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Published: July 13th 2018
Tortuguero beach where the turtles nest
Tortuguero means “turtle hunter” but there’s very little of that happening in the town (more of a village) of the same name these days. Tortuguero is THE place in the Western hemisphere to see nesting turtles and the people here are wise to the tourism opportunities that this brings – virtually everyone here is involved in the turtle tourism business. There are however still some turtle hunters around, but these aren’t human. There is a decent jaguar population in the surrounding area and according to estimates we saw about 100 turtles are killed each year by them.
There is a national park in Tortuguero, but it’s tough to access much of it as the area is thick jungle by the coast and there are no roads. Just to get here you need to take a 1 hour boat trip from the very small settlement of Pavona, which is itself 2 bus rides from San Jose. Alternatively you can fly in directly to the town. The park is right on the edge of town and we self-guide about 3km into the jungle. We're told it's mot safe to go further due to the jaguars. We need to rent wellies as the
Leaf cutter ants at work
path is very wet (it rains a lot here the whole year round) and we see monkeys and plenty of birds, but no jaguars. The insect life is probably the best thing here; the leaf-cutter ants are everywhere and we see a yellow tree snake, plenty of lizards as well as a few spiders. People we met saw an anteater but we didn't.
The highlight of our visit is, of course, the turtle tour. These happen every night in 2 sessions, one at 8pm and the other at 10pm. Each tour group is allocated a numbered beach (there are 6) and you take your chances as to whether there is a turtle nesting in your area. The nesting season only starts in July so we were doubtful if we would see one (in another month’s time they are almost guaranteed), but we are very lucky and see a green turtle laying eggs. Other people we met weren’t so lucky. One Japanese guy we spoke to went on 2 separate nights and didn’t see any turtles. In rains heavily on our tour and as you need to wear dark clothing (my rain jacket is orange) we both get soaked. You
are also not allowed to take torches or cameras on the tour so no pictures, but it is an incredible experience right out of a David Attenborough documentary and perhaps, for me, the highlight of Central America so far.
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