Lizard in Tortuguero Costa Rica

Tortuguero, a Town with No Cars

I’m currently in a bungalow on the Caribbean coast putting this post together on a sweltering afternoon.  My door is open and children are singing and laughing next door.  I have a fan blowing in an attempt to dry at least a few articles of clothing that I hand-washed in the sink.  In a rain forest with humidity, this high nothing dries, including my hair after a nice cold shower.

Bills place in Tortuguero
Our home for a few days

We are on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica in the tiny village of Tortuguero, population 1,500.  The town is right next to one of the most visited national park, Parque Nacional Tortuguero. This town may as well be called Laid Back town.  Getting here is a mini-adventure in itself.

Path to Tortuguero
The path from San Jose to Tortuguero, the town with no roads. 5 hours and $8 per person.


We took a bus into San Jose then walked over to the Gran Terminal del Caribe where we caught the next bus to Cariari.  In Cariari, we transferred to another bus that would soon leave the pavement and wander through banana and coffee plantations and smaller towns, before arriving in La Pavona.  Here we caught a boat that would take us through the meandering rivers of Parque Nacional Tortuguero before finally arriving in the town of Tortuguero.

Boat ride to Tortuguero
Our connection in La Pavona

The river ride was fun and felt adventurous.  It rained but we stayed somewhat dry with the small canopy over our heads.  The guide slowed down at one particular section where two rivers converged.  He told us that 20 minutes up the other river was Nicaragua.

Boat ride on the canal in Tortuguero


The boat went right up onto a sandy beach and we dismounted from the front of the boat where Bill was waiting to meet us.  We had booked a small bungalow ahead of time through Airbnb.  It was called Bill’s Place.  Bill took us on a tour of the town, gave us a bit of history and a wealth of information on where to go, what to do, and how to save some money here.  The primary mode of transportation through town is either on foot or by bicycle.  The town is small and everything is easy to get to on foot.  There are no cars. That evening we wandered through the “roads” (sandy paths) to explore the entire town.

Dock in Tortuguero
This is downtown and the main road through town

Path in Tortuguero

The next morning we got up at 4:30 AM and walked 20 feet to the edge of the trees and then we were on the beach.  It was dark but our eyes slowly adjusted to it and we started looking for one-way turtle tracks.


Strewn all over the beach are pairs of turtle tracks. The first set of tracks is when the turtle comes out of the surf and trudges across the beach to the treeline in order to lay eggs, the other is for the trip back.  We kept a lookout for a one that did not have a return track yet.

In less than ten minutes, we were able to spot a mother green turtle covering her eggs in a hole she had dug by the tree line.  We watched her finish up and make her way back to the ocean.  Every few feet she would stop to rest, laying her head on the sand in exhaustion.

Turtle making her way back to the ocean in Tortuguero

We were walking back to our bungalow when we spotted one of the last baby turtles emerging from another nest trying to make it to the ocean before the sun rose.  He struggled desperately up every “mountain” (divots in the sand made by footprints).  Almost at the surf, he plummeted off the sand ledge onto his back (less than a foot below).

We wanted to help him but knew he had to do this on his own.  We only helped by keeping the birds away who were eagerly watching and waiting.  Finally, he made it to the surf, flipped a few times in the current, and then swam away.  Quite an effort for the little guy.

Baby turtle headed back to the ocean in Tortuguero
Hurry before the sun rises!


By 6 AM we were on the canal side of the peninsula of Tortuguero where we rented a kayak to spend the morning in.  Bill hooked us up with one of the local operators and we were able to rent a kayak for the entire morning instead of just two hours.  We explored channels through the rainforest and saw lots of spider monkeys, lizards and iguanas, birds, unidentified animals, and a three-toed sloth.

The sounds of the jungle were amazing.  Many guided tours start at 6 AM and end at 8 AM. After 8 AM we continued for a couple of hours without seeing another soul.  The rainforest is so alive, plants on top of trees, and animals in the treetops.

Tortuguero bird

Tortuguero canal

Back in our room, I took a cold shower (there is no hot water) to try to cool down, the afternoons are hot.  Since the animals lay low during this time we also took a nap.

During our evening walk on the beach, we saw quite a few baby turtles racing toward shore.  They were much faster than the one we saw this morning.  It makes me wonder how long our little late bloomer from this morning would last.



The next morning we took a walk through the rainforest in the pouring rain.  There were a lot of white-faced capuchin monkeys, some had babies on their backs, and a few aggressive alpha males.  The drumming of the rain hitting large and small leaves made a soothing background to the calls of the monkeys and songs of the myriad of birds.

snake in Tortuguero

Ants rule this place.  Bill can tell you about the telephone poles they ate through.  He had built a treehouse and used telephone poles for structural support.  Ants build their own little highways and given enough time they will even eat through your concrete home.


On our last evening, Bill built a small campfire and we spent the evening enjoying great conversation about places and ways of life.  Bill has lived an untethered life and enjoyed many places on this earth.  If we ever come back to Tortuguero we will definitely stay at Bill’s Place again.  It was almost sad leaving our little home here on the beach on our last morning.

bill in Tortuguero
Bill & Trin on our last morning in Tortuguero

I’m finishing this up back in San Jose. Since all roads lead to San Jose it is a stopover from many places to the next.  The internet is also stronger here so I can load the pictures.  Our boat out of Tortuguero almost didn’t make it back.  The little outboard motor kept stalling out giving us the opportunity to see more animals including a caiman as it slid into the water.  But it only added 30 minutes to our hour ride and we made it in time for the bus so no worries.  No one worries about anything here. Pura Vida.

4 thoughts on “Tortuguero, a Town with No Cars”

  1. Thank you for posting the pictures and telling us about your adventures. I’m so happy that you are able to go on these trips. Doug and I really enjoyed the pictures from Costa Rica. Can’t wait to see your next stop. Be safe! Love you.

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