Costa Rica: Tortuguero National Park

Costa Rica: Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park was the part of the trip I was looking forward to the most. It was finally a chance to see some of the wildlife I had previously encountered in the rescue center and at La Paz but in the wild. It is set on the Eastern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and the village itself can only be reached by boat through the tropical rainforest.

Our journey from San Jose to Tortuguero involved a 4 hour mini bus ride and 2 hour boat trip. A long journey for anyone but I was also suffering from sort of gastroenteritis that had set in the day before! My solution to this was to sleep most of the mini bus journey so I could at least enjoy the boat ride. Although, my sleep was pleasantly interrupted as we stopped to see a sloth by the side of the road. Unfortunately, my camera was buried in my bag at the time but not to worry as I managed to get a picture at a later date. We also stopped by a banana farm, I’m not really sure why? I wasn’t particularly excited to watch bananas swinging about on a little conveyor belt but apparently this was worth a photo to some tourists! The boat ride was almost a tour in itself as they pointed out wildlife and stopped for pictures on our way to the village. This was the first, but not the last time, that we saw howler and spider monkeys! One of the spider monkeys was spread eagled between two branches and almost seemed to be doing a little dance to tease us!

Our accommodation was simple cabinas but the beach. Tortuguero is a strange place as on one side you have the beach and ocean and on the other the tropical rainforest of the national park. You could easily walk from one side to the other in 10 minutes. Victor, our tour guide, told us to be ready for 6.30pm to commence our jungle night walk. One of the main purposes of this trip was to see the leatherback turtules nesting, it was a bit of a gamble as this is possibly the earliest point in the year you can see them. Unfortunately, the turtles hadn’t really started nesting yet this year so there was nothing to see. This is why this tour was replaces with the night walk. You can’t control nature!

Although still suffering with my illness, I wasn’t going to miss anything. So, for the first time this holiday I put long trousers on and we set off with torches into the jungle. As this is a national reserve it was pretty easy to walk around although I would have still got lost without Victor! Now, bugs, lizards and snakes are not exactly my favourite species, I prefer the mammals of the natural world. However, it was still fantastic to see the wide array of frogs and insects that come out at night. We were lucky, as there had just been a rain shower, so lots of creepy crawlies appeared as a result. That said, as someone who is petrified of spiders, I was very aware of any webs across our paths and we did encounter a couple of ferocious looking arachnids, nothing poisonous though! Snakes and frogs were a particular highlight as their patterns looked very pretty under the light of a torch. But the biggest thrill for me was to see two possums hiding up in the trees! At the rescue center they had several tiny baby possums who had lost their mother, so to see fully grown ones in the wild was fantastic! They didn’t move much just stared back at us, probably waiting for us to leave!

After the night walk I was exhausted so straight to bed ready for our boat tour the next morning, nice and early at 5.30am!

The boat tour was probably the best part of our excursion to Tortuguero. It was a 3 hour journey starting in the main lagoon and then along a canal called Rio Tortuguero. They are not canals like we are used to at home, these are small rivers leading off of the main lagoon into the jungle. When we arrived Victor showed up with just a little rowing boat, nothing like the bigger tour boats we had seen. I must say I was a little apprehensive looking at it but got in nonetheless.

However, it turned out a little rowing boat was an excellent call. So was getting up stupidly early as it meant we beat all the other tourists to get the best wildlife viewing. As we were getting back many boats were only just heading out! So, what did we see? Well, for the first half hour or so not a great deal of wildlife but outstanding views of the jungle. I started to think we probably wouldn’t see much wildlife as the rainforest is so huge, surely you’re hard pressed to find things? But I was wrong. We saw more spider and howler monkeys whilst avoiding the things they were dropping from the trees into the river! There were a few caymans – they do not have full sized crocodiles here and a variety of lizards and birds. But the best thing was just to see all this flora and fauna in the wild rather than in captivity. My little bridging camera didn’t get great pictures of the monkeys as they were so far away. But that didn’t matter as the memory of seeing these animals behaving naturally and where they belong was far better than any photograph.

Once we returned back to the village Victor was quick to tell us that we needed to meet up again later that morning for our final jungle trek (in daylight this time!) So, after a quick snooze on the hammock I got my walking shoes back on. Even before we entered the rainforest Victor had spotted a toucan so I was hopeful we would see a lot more! We entered the rainforest through the official national park entrance but Victor sneakily took us off the main path to a more exciting closed pathway! The jungle was much denser here and had a greater abundance of wildlife. This part of the jungle was a secondary forest which means it has regrown after a lot of deforestation. Costa Rica went from around 85% of the country being forest to only 35% in the 1940s, partly due to the increase in cattle and banana farming and the Government realised that they quickly had to act. So, this is when they started to create national parks (27 of them) and protected areas (around 26% of the country).

The weather was extremely humid but shady because of the canopy – probably a good workout! Victor was extremely skilled at spotting things that we would have just walked past unknowingly. We saw more spiders and lizards like we did on the night walk but we also got the opportunity to get closer to the monkeys that we had seen previously on the boat. What was particularly impressive was the sheer height of the trees (considering it was a secondary forest!) one of which we found several bats roosting!

Towards the end of the trek we emerged from the rainforest onto the beach. As the ocean wind hit us it was a breath of fresh air from the humidity of the jungle. As we followed the shore line, one of the last things we saw was a strange hollowing out and mound of sand. When questioned, Victor explained that this was a leatherback turtle nest! He exclaimed that at least one turtle had visited Tortuguero even though it was probably the only one! He reckoned it was a few days old and my travel companions were a little worried that he was standing on top of it! But he did explain that the eggs are buried quite deep beneath the sand! So, although we didn’t get to see any turtles it was nice to see the nest of one. Apparently, although they get egg poaching here, it wasn’t very common as they prefer green turtle eggs.

Something I found upsetting on the beach was the rubbish. Plastic rubbish. I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited several exotic beaches around the world. On the majority of them, unless they are part of a beach resort, there will be plastic rubbish. I’ve seen gorgeous beaches ruined by litter which isn’t necessarily from the people that live there but swept in by the ocean from abroad. It breaks my heart to think that the most remote parts of world are not untouched by the vast amounts of rubbish we produce every day. I thought of that poor turtle dodging the rubbish on her journey up the beach to dig her nest. There wasn’t huge amounts here by any means but it was noticeable. I have no data to support this but I believe that by creating plastic human beings made a huge mistake as it contributes to so many environmental problems (as my Year 8 Geography class will tell you!). Plastic is doing untold evil to our planet.

So, that was the end of our tours for our stay in Tortuguero, the remainder of the day was spent just soaking up the beauty of the place and relaxing by the ocean. Reflecting on this place I would recommend that anyone who visits Costa Rica should visit this village. An area of exceptional scenery and it sums up the traditional image of the country that you imagine in your mind before visiting. Awe-inspiring.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *