebook or for information in English, call the Tortuguero Information Center (833-0827 or 709-8055).

As mentioned there are several boat operators offering transport to locals and international visitors to the area along this (or slight variations of this) route. It is in general, rustic and for those used to luxury it may even be uncomfortable. It does not have the fast, comfortable buses used on inter city routes or the wide, comfortable boats used by the luxury lodges or on the route from Moin. The road is rough and the bus ride at times is quite bumpy and hot. The river is narrow and at times swollen with floodwaters or at other times so dry that it is un-navigable (both cases are extremely rare). During the height of the dry season people sometimes have to get out of the boat, roll up their pant legs and push their way over sand banks. The boat operators use covered boats and provide ponchos and a large plastic sheet to cover all the baggage. It is an adventure for all but on the whole is generally quite safe (i.e. no white-water!).

Having said all that, La Pavona is currently the most popular route used to get into and out of Tortuguero for both locals and independent travelers and is also the safest and most reliable ANY service has ever been between Cariari and Tortuguero. The boats docking in La Pavona generally have reliable, late-model, environmentally-friendly and quiet four-stroke outboard motors. This is important because the Suerte river passes right through part of the Tortuguero National Park.

The cost of river transport has changed up and down several times since it began. At times the boats charge the same for locals and foreigners (1,500 colones=$3) but currently the fare is $10 one-way per foreign national (boat AND bus from Cariari to Tortuguero or vice-versa). The fare will continue to vary (maximum $10) until the governmental regulating body forces it down (hopefully) soon.

You will meet up with people hawking these services (and local tours) at all the bus stations along the way and upon your arrival in Tortuguero. There have been many complaints received at the Costa Rican Tourism Institute and at this office about false or misleading information provided by some of these people about guides, tours and accommodations in Tortuguero.

At the time of writing, everyone offering transport with regular timetables along the route between Cariari and Tortuguero by road and along the rio Suerte has an operating license authorized by the appropriate government ministry meaning they comply with the laws for safe transit on water.

There is nothing complicated or dangerous about travelling on your own to Tortuguero along this route but remember that you will encounter hawkers or agents all along the way trying to sell their services.

If you FOLLOW THESE DIRECTIONS, the non commission-paying, hard-working independent guides and services in the village will appreciate it.

Most common itinerary: Take the 9:00 am direct bus to Cariari (about $2. Departures at 6:30, 9:00, 10:30 a.m and 1:00, 3:00, 4:20, 6:00, 7:00 pm) from the Gran Caribe bus terminal in San Jose. NOTE: YOU MUST BUY YOUR CARIARI BUS TICKET IN THE TICKET BOOTH FOR GUAPILES. The 9:00 bus arrives at about 11:00 a.m. at the dedicated San Jose bus terminal in Cariari. Do not get off where the bus makes a stop in Guapiles!

There are information desks at both the Gran Caribe bus terminal AND at the baggage check of the arrival terminal in Cariari run by independent travel agents that promote specific commission-earning options. Their friendly and persuasive employees for obvious reasons give the impression that theirs is the ONLY route to Tortuguero. THIS IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE. You are free to choose your own travel options. They may be politely insistent. DO NOT buy onward tickets to Moin (Limon) until you have seen all the options available in Tortuguero. Any ticket sold to you before getting to Tortuguero is NON-REFUNDABLE and your hotel will undoubtedly have a recommended option that they know is safe and has experienced captains.

Upon arrival in Cariari (and meeting more hawkers), and to go onward INDEPENDENTLY, you will need to walk about five blocks north to the local bus terminal located behind the police station after the Banco Nacional. Go to the back corner of the bus stop to the COOPETRACA ticket booth where you will find bus (and boat) tickets for sale. DO NOT BUY YOUR BOAT TICKET HERE. SEE BELOW. The tickets cost 1000 colones and 4,000 colones each respectively (currently just over $2 for the bus and $8 for the boat) and are good for one passage. There are actually two buses at this local terminal that lead to different riverside docks (La Pavona or La GEEST) where there are boats waiting to take you to Tortuguero. The GEEST is actually the name of a former banana plantation. The road is private within the plantation and you will be required to get off the GEEST-bound bus and soak the soles of your shoes in a poison meant to kill mould spores harmful to the banana plants. They claim it is harmless but if you are a pregnant woman or child you don't have to walk through it! Most locals don't use this route and use La Pavona because of the risk of repeated exposure. You decide.

Remember that the route to LA PAVONA is considered to be the official public route to Tortuguero and is at the time usually the least expensive. Take the walk (it is completely safe!) to the local bus terminal to find out the current price yourself.

Take the 12:00 noon public bus to "La Pavona". (There are departures at 6:00 AM, 12:00 noon and 3:00 PM). So far there are no signs for this bus at the Cariari bus terminal but it often boards its passengers from directly in front of the ticket booth. Give the driver your bus ticket.

At the end of the bus ride you will reach a farm called La Pavona at around 1:30 p.m. Here you will find the boats that are waiting to take you to Tortuguero. You can buy your boat ticket on the boat. Don't buy your ticket ahead of time. Take the boat with fewer people. The prepaid boat tickets won't allow you to change to the other service offered and your boat might be full. Wait to see which boats fill up first. Some of the touts earn commissions so expect some long faces. Don't be afraid to be firm. You are the boss and you can travel with whom you please. DON'T GET ONTO ANY BOAT THAT IS OBVIOUSLY OVERLOADED.

The boats generally do not stop on the way to observe wildlife unless there is something in plain view on the river. There will be other travel-weary Ticos (Costa Ricans) on the boat who just want to get home to their families. If you want to observe wildlife nothing beats a dedicated, slow early morning boat tour through the water trails of the national park.

The 1:30 PM boats leaving La Pavona will take you right to Tortuguero arriving around 3:00 PM. The boats and buses always wait for one another.

Unfortunately, with two of the boat transport companies, you will be taken directly to an "information center" which is NOT a public dock and will be told that the people there will take care of all your questions. Of course they will provide you with an extremely narrow list of alternatives for lodging and tours and ambiguous details (at best) about anything else you ask about. Be aware. Some people have been talked out of standing reservations for lodging and tours before arriving in Tortuguero. There have been no complaints about the boat service run by Clic Clic. He takes people to the PUBLIC boat launch upon arrival in Tortuguero village

There is a return boat service that leaves for La Pavona at 6:00 AM, 11:30 AM and 3:00 PM. These meet up with the buses that make the return journey from La Pavona to Cariari. The boat leaving Tortuguero at 6:00 AM makes the most efficient outbound bus connections. Arriving in Cariari one ought to take a local bus to Guapiles. Do not go to the San Jose direct bus station in Cariari unless you want to wait there until the 11:30 AM departure (at which point you would otherwise have arrived already in San Jose if you had followed this next sentence). Once in Guapiles you can take a bus to either San Jose or Limon and be in either place around noon. This is early enough to make an early afternoon bus connection to many other destinations in the southern Caribbean, Monteverde or la Fortuna allowing you to arrive before dusk.

An early bus leaves Cariari at around 6:00 am for La Pavona (sometimes 5:00!). It meets up with the early boat that goes to Tortuguero at 8:00 am. The bus does not always leave from the terminal but always passes by on the street. Try to contact the COOPETRACA office in person if you arrive too late in Cariari for the buses and let them know you want the early morning bus. They should be able to inform the driver to look for you in the morning. Failing that, you can flag any bus down that passes around that time and ask if it goes to La Pavona. There is also a late bus for La Pavona at 3:00 PM.

Important information for traveling this route during the turtle season (Mar 1-October 31):

If you are traveling on the late bus (3:00 PM) and want to do a turtle tour that same night tell the boat captain travelling on the bus to call ahead to reserve a tour. There might be other fellow travellers who could benefit from this information. Let them know too. Tell the captain to try to contact your recommended guide. If this is not arranged ahead of time you may arrive too late for the 6:00 PM cutoff time for guides to get a tour permit for you. Try to make the earlier buses.

By rental car via Cariari/La Pavona:

Please read the previous section for important information about this route (like buying your boat tickets etc.).

You must get to La Pavona for the 8:00 AM, 1:30 PM or 4:30 pm boat to Tortuguero. Here you will find secure parking for a fee. Remember that La Pavona is not on any map. You may follow the noon bus from Cariari which passes through the villages of CAMPO DOS, CUATRO ESQUINAS and PALACIOS. At time of writing there are road signs helping you find Campo Dos and Cuatro Esquinas

First you will need to get to Cariari. You must first pass through Guapiles which is located on the San Jose-Limon highway. Exit to the north at the Santa Clara gasoline station just a few hundred meters east of the Burger King. At a point approximately 8.1 kilometers north of the Santa Clara Gasoline station you will reach a cross road. Turn left. Do not cross the tracks yet. Follow the train tracks west for approx. 0.7 kilometers and then turn right on the main highway (crossing the tracks) and continue north towards Cariari.

Set your odometer to zero at the only gas station in Cariari (200 meters past the single lane bridge coming into town). Drive straight for 7 kilometers and turn right onto the newly paved highway. There is usually a sign here indicating Campo Dos. Follow this PAVED road with all it's twists and turns until the pavement ends after the village of Cuatro Esquinas (approximately 14.5 km after the gas station). Follow the gravel road (Do not make any turns at road junctions!) until you reach the general store ("Abast Palacio") in the tiny village of Palacios on the right (23.4 km after the gas station). You can buy cold drinks and snacks here. 50 meters after the general store is a road going off to the left. Follow this sometimes bumpy road for 5.7 km (29.1 km after the gas station) until you reach the farm called La Pavona on your left. There is safe parking here for a fee ($10 per night at time of writing).

Both COOPETRACA and Clic Clic's boats will be awaiting (at 8:00am, 1:30pm and 3:00pm).

Approximate driving time from San Jose to Cariari: 2 hours. Approximate driving time from Cariari to La Pavona: 1 hour. To reach the 1:30 pm boat you will need to leave San Jose at 10:00 am at the absolute latest. This will NOT leave time for mistakes or stops along the way if you want to have lunch etc.

If you have questions about these driving directions call or write to the Tortuguero Information Center tortugueroinfo@yahoo.com

It is not recommended to drive to La GEEST. The plantation owners do not allow taxis or rental cars into the compound without prior written consent. People are taken by surprise when told they have to leave their car unguarded on the road outside the main plantation gates or are sent back to the main road to find La pavona.


OTHER IMPORTANT INFORMATION:

Remember to bring dollars or colones sufficient for transport, tours and lodging to Tortuguero. There are no banks or ATMs here and traveller's checks can only be changed locally with a hefty commission charge. Only the souvenir shops will take TC's or Visa. Remember that the Tortuguero National Park charges $7 per person for a one-day pass (obligatory if you want to explore any of the waterways or trails in the area) or $10 for a pass valid for up to three days.

There is only one authorized trail (called "El Gavilan") in the northern end of the National Park. Be a responsible visitor and don't go to any unofficial trail within the park. Sometimes unlicensed guides will offer to take you there. Night tours that are not for observing nesting turtles are strictly PROHIBITED by the national park administration

As a general rule it is recommend to stay at least two nights in Tortuguero to take advantage of two mornings (the best time of day for animal viewing) to have a tour in the canals with an option in the afternoon if it rains.

Don't miss your bus or boat connections. Travel wisely on buses and at terminals. Under the bus compartments are generally safe for backpacks, hand luggage should be carried on your lap and NOT in overhead compartments.

Bring rain gear, decent walking shoes if you plan on doing any hiking, and a flashlight for the frequent power outages. During turtle nesting season (July-October), flashlights and any type of camera or video camera are NOT allowed on the beach. Dark clothing is strongly recommended.

Tortuguero village is surrounded by national park land rich in diverse flora and fauna
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Name: The Tortuguero Information Center
Email: tortugueroinfo@yahoo.com
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