Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Trip to Tortuguero!

As our time in Costa Rica is winding down, we were thinking of the places we really wanted to visit before leaving. Tortuguero is a small village on the northern Caribbean coast. This national park is a really unique part of Costa Rica.  Besides being one of the most humid, rainy areas (there is no dry season), it is surrounded by lagoons that are connected by many canals.  Parque Nacional Tortuguero is undoubtedly one of Costa Rica's top wildlife destinations.  The main draw being the turtles.  It is where the turtle conservation movement started. Of the worlds' 8 species of sea turtles, 4 lay there eggs on the beaches of Tortuguero (which funny enough, means 'turtle village' in Spanish)  The Caribbean Conservation Corporation implemented the first program of its kind in the world and has been monitoring turtles here since 1955. I had been under the impression that is was difficult to get there.   The whole village is completely surrounded by protected forrest and is only accessible by boat or plane. The journey though was quite easy (and enjoyable). We took a bus from San Joses’ Caribbean bus station to Cariari (one hour and 40 min) connected to Pavona (one hour) then climbed in a water taxi (40 min) to Tortuguero Village.Cruising through banana plantations and the jungle was so cool. I thought, this must be what it's like floating down the Amazon.
When the driver pointed out a few crocs, I reconsidered our plans of kayaking through the canals. This isn't the best pic, but you can see this crocodile is pretty big, and has his mouth open. I turned into a total scaredy-cat!
When we arrived to the village, it reminded me a bit of my Bocas del Toro trip, with the houses on/over the water, only I knew my toilet wasn't going to flush into the water.  One of the great things about Costa Rica is that [most of] their sanitation/water system is good!
Tortuguero is pretty small as you can see on the map, which was right at the boat dock.  We stopped to look at our options for hotel. Reservations? ha!
We had met a guy named Adolfo at the bus station in Cariari. He was working in a tour office and was really informative (he ended up being our guide for the park, I wish I had his contact info). He recommended that we stay at Cabinas Icaco.  It was great suggestion…clean room, warm-ish water, located right on the beach with a balcony and the bedroom was painted turquoise! Here is Ernesto standing in the breeze on the balcony. (actually I think he was looking for a wi-fi connection on his itouch. ha!)There are over 300 species of birds in this area, and I had my [I mean Kate's] binoculars ready. This gorgeous bird, a blue tanager, was enjoying a banana at the market. That afternoon we covered the whole town on foot. (in about 15 minutes) The houses were all bright colors, I especially liked this one. This bike caught my eye in front of a yellow house.
We walked to the entrance of the national park read all the info about the turtles. We passed
Ernesto Tours! (sorry, I cant really recommend them, but I do like the name)We ate dinner at the Buda Café, a spot that is so welcoming with their new age music spilling out onto the dirt road. The ambiance was so cool and unexpected in a town of many Soda’s (ie:mom & pop kitchens). It had red paper lanterns, decorative touches like candles and handmade placemats. There was also a lounge area where you were able to enjoy a coffee, which we did several times while it rained outside.
This huge parrot was in the middle of a little park, we sat at a nearby table to enjoy the changing colors in the sky.

We arranged our canal tour early, it's the best time to go (or after a rain, as the animals come out to dry) His boat was a large canoa (canoe) with no motor, and he paddled us through the many canals for almost 4 hours.  He was wonderful!  He pointed out wildlife that Im sure we would have missed. This is why I recommend that you spend the $15 per person for a guide (and Lonely planet does too). It was worth it. He knew the names of all the birds we saw:  toucans, kingfishers, and many different herons. We could hear the howler monkeys the whole time. Their noise carries for up to 3 miles!   I don’t think there is any way we would have spotted this without him:

Do you see them? Do you see the baby Caymans? (crocodile family) Mama was nearby.

Not surprisingly, it was raining for most of the canal tour, but we came prepared (I know, its something new for us) with ponchos.
Going on a night turtle walk is a must in Tortuguero.   Because there is a problem with poaching, it is required that you are with a licensed guide and that you have paid the park entrance fee that day ($10).
Unfortunately, May is not a high season for turtle nesting, but since the Leatherback turtles nesting season is in April, we had about a 50% chance to see some stragglers.  We were not lucky.  We did get to see a couple rastras in the sand because 2 turtles were spotted the night before.  These imprints last in the sand for about 3 days and are enormous. 
This picture is from the Endangered Wildlife Trust website, so I have no idea who that man is but he gives you a good reference of just how huge these turtles are. 
The female turtle digs a cavity in the sand with her flippers and lays anywhere from 80-120 eggs before heading back to sea, leaving the eggs on there own to hatch 45 to 70 days later.  Sometimes they will even lay a "false batch" to confuse predators.  The whole process is so amazing, I was really disappointed that we weren't able to see it.   You aren't permitted to have flashlights or cameras on the night walk, and we had to wear dark clothing.  From 10p to midnight we walked the beach.  Nothing.  At one point the guide said, "oh, I have seen jaguars a couple times here.  If we see one tonight, don't act scared because they sense fear.  Just face the cat and walk backwards into the ocean.  They don't like salt water."  What?? I was scared. 
Although no turtles were spotted, I think it was one of my favorite trips I have taken in Costa Rica.  Like no other place here.   We are planning one more trip here before we are off to the good ol' US of A.  Decisions, decisions!

1 comment:

  1. very fun! i am due for a vacation! in fact, you have inspired me to take one in june, for sure! hope you had a good time!


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