Last update: June 20th, 2014
Unfortunately, like many travel destinations, Tortuguero has its share of hawkers and touts trying to sell tours, lodging and transportation. We hope to show you what is actually offered so you can make informed decisions. Travel smart, check with other traversas to the area and seek out all your options and you should have a very enjoyable and interesting visit to one of the most fascinating places on earth.
If you have any questions, suggestions or require more detail or help in communicating with one of the services listed below please contact Tortuguero Infocenter. Phone: (506) 2709-8055 or 8928-1169. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
How to get to Tortuguero?
The following is a summary of the options available to the independent traveller who wants to find his/her own way to Tortuguero village. These are not ALL of the ways and means to travel to Tortuguero but are the ones that are generally considered free of package-oriented or commission-paying options.
Privately run companies provide practically all transport in Costa Rica. In the case of Tortuguero, only buses and planes lucrative to the travel agencies who sell them. As a result, information about independent travel has unfortunately remained somewhat of a mystery and has been erroneously referred to as very expensive and even dangerous. You will see below that travel can actually be rather inexpensive and as long as one is responsible and respectful while remembering that they are travelling in a country which is probably less developed than their own, can be interesting, safe and adventurous. This information is updated constantly due to the inevitable changes and improvements to the infrastructure of this developing country. Many travelers have commented that they would have benefited from having known more about their options before coming to Tortuguero.
There are five ways an independent traveler can get to Tortuguero. Here they are in no particular order:
New Express way Service to Tortuguero!
Departs from San Jose around 6:00 AM arriving in Tortuguero around 12:30 PM
Departs from Tortuguero 2:00 PM arriving in San Jose around 6:30 PM
Price: $17 each way
*To reserve this service please send an email a couple of days in advance to email@example.com or call Victor at 8928-1169.
1. Via public bus and boat through Cariari and La Pavona:
This route requires a short introduction to eliminate some possible confusion you might encounter on the way. One source of the confusion comes from the fact that La Pavona does not yet appear on any map. Secondly, there are two transport companies that provide the boat transport along the Suerte river to Tortuguero but this is a public service, so they operates one day each other (today Clic Clic and tomorrow Coopetraca), and the price is 2,000.00 colones each way.
The boat operators use covered boats, they provide ponchos and a large plastic sheet to cover all the baggage. It is an adventure for all and generally quite safe (i.e. no white-water rafting!).
La Pavona is currently the most popular route used to get into/out of Tortuguero for both locals and independent travelers, it is also the safest and very most reliable way of transportation. There is nothing complicated or dangerous about travelling on your own to Tortuguero along this route but remember and prepared to meet up with hawkers or agents. The Costa Rican Institute has received many complaints regarding false or misleading information provided by these people which you will meet up with on all the bus stations; along the way and arrival in Tortuguero. Please be aware they willl try to sell you lodging and tours. Some people have been talked out of standing reservations for lodging and tours before arriving in Tortuguero, so you have to deal with this. Don't be afraid to be firm. You are the boss and you can travel and choose your hotel and guides of your preference, and if you FOLLOW THESE DIRECTIONS, the non commission-paying, hard-working independent guides and services in the village will appreciate it.
Public Bus Itinerary :
San Jose to Cariari- Caribeños Terminal
(2 hr ride)
Cariari to La Pavona
(1 hr 10 min)
La Pavona to Tortuguero
(1 hr ride)
6:30AM, 9AM, 10:30AM, 1PM, 3PM, 4:30PM, 6PM, 7PM
6AM, 9AM,11:30AM, 3PM
7:30AM, 11AM, 1PM, 4:30PM
Cariari a San Jose
La Pavona to Cariari
Tortuguero to La Pavona
7:30AM, 10AM, 1PM, 4PM
5:30AM, 9AM, 11AM,2:45PM
Take the 9:00 am direct bus to Cariari (about $3, other departures leave at 6:30 AM, 10:30 AM, 1:00 PM, 3:00 PM, 4:20 PM, 6:00 PM, 7:00 PM) from the Gran Caribeños bus terminal in San Jose. The 9:00 bus arrives at about 11:00 a.m. at the dedicated San Jose bus terminal in Cariari. You do not need to walk to Coopetraca bus station (which is about five bloks) since the Pavona bus now awaits for the buses coming from San Jose in order to pick up the tourists that go to Tortuguero. The cost for this bus ride to Tortuguero is 1000 colones; you will pay in the bus. The bus leaves to La Pavona at 11:30 AM. (There are departures also at 6:00 AM, 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM from the other bus terminal).
At the end of the bus ride you will reach a big Restaurant and parking lot called Rancho La Suerte. Here, you need to go to the restaurant counter to buy the boat ticket to Tortuguero which is 2,000.00 colones, then make your way to the river where the boats are waiting.
The boat departs from la Pavona at 7:30 AM, 11:00 AM, 1:00 PM, and 4:30 PM to Tortuguero, the boat ride is about 1 hr long. The boats and buses always wait for one another. *There is an early bus that leaves Cariari at around 6:00 am for La Pavona, this route makes the 7:30 AM boat conntection to Tortuguero. The last bus for La Pavona leaves at 3:00 PM.
The boats generally do not stop on the way to observe wildlife unless there is something in plain view on the river, so if you want to observe wildlife nothing beats a dedicated, slow early morning canoe tour through the water trails of the national park.
There is a return boat service that leaves for La Pavona at 5:30 AM, 9:00 AM, 11:00 AM and 2:45 PM. These boats meet up with the buses that make the return journey from La Pavona to Cariari. The boat leaving Tortuguero at 5:30 AM makes the most efficient outbound bus connections it will connect you to the 9:00 AM bus to San Jose (bus ride is about 2 hrs) to then make your bus connection to many other destinations in the southern Caribbean, Monteverde or la Fortuna allowing you to arrive before dusk.
Important Travelling information during sea turtle nesting season (Mar 1-October 31):
If you are traveling on the late bus (3:00 PM Pavona bus) and would like to go on the Turtle Tour on your arrival day please reserve ahead of time by contacting us before your arrival in Tortuguero since there is a cut off time (4:00 PM) for guides to get a tour permit for you.
2. By rental car via Cariari/La Pavona:
Please read the previous section for important information about this route (like buying your boat tickets etc.).
You must get to La Pavona (Rancho la Suerte) for the 7:30 AM, 1:00 PM or 4:30 pm boat to Tortuguero. Here you will find secure parking for a $10.00 fee per night. Remember that La Pavona is not on any map. You may follow the route from Cariari which passes through the villages of CAMPO DOS, CUATRO ESQUINAS and PALACIOS. There are some road signs that will help you find Campo Dos and Cuatro Esquinas and La Pavona and finally Rancho La Suerte.
First you will need to get to Cariari. You must first pass through Guapiles which is located on the San Jose-Limon highway. Exit to the north at the Santa Clara gasoline station just a few hundred meters east of the Burger King. At a point approximately 8.1 kilometers north of the Santa Clara Gasoline station you will reach a cross road. Turn left. Do not cross the tracks yet. Follow the train tracks west for approx. 0.7 kilometers and then turn right on the main highway (crossing the tracks) and continue north towards Cariari.
Set your odometer to zero at the only gas station in Cariari (200 meters past the single lane bridge coming into town). Drive straight for 7 kilometers and turn right onto the newly paved highway. There is usually a sign here indicating Campo Dos. Follow this PAVED road with all it's twists and turns until the pavement ends after the village of Cuatro Esquinas (approximately 14.5 km after the gas station). Follow the gravel road (Do not make any turns at road junctions!) until you reach the general store ("Abast Palacio") in the tiny village of Palacios on the right (23.4 km after the gas station). You can buy cold drinks and snacks here. 50 meters after the general store is a road going off to the left. Follow this sometimes bumpy road for 5.7 km (29.1 km after the gas station) until you reach the farm called La Pavona on your left. There is one more kilometer to get to Rancho La Suerte where there is a safe parking lot for a fee ($10 per night at time of writing).
Both Coopetraca and Clic Clic's boats will be waiting (at 7:00am, 1:00pm and 4:00pm).
Approximate driving time from San Jose to Cariari: 2 hours. Approximate driving time from Cariari to La Pavona: 1 hour. To reach the 1:00 pm boat you will need to leave San Jose at 9:30 am at the absolute latest. This will NOT leave time for mistakes or stops along the way if you want to have lunch etc.
If you have questions about these driving directions call or write to the Tortuguero Infocenter firstname.lastname@example.org