Ilona and Tiffany’s trip to Tortuguero and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

In my last blog I have shared with you part of our amazing experience in Puerto Viejo. Now I will share my impressions of Tortuguero and the coastal town Puerto Viejo. Tiffany Dunker and I, Ilona Rietveld, have visited these places one week ago.

Let’s start with Tortuguero. Tortuguero can be translated as Land of Turtles. It is a village on the Northern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica in the Limón Province. The National park next to Tortuguero has the same name, Tortuguero National Park. The village is situated on a sandbar island, separated from the mainland by Tortuguero River and bordering the Caribbean Sea. Tortuguero is renowned for its canals that run right through the rainforest in the national park, and has such earned the nickname of 'Central America's Amazon.'

The beaches around Tortuguero are key nesting sites for four species of sea turtle, including two critically endangered species. Tortuguero beach is the most important nesting site of the endangered green turtle in the Western Hemisphere. Giant leatherback, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles also nest here. The National Park is also host to incredible biodiversity of insects, resident and migratory birds, and mammals, including jaguar and three species of monkey. In Tortuguero they have the Howler Monkey, the White Faced Monkey and the Spider Monkey. The small village, which can be reached only by boat or airplane, is sustained almost entirely by eco-tourism. The population in Tortuguero is estimated around 1200 to 1500 people.

Since we live in Guanacaste in Hojancha, it was a long trip to Tortuguero on the other side of the country. We spend around 10 hours getting to Tortuguero with public transport. Luckily we did not have to wait between different buses and the entire trip went smoothly. We had to go with a little boat to be able to get to Tortuguero. Here we already saw some interesting and beautiful views. When we arrived in Tortuguero it was 5pm and already kind of dark. After 5 minutes it also started to rain. In Tortuguero it can rain a lot. Basically we were walking through water everywhere. We quickly bought some umbrellas and started by looking for a hotel. We found a hotel located on the beach. Most of the hotels are located on the beach. After putting our baggage in the hotel we left to the center of town for dinner. We had dinner in an empty restaurant and it was basically the living room of the family that owned the restaurant. There were kids running around and coming to our table for a talk. It was very fun and interesting to see how that is possible here in Costa Rica in some places.

We decided to do a canoe tour at 6 in the morning since we had to leave to Puerto Viejo at 10 in the morning because there was only one boat to Puerto Viejo per day. We were very tired of our travel day and decided to go to bed already at 8pm since we had to wake up at 5am for our canoe tour.

Since we heard stories about caimans  and crocodiles being in Tortuguero we were kind of scared of being in a canoe on our own. We had talked about it and just decided to be brave and do it since it was supposed to be very beautiful with a lot of wildlife and that was the reason for us to go to Tortuguero. We were fully prepared for the canoe when our tour guide arrived in a small boat without motor. We thought we would go find the canoes now but we were very happy to hear that we were going with a big ‘canoe’ with two Spanish tourists and our guide. After all our preparing and talking about what we would do if we saw a crocodile next to our canoe, it was kind of funny that we were kind of safely going together in a boat with our guide and more people. The tour would last 3 hours and when we started it already started raining very hard. We put on some ponchos and rowed our way through the canals. I thought the rain made the canoe tour way more special! The views were amazing with the mist and I really felt like I was on an exciting safari. Of course when you add seeing the first wildlife of the day it was already an awesome tour. During the tour we saw Howler Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, Caimans, Toucans and a lot of other special and pretty birds. I can honestly say this was one of the most amazing trips of my life. We only stayed in Tortuguero for a very short period of time but it was a really cool experience.

At 10am our boat was leaving to Moín. From there we took a taxi to Puerto Viejo. The boat ride to Moín took about 3 hours. It was a nice experience because we saw a lot of pretty rainforest. On our way we also say some spider monkeys and birds again. We were in a speedboat and at one time our driver quickly stopped the boat. He was pointing to the shore on the right side of the boat. A gigantic crocodile was laying there. We were so shocked but excited as well. After a minute the crocodile moved one leg. Since it was only about 3 meters away from our boat everyone in the boat was right away making a scared sound. Afterwards we all had to laugh of course! It went into the water and we followed it for a little while. Interesting is that in the water they look really small but on the shore they are gigantic animals. Also after about 2 minutes we ran into an old man in a really small canoe. Basically the man together with the canoe could fit within the crocodile so we were a bit shocked to see that man canoeing in the river. After that we saw two more crocodiles and a sloth.

During our taxi ride to Puerto Viejo we saw several sloths again. The area of Puerto Viejo is an awesome place to spot sloths. When we arrived in Puerto Viejo it was unfortunately raining. We grabbed our Lonely Planet book and just took the recommendation since we did not feel like checking out a lot of hotels because of the rain. The hotel was really pretty and cheap. We only paid 12 dollars per person per night. We did share a bathroom but we never saw the people we shared it with.

Puerto Viejo is a very popular tourist destination. It is known worldwide in the surfing community for the biggest and most powerful wave in Costa Rica, known as Salsa Brava. It is also home to beautiful beaches, such as Playa Chiquita, Playa Negra, and Punta Uva, which are a few of Costa Rica's most spectacular beaches which can be found between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo. Manzanillo is a popular location for kayaking. The popular Jaguar Rescue Centre, from my previous blog, is located nearby. What can be quite confusing if you are traveling to Puerto Viejo from San José is that there is another Puerto Viejo in northeastern Costa Rica. The buses to both Puerto Viejo’s are even leaving at the same station in San José. So when you are going to Puerto Viejo, make sure you are going to the one you want to be going.

Our first night in Puerto Viejo we went out for dinner. Puerto Viejo has some really nice restaurants. You might say that Puerto Viejo is touristy however during the night there are only about 2 restaurants that are popular and with a lot of people. Touristy in Costa Rica is totally different than what I am used to in Europe. After a good night sleep in our nice hotel, the next morning we went to visit the Jaguar Rescue Center. In my previous blog you can find my story about the awesome rescue center. Since we had no plans for our afternoon we decided to go to the beach and relax. The weather on this day was not sunny but it did not rain either so we were happy with that. We bought some really nice sandwiches on the beach and just enjoyed the beautiful beach and the lovely view. After seeing a lot of people in town riding around on the same bikes we decided to rent bikes as well. We just cycled past some of Puerto Viejo’s nice beaches. 

At some point I heard a loud noise and I told Tiffany to stop because I was sure there were some monkeys close. We looked to our left and all the trees were full with about 25 Howler Monkeys. There were in the trees between the beach and the road. It was a cool sight to see so many of them together and we enjoyed it for a little while before continuing our bike ride. About 5 minutes after we spotted the monkeys, Tiffany told me to stop. She said she had seen a sloth high up in a tree. We went back and looked. And yes, there it was. I was amazed that Tiffany had noticed this sloth since it had the exact same color as the tree and almost invisible. Luckily we brought our umbrellas because it started to rain and we ended our bike tour. We went back to our hotel and relaxed a bit in the hammocks in the common area. It was raining so hard that neither one of us felt like going out for dinner but instead preferred to go to bed early. Since there was no possibility to have dinner in our hotel we went our for dinner anyhow. That following morning unfortunately we had start our trip back to Hojancha very early. The way back went a bit faster. We had to take only two buses of 5 hours. One to San José and one from San José to Hojancha. We did have two hours in between buses but we did not mind since we could have some lunch and we were lucky because there was a traditional Costa Rican parade that day in San José. We arrived around 7pm in Hojancha and that was the end of our beautiful trip to Tortuguero and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. 

I hope you enjoyed reading about my impressions about these lovely places.

If you are excited to go visit these places as well now, have an amazing time – and please remember to book your trip through us so we can use the commission to fuel our great community projects! Contact us for more information please.


Written by: Ilona Rietveld, Hojancha Community Program Intern


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