Tortuguero Island: A Voyeuristic Adventure


Ward and I (Hetty) have just returned from an excursion to Tortuguero which is situated on the Northern part of the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. The interior and coastal region of Costa Rica is very lush and agricultural. We drove through miles and miles of banana plantations and pineapple fields – all destined for the Port of Limon which is a major container shipping port. Along the way we saw a few large Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita processing plants. I will never view a banana in the same way! The drive to the Caribbean coast, although only 260 km, took about 5 hours. The road is a busy one with a lot of truck traffic destined for the port of Limon.

The night before we departed for Tortuguero, we drove to the coast and stayed at a lovely seaside Hotel Playa Westfalia. We were told that this coast is not safe for swimming due to rough surf, strong currents, and barracuda. There was also a lot of debris in the water – pieces of concrete and old metal scraps – likely from the port activity.

To get to the village of Tortuguero, we backtracked to Siquerries and then drove to a dock (Cano Blanco) along a 35 km very rough, dirt road – a trip that took about 2 hours. The only way to get to Tortuguero is by boat as there are no roads to this village. The village is situated on a sand bar island, separated from the mainland by Tortuguero River and bordering the Caribbean Sea. Tortuguero is renowned for its navigable canals that run through the rainforest in the national park, and has such earned the nickname of ‘Central America’s Amazon’.

The boat trip took about 2 hours and we landed at the Pachira Lodge, our home for the night. The Lodge is rustic and gave us a feeling of being at summer camp. The cabins had a bed and a bathroom and nothing else but were clean and comfortable. This trip has certainly given me a new appreciation of the fact that the Internet is not essential to survival!

That afternoon, we boarded a canal boat and headed for the village of Tortuguero. This village has a population of 600 – 800 people and exists almost entirely on eco-tourism. While the idea of a village tour sounded good at the time, as it turned out, it was somewhat of a bizarre experience. Hordes of tourists roaming around, peering in windows and taking photos of villagers who, in turn, seemed amused by all of these foreigners in funny hats carrying armloads of photography equipment and binoculars.

The following morning, we boarded a canal boat at 5:30 am for a tour with our guide, Moses. We quietly motored through the canal looking for birds and other creatures. One of interest was the “Jesus Christ Lizard” – so named for its ability to walk (run) on the water. We also spotted several beautiful birds, a baby sloth and a few white-faced monkeys. The stillness of the early morning and the knowledgeable guide made this a wonderful experience.

After a boat ride back to the Cana Blanco dock we set off for another day of adventure – not necessarily the one we had planned!