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Costa Rica: Arenal, La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Tortuguero, Villa Blanca Cloud Forest
Tortuguero, Costa Rica: Of canals, waterways and pristine rainforest
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Tortuguero is a village in Limon Province, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Part of Tortuguero National Park, it’s on a rainforest-covered sandbar whose beaches are a major nesting site for green turtles. Tortuguero’s dense jungle maze of winding canals reminds the visitor of the Amazon. A boat ride on the brown waters is indeed an awe-inspiring experience as also mingling with the locals who bring with them Afro-Caribbean influence in style and cuisine.
I was leading a group of 16 consisting of friends and relatives on a tour to Central America. We took a flight from Panama City and landed at San Jose, Costa Rica at around 4 in the afternoon. The plan was to take the charter flight straight after landing and reach Tortuguero the very same evening. Planning is one thing and what actually happens is another.
We landed at San Jose at the time when many other planes, loaded with tourists had just arrived. The line at the immigration was at least a km long. It took us almost 3 hours to get our immigration cleared. By the time we came out, it was dark and because night landing at Tortuguero airstrip was not possible, we had to stay back for the night and fly out the next morning.
There was another shocker. The charter company was not sure if they would be flying out the next morning. Which means, we would be driving for at least 5 hours to our destination! We would know about the situation only later that evening. Fingers crossed!
For our trip in Central America we were in very able hands of Viaventure, a local tour operator, specialising in Central America. Thanks to them, it was possible to make the last minute changes on arrival. Viaventure have an excellent team and above all, they are connected with very learned and enthusiastic tour guides. The guides sure make your day. Our guide during all our days in Costa Rica was Karla Taylor Martinez. She had spent many years in the forests of Costa Rica and knew the region by heart. If given a choice, pick her as your tour-guide!
For the night we were put-up in a small, but comfortable hotel atop a hill. The views in the morning were absolutely stunning. The good news was waiting for us at the breakfast table. The flight was on.
Two 12-seater planes were waiting for us on the side of San Jose’s domestic airport. After strict checking by the security staff, we were ready to board our small planes to Tortuguero. The hour’s flight took us over picturesque landscape, live volcano and mystical clouds. We landed at a little airstrip quite adjacent to the Caribbean coast on one side and the main canal on the other. It was about 9AM.
A private boat took us from the airstrip to the hotel’s jetty. For the night we were booked at Aninga Lodge.
Soon after getting our rooms, we were ready to explore the area’s most prominent feature – its National park. Boats took us to the entrance of Tortuguero National Park from where the group was divided in two – 8 people each in 2 smaller boats. With a guide and the oarsman also on board, we would be spending 2 to 3 hours negotiating the canals.
The National Park protects 19,000 hectares with elevations from 0 to 390 meters (0 to 1280 feet) at the top of Cerro Tortuguero. The habitats represented here are beach, estuary, marine, freshwater riverine, and tropical lowland rainforest.
The area protected by Tortuguero (turtle catcher) National Park was an archipelago of volcanic islands until alluvial sediments from the interior mountains filled in the spaces and formed a network of marshy islands. Sand piled up where the river deposited land met the sea, and the turtle nesting beaches of Tortuguero formed. The exceptionally high rainfall, and rich environment where the freshwater meets the sea makes the beaches, canals, lagoons and wetlands of Tortuguero areas of exceptional biodiversity and opportunity for nature lovers.
We were back at our hotel for lunch. After resting a while, we were ready for the boat again that will take us for a 'coconut tour' across the canal to Cloide's farm and village. Cloide is the great-grandson of Tortuguero’s first inhabitant, and he generously shared his memories of this remote area before the arrival of tourism. Under the shade of his riverside garden, he shared his knowledge about Tortuguero's history and the importance of the coconut to the economy. Thereafter, we learned the techniques to peel and open a coconut to extract the milk and make coconut oil. After a brief adventure with Cloide, we walked the village mingling with local street vendors and visiting a handful of souvenir shops.
That evening Aninga Lodge were kind enough to create a private space for us to enjoy our drinks and delicious dinner. The next morning we were back at the airstrip to take our charter flight to San Jose. Straight from the airport, a bus would take us to Arenal via La Paz Waterfall Gardens.
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