Twice the Enjoyment in Two Trips
I recently had a chance to travel to Tortuguero, Costa Rica — not once, but twice. My first trip was for three days, the third week in October and my second three-day visit was the following week. I traveled with two different groups of friends, and our guide each time was Randall Ortega Chaves from Costa Rica Birding Journeys, located in Tarcoles.
We were incredibly lucky to visit Tortuguero at a very unique time. On both occasions, we did not see any other tourists outside of our group. In pre-COVID-19 times, Tortuguero was a very popular tourist destination with upwards of 500 tourists per day. So these recent visits gave a sense of taking a step back in time. It was a rare opportunity to be there in the midst of just the wildlife and no other humans. It was spectacular!
Both trips started out early in the morning from the same departure point, Jacó Walk in Jacó, via the travel van Randall owns. We stopped on the way to see the views at Río Sucio and to give everyone a break to stretch our legs. Another necessary stop was to allow the passing of the “banana train” — a zipline device used to transport bananas from one side of the road to the other.
Upon arrival at the Tortuguero boat dock, we all loaded our luggage onto the boat and took a seat. The boat ride to our hotel, La Baula Lodge, took about an hour and provided some exciting first impressions of what awaited in Tortuguero. We had amazing views of osprey, jacana, kingfisher, lizards, herons, caiman and more.
Upon arrival at our hotel, we were assigned our rooms and welcomed with delicious fruit drinks. After a great lunch, which included vegetarian options, we headed out to the river for our first boat ride and beach walk. This boat ride presented some delightful views of sloths, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, peregrine falcons, puffbirds, gallinules and much more. Our return boat trip to the hotel was followed by dinner and drinks, then afterwards a riveting presentation by our guide on photography and Tortuguero.
I spent a lot of the free time available walking the trails at the hotel. What I was able to see there was a treat: white-collared manakins, a slaty tailed trogon eating a huge flower, a gartered trogon relaxing in the trees and a cool river turtle, plus many spider and howler monkeys. During one of my walks, I was able to watch a family of howler monkeys, including a newborn. I also witnessed a toddler in the troop just learning how to howl. It was hysterical! His howl was very high-pitched and different from the father. I could not help but laugh at his attempts.
One night in Tortuguero, our group was able to go to the beach late at night to see a green sea turtle laying her eggs. No flashlights or photography were allowed as it disrupts the turtles. We watched as she laid her eggs and buried them, and then walked back out to sea. Seeing these endangered turtles lay their eggs is truly spectacular. I highly recommend adding this to your bucket list.
Trip two highlights
My second visit to Tortuguero offered some different experiences. First, our group had amazing views of the sungrebe, which I had never seen before. We also saw an anteater foraging in the trees above for termites in a high overhead termite nest. That was a highlight for me!
In addition, we got to see two bare-throated tiger herons together. As part of a courtship ritual, the male kept singing to the female. It is rare to see two tiger herons sharing space, so this was a special moment for me. It happened while walking on the beach in the town of Tortuguero on a mission to see the endangered great green macaws. Then that mission was accomplished when we encountered a group of about 12 of them hanging out at the beach the entire time we were there. It was a special goal of mine to get pictures of this magnificent bird, so I was thrilled.
During both return trips back to Jacó, our group stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Guarumo Lodge in Guapiles. Owned by Omar Chaves Aguilar, the restaurant is situated on a huge deck overlooking a river. It has feeders set up for the birds stopping by, which made our own restaurant stop a hit for everyone on both trips. The birds we saw at the feeder were stunning and unique, including honeycreepers, hummingbirds, tanagers, wrens, oropendola, orioles and more. I had patacones for lunch with a homemade fruit drink — both fabulous. The restaurant also serves craft beer for anyone interested. Omar also has a collection of unique bags and shirts for sale, featuring birds and various Costa Rica-inspired images. I purchased an amazing bag with a barn owl drawn on it.
Tortuguero is unlike any other destination in Costa Rica. I highly suggest visiting and experiencing its unique nature and wildlife. You will feel like you are in another world