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Tortuguero, Costa Rica

As we had muddled with our travel plans a few days ago to visit Manuel Antonio on the Pacific coast, we now had to travel across the country to reach our next destination on the Caribbean Sea, Tortuguero. There were actual blue skies visible today, which was wasted on us as we spent most of the day on public transport. It went like this:

  • Up at 5am.

  • 6am bus from Quepos to San Jose, three and a half hours.

  • Walk 20 minutes to reach a different bus terminal. Half hour wait.

  • Bus from San Jose to Cariari, supposedly two hours. Fifteen minutes down the road we were stuck in traffic. We didn't move for an hour. Trip took 90 minutes longer than expected.

  • Bus from Cariari to Pavona, one hour. Almost the entire drive was on a dirt road.

  • From Pavona we caught an open-aired boat to Tortuguero, one hour. The fresh breeze was a nice change. Saw crocodiles, toucans and monkeys on the way.

  • Arrive in Tortuguero. Whole day gone.


Once we jumped off the boat we were ambushed with offers for accommodation and tours. Too exhausted to haggle, we accepted both. The room turned out to be great - a cabina right on the beach, second level room, listening to the waves crashing on the shore. The town was reminiscent of Little Corn Island - no cars or motorised transport and one main path lined with basic shops and restaurants. We had enough strength to walk up and down the path once, grab an average dinner then hit the sack. How can you become so tired doing nothing all day?


The next morning saw me attempt to go running, which involved a combination of slow jogging and cursing the humidity. I ended up completing four laps along the only two paved paths in town before giving up. It took me longer to stop sweating than the actual run took.


We turned up for our pre-booked canoe tour through the national park and ended up being the only two on the boat (other than our guide). The canoe, being a fairly silent form of transport, was serene and relaxing, much nicer than the motor boats that were speeding by. We passed several canoes returning from the 6am tour, and we wondered why they would start at such an ungodly hour when an 8am tour was available. It turned out that we missed seeing sloths being active for a change by only a few minutes. Damn those early risers. 

canoe trip tortuguero costa rica

Our trip wasn't unsuccessful though, as we ended up spotting turtles, capuchin and spider monkeys, caimans (similar to alligators), herons, lizards, frogs and tiny bats hanging from a tree trunk lying across the water. The "blue jeans" frog (the affectionate name for the strawberry poison-dart frog) was adorable. Despite being highly poisonous, I was keen to sneak one into my backpack and take it home with me. Our guide was more fascinated with a caiman stalking a grey-necked wood rail (look at me learning bird names), waiting for the perfect opportunity to pounce. It was like watching a horror movie, not wanting to look but not being able to turn away. Thankfully the bird flew off unharmed. The caiman was going to have to find something else for breakfast.

caiman tortuguero costa rica
blue jeans frog tortuguero costa rica

The rainforest we passed through was stunning, with no sounds other than a few birds and our oars gently skimming the water. The downside was the colour of the river: dirt brown. I really hoped we didn't capsize, as there was no way I wanted to put even a toe into that water. Several trees had fallen across the canals, which sometimes meant ducking low so we could pass underneath. Once it meant scrambling over the log as the canoe glided through underneath, making sure to time our leap perfectly so that we didn't lose the boat and become stranded on the tree.

canoe trip tortuguero costa rica

Cruising through the dirt brown canals.

We stayed indoors during the hottest part of the day, as the heat was relentless. Just walking five minutes to a cafe for lunch worked up a sweat. Later in the afternoon we trekked out to the national park, following a two kilometre long trail in the hopes of discovering more animals (i.e. sloths). I guess the animals were escaping from the heat too, as all we saw were monkeys, lizards and crabs. The path ran parallel to the beach, only 50 metres or so inland, which offered a peaceful soundtrack of gently lapping waves. We followed the beach back to town, enjoying being able to walk in the coolish water to help us forget that it was about 50 billion degrees outside.

lizard tortuguero costa rica
beach tortuguero costa rica

In Tortuguero we found a man selling coconuts, chopping off the top and giving us a straw to drink to refreshing liquid inside. Danny happened to notice a bottle of rum sitting next to the man, and asked if we could possibly have a shot or two added to our coconuts. No problem! We carried it back to our room, added a squeeze of fresh lime, and created what would be the first of many coconut rum cocktails that we would consume in our lifetime.

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