Domain of Dinosaurs – Tortuguero
If you expect a scary creature to emerge from the jungle pressing close to your small boat, you’d be forgiven. Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica feels that remote – because it is. A rainforest national park designed to embrace canals and channels connecting the interior to the ocean, it’s protected for its wildness and breadth of creatures found few other places in the world. Four species of sea turtles lay their eggs on its beaches.
Costa Rica contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity, while it has less than .03% of the its land mass. Located within 8⁰ and 12⁰ of the equator, the climate is distinctly tropical at sea level. The country’s central ridge of mountains concentrates significant (in feet) rainfall and river runoff on the Caribbean side. The jungle thrives in it and much of that diverse animal, reptile, bird and plant life call it home.
You reach Tortuguero (“full of turtles”) by air, occasionally. The single airstrip only handles very small planes, and often storms or wind make it inaccessible. The reliable means of transportation is by shallow-draft boat, and even those can be challenged at the end of dry season by low river flow.
The reason to go is twofold – for the wildlife, birds and plants, and to push yourself outside your comfort zone. If you want to see (and hear) howler monkeys in their natural habitat or watch sloths hang out being sloths or see toucans and parrots flash brightly through the vegetation, find yourself a sharp-eyed guide and take to the water. You’ll also spy caimans (like small alligators), lizards and iguanas, spider monkeys, and (cue the tears for many) sloths!
The list of critters and flowers is too long to post here; suffice to say we got used to putting our heads on pivot every time our guide killed the motor, narrowing our eyes to find what he noticed as readily as you or I see a stop sign on the street. Trust me, they were not always easy to find, and how Primo (our boat driver with eagle-like vision) could do it so easily was a source of constant amazement.
What to expect: Heat and humidity and no A/C. No ‘going to town’ on your own unless you hire a boat. No hiking unless it’s along the Caribbean beach because the jungle is thick, snakes are plentiful, and you’d probably fall into the next canal before you’d see it without hacking your way through with a machete (which is illegal). No swimming in said wild water because of strong rip currents and strong ocean currents – but there are pools on most resort properties. They provide great food too!
What you’ll get out of it: A true appreciation for how wild the world was long ago and still, lucky for us, is in some rare places. It reminds us of why and what we need to protect about wilderness, not only the creatures that live in it but the rejuvenation it can bring us poor humans from our daily toils. Being this off the grid and wild, Parque Nacional Tortuguero, part of the Puerto Limon Rainforest, challenges you to be your best self, no complaints and no whining, to take advantage of one of the few places outside of an amusement park where you have no doubts that once upon a time, dinosaurs really did stomp out of the jungle.
What’s the wildest natural place you’ve ever visited, the one that pushed you furthest outside your comfort zone? Why did you feel the way you did?