Tortuguero is a tiny village on the north Caribbean coast which is pretty difficult to get to. There is no road to the village; you must take either a boat or a plane to visit this hidden corner of Costa Rica.
A ramshackle collection of houses and huts are arranged along a winding path. Residents sit on steps of houses, watching with curiosity as we scrambled from our boat into the village. The land around Tortuguero is waterlogged in the wet season, the houses perched on stilts to keep them above the waterline. As we wandered through the village, Nicola peeped into shops at locally-made jewellery, carved out of coconuts, and made with shells from the surrounding beaches.
On one side of the village is a long, expansive, and completely unspoilt stretch of Caribbean beach. Emerging from the trees onto the sand you feel like you’re the first person ever to set foot there. The beach is one of the few remaining nesting sites for turtles in the area. Every year between July and September, thousands of turtles return to lay eggs on the beach. We were there in May, but conservation projects continue year-round to preserve the turtles’ habitat.
Our home for three days was a lovely little lodge just outside the village, set between the canal and sea. A tropical paradise of palm trees and bromeliads, we stayed in a little cabin which backed onto the forest. The setting was beautiful, although the humidity was inescapable. Even after showering you couldn’t dry off; there was simply too much moisture in the air. We soon found the best way to cool off was a dip in the pool. While there, three of the tourists from the US clambered into the pool and started explaining loudly to each other how school dinners in the UK work. We listened with great interest, learning an awful lot about our home country in the process. Thanks, American tourists.
Laguna Lodge specialises in local cuisine, which is lovely, but severely lacking in variety. Breakfast is ‘gallo pinto’, a lightly-spiced mix of rice and black beans. For lunch, rice and beans are mixed with coconut milk, and for dinner it’s a choice of chicken or fish accompanied by further rice and beans. After a while we found it was best just to give in and accept that we won’t be able to avoid rice and beans.
The main reason we visited Tortuguero (other than for rice and beans) was to explore the incredible waterways. The national park’s hundreds of acres of jungle are crisscrossed by rivers, streams and canals. Just before sunrise we awoke and went on an early-morning adventure on the water. Gliding through the jungle in our small boat, we knew we were being watched by countless sloths, monkeys, birds and reptiles. High in the treetops we saw a sloth having his leafy breakfast, while below him howler monkeys swung around eating mangos and nuts. In just a few hours we saw hundreds of water birds, hummingbirds, macaws, lizards, caiman, and thankfully, not a single snake.
As we were beginning to return to the lodge, Nicola noticed a rustling in the trees. We watched as a troupe of white-faced capuchin monkeys crossed the stream. They each steadied themselves on a branch, then took a running leap from the branch, over the water onto a frond of palm tree on the other bank. Each monkey gracefully soared for a brief second, before crashing into the palm in a scrabbling flurry of arms and legs, then scurrying up the branch to join the rest of the family.
We’re not sure where they were going, but these little chaps must have one of the most scenic commutes in the world.