By Plane: Nature Air (www.natureair.com; tel. 800/235-9272 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2299-6000 in Costa Rica) has one flight that departs daily at 6am for Tortuguero airstrip from Juan Santamaría International Airport in San José. The flight takes about 30 minutes; the fare is $69 to $109 each way. The return flight leaves daily at 6:30am for San José. Extra flights are often added in high season, and departure times vary according to weather conditions. Many local lodges also run charter flights as part of their package trips. Arrange with your hotel to pick you up at the airstrip. Otherwise you’ll have to ask one of the other hotels’ boat captains to give you a lift, which they’ll usually do for a few dollars.
By Car: It’s not possible to drive to Tortuguero. If you have a car, your best bet is either to leave it in San José and take an organized tour, or drive it to Limón or Moín, find a secure hotel or public parking lot, and then follow the directions for arriving by boat below. La Pavona has a secure parking lot useful for those meeting the boats plying the Cariari and La Pavona route outlined below.
By Boat: Flying to Tortuguero is convenient if you don’t have much time, but a boat trip through the canals and rivers of this region is often the highlight of any visit. You’ll first have to ride by bus or minivan from San José to Moín, Caño Blanco, or one of the other embarkation points; then it’s 2 to 3 hours on a boat, usually with hard wooden benches or plastic seats. All of the more expensive lodges listed offer their own bus and boat transportation packages, which include the boat ride through the canals. However, if you’re coming here on the cheap and plan to stay at one of the less expensive lodges or at a budget cabina in Tortuguero, you will have to arrange your own transportation. In this case, you have a few options.
One option is to get yourself to Limón and then to the public docks in Moín, just to the north, and try to find a boat on your own. You can reach Limón easily by public bus from San José. If you’re coming by car, make sure you drive all the way to Limón or Moín, unless you have prior arrangements out of Cariari or Caño Blanco Marina.
If you arrive in Limón by bus, you might be able to catch one of the periodic local buses to Moín (C350) at the main bus terminal. Otherwise, you can take a taxi for around C8,000 to C10,000. At the docks, you should be able to negotiate a fare of between $65 and $100 per person round-trip with one of the boats here. They tend to depart between 8 and 10am every morning. You can stay as many days as you like in Tortuguero, but be sure to arrange with the captain to be there to pick you up when you’re ready to leave. The trip from Moín to Tortuguero takes between 3 and 4 hours.
It is possible to get to Tortuguero by bus and boat from Cariari. For backpackers and budget travelers, this is the cheapest and most reliable means of reaching Tortuguero from San José.
To take this route, begin by catching the 9 or 10:30am direct bus to Cariari from the Gran Terminal del Caribe, on Calle Central, Avenida 13 (tel. 2222-0610). The fare is C1,850. This bus will actually drop you off at the main bus terminal in Cariari, from which you’ll have to walk 4 blocks east to a separate bus station, known locally as “la estación vieja,” or the old station. Here, you can buy your bus ticket for La Pavona, also known as Rancho El Suerte. The bus fare is around C1,400. Buses to La Pavona leave at 6am, 11am, and 3pm.
A boat or two will be waiting to meet the bus at the dock at the edge of the river. These boats leave after a bus arrives, or when they fill up. The boat fare to Tortuguero is C1,850 each way. You can buy your ticket for the boat at the cashier of the very prominent (and only) restaurant at La Pavona. Return boats leave Tortuguero for La Pavona every morning at 6 and 11:30am, and 3pm, making return bus connections to Cariari.
Warning: Beware of unscrupulous operators providing misinformation by offering to sell you “packaged transportation” to Tortuguero, when all they are doing is charging you extra to buy the tickets described above. Be especially careful if people selling you boat transportation aggressively steer you to a specific hotel, claim that your first choice is full, or insist that you must buy a package with them that includes the transportation, lodging, and guide services. If you have doubts or want to check on the current state of this route, check out www.tortuguerovillage.com, which has detailed directions to Tortuguero by a variety of routes.
Finally, it’s also possible, albeit expensive, to travel to Tortuguero by boat from Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí. Expect to pay $400 to $600 each way for a boat that holds up to 10 people. Check at the public dock in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí if you’re interested. The ride usually takes about 3 to 4 hours, and the boats tend to leave in the morning.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.