How to get to Tortuguero

Tortuguero is a wonderful place to visit on vacation. Whether you are visiting a couple of days or staying for a week, its wide range of adventure tours will amaze and entertain you. The Tortuguero National Park is an internationally renowned attraction due to its vast diversity of flora and fauna — in fact, it’s the most biodiversity dense area of Costa Rica, a beautiful country full of nature and protected natural sanctuaries. 

But how do you get to Tortuguero?

Located in the northern part of the country, in the Caribbean coast, the Tortuguero National Park takes up 120 square miles. This protected area is only accessible by boat or plane. Remember to bring comfortable, light clothes, and rain protection; as well as cash, because there are no banks in Tortuguero (and while there is an ATM, it can be out of service). Check out more recommendations about what to bring to Tortuguero.

The first step is to arrive at San José. Once in San José, the most popular way to get to Tortuguero is to travel north through land. At la Pavona, the road ends and it’s time to take the boat.

How to get to Tortuguero

By Car

The trip from San José to La Pavona by car usually takes 2 hours and 45 minutes.

San José – Guápiles

The first step is to take road 32 to get to Guápiles, in the province of Limón, about 46 miles from San José. This road goes through the Braulio Carrillo National Park, which is one of the largest in Costa Rica. The road is in many areas surrounded by deep forest, it is mountainous and humid, often rainy and foggy. Travel patiently in the mountains, as there are many curves along the way.

The trip will usually take about 1 hour and a half. Once in Guápiles, you are already halfway there. This is the best location to grab gas, as gas stations are scarce from here on.

Guápiles – Cariari – La Pavona

From Guápiles, travel further north on Route 247 to Cariari, a small town about 14 miles north. Cariari is a growing town in a very rural area. It is very hot and humid.

Then, travel from Cariari to La Pavona, an 18.5 mile trip. About 4 miles north from Cariari, turn left at Campo Dos. 4.5 miles later, you will reach Cuatro Esquinas. Keep going through the gravel road for about 9 miles, and you will reach La Pavona. There, daily parking spots are available, as well as other services. More detail on this later.

By Bus

The trip from San José to La Pavona by bus usually takes 1 hour and a half. The total cost for the busses per person is around $5-6.

San José – Cariari
In San José, take the San José – Cariari bus at Gran Terminal del Caribe (tel. 2222-0610). The ticket must be purchased inside the terminal. The busses leave at 06:30 AM, 09:00 AM, 10:00 AM, 10:30 AM, 01:00 PM, 03:00 PM, 04:30 PM, 06:00 PM, and 07:00 PM; however, you should take the bus before 1:00 PM in order to arrive on time to the next services. The San José – Cariar bus costs ¢1325 ($3), and the trip is about 1 hour and a half. You can also take a bus to Guápiles, and from there, to Cariari. Be sure to arrive to Cariari before 3 PM, as there are no busses to La Pavona later.
Cariari – La Pavona
Once in Cariari, walk 500m north to get to the Coopetraca terminal to take the next bus, which takes you to La Pavona. However, this bus usually waits right outside the Cariari terminal where you arrived. You can ask a local guide or worker to tell you where you can take the bus. There are supermarkets, toilets, and shops nearby. The Cariari – La Pavona bus costs ¢1025 ($2), and the trip is about 45 minutes. During the trip, you can watch the traditional banana plantations on both sides of the road.

Please remember to watch your luggage at all time, especially if you place it on the overhead compartment of the bus, and don’t leave it unattended in bus stops or terminals.

La Pavona

La Pavona is the main pier area that will take you to Tortuguero, with available safe parking spots (at around $10 per day), a restaurant, toilets, waiting area, and boat services. Here is where all cars, busses and private transportation services arrive.

The public boats cost ¢1600 ($4), and leave at 7:30 AM, 10:30 AM, 1:00 PM, and 4:15 PM, so be sure to arrive early or before 4PM. Private boats are also available during the day and later, at a higher cost, usually around $30. The trip is about 1 hour and 15 minutes, through beautiful Canal waters.

Canales Tortuguero

By Plane

The fastest and easiest way to get to Tortuguero is by plane. Several local airlines offer planes from San José, usually from the Juan Santamaría International Airport to the Tortuguero Airport.

Private Transportation

Private shuttles are also available, going directly from San José to La Pavona. Some services also include private boat transfer from La Pavona to Tortuguero.