Tortuguero means “turtle catcher,” and from July to October, those who visit the black sands of this remote Caribbean beach get to witness one of nature’s miracles. During these months, tens of thousands of green and leatherback sea turtles return to the exact beaches where they were born to lay their eggs by night, in a ritual millions of years old. Then, after some seven weeks, the tiny hatchlings race to the sea.
Such marvels are typical of Tortuguero. Accessible only by plane or boat, the winding canals of this humid tropical park are packed with some of Costa Rica’s most vibrant wildlife. On a canoe trip, you’ll typically find alligators and caimans basking on the sun-dappled shore, while howler monkeys swing in the trees overhead. Don’t be surprised if friendly sloths amble up to the lodge where you’re staying, or a “Jesus Christ lizard”—double-crested basilisk—skims by you along the water’s surface.
The 180,000-acre national park offers other options for nature lovers. Birders are drawn by the hundreds of avian species, including herons, toucans, and Amazon kingfishers. Meanwhile, just south of the park’s entrance, anglers from the world over wait patiently for Atlantic snook and tarpon. If you want to continue exploring further along the Caribbean coast, more wildlife sightings are on offer at Cahuita, while the town of Puerto Viejo offers chocolate tours and visits to the indigenous BriBri community.
Costa Rica’s Caribbean side is a detour from the usual tourist trail. But for those who venture out into its coastal culture, a rich natural world awaits.
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