“That is a caiman” whispers the guide. What man? I think incredulously, we’re in the middle of a jungle. He gestures with his paddle and I follow his line of vision. I take a sharp intake of breath as I make out a snout and two beady eyes. It’s a mini crocodile lying motionlessly on the surface of the water, a predator disguised as a fallen log.
I’m in Tortuguero National Park with Sarah, a fellow solo female backpacker I met in Monteverde a few days ago. We decided to venture out together through the backwaters of Tortuguero National Park without a guide.
It is dawn and the sunrise kisses the water, throwing dazzling rays of light. There is the gentle croon of animals rousing from their nests. My eyes dart left, right and centre as I try to immerse myself in the surroundings. But I can’t see any animals…!
My aim is to spot a sloth, the world’s slowest (yet most adorable) mammal. We paddle hard in pure excitement, intent on venturing deeper into the canals whilst enjoying the smooth glide of the kayak cutting through the water.
“We don’t need a guide. We decided we’d guide ourselves!” It saved us $20.00 on our backpacker budget. We attract some odd glances as we paddle away from camera cladding tourists, in pursuit of our own adventure.
With a 3 hour window to spot wildlife, our bubbling enthusiasm started to dwindle. We came to realise that the guides knew exactly where to look. We begin to drift towards a smaller, non-motorised boat. The guide gives us a wave and a smile. He gestures towards the undergrowth for us to peer closer. For the rest of the time in Tortuguero, the guide takes us under his wing, as we follow his boat through the twists and turns of the backwaters whilst spotting wildlife with his help.
The jungle is buzzing with life. The chirping, the gentle swirl of water, the hundred years of fallen leaves and outgrown trees. It makes me feel more alive. Civilisation and life is right here away from the cities.
We paddle back together towards Tortuguero Village, grinning from ear to ear whilst taking part in beginners’ kayak racing.
We return back to our cheap room where we have a long and lazy afternoon together with coconuts and hammocks.
- Accommodation – if you search online, only expensive lodges come up with availability. We took a chance by turning up without a place to sleep and a “park guide” (Oscar) asked us if we needed help. We followed him and he led us to Balcon Del Mar, a basic but cheap private room with balconies and a hammock!
- Food – Soda El Almendro provides delicious and cheap food. The best meal I had in Tortuguero and the cheapest (approximately £4.00 / $6.00).
- Money – Tortuguero does NOT have a ATM, the village can only be reached by air or water. If you run out of money, you can do a cashback transaction at one supermarket in the town, however they charge a 10% fee for this. Come with cash!
- Equipment – We rented kayaks for $20.00 for 3 hours. The National Park fee is an additional $15.00. To kayak with a guide, it is $40.00 + the National Park fee. We booked the kayaks just 1 day in advance.
- Wildlife – We were told that the best time to spot wildlife was in the morning so we opted to collect our kayaks at 6:00am.
- Transport – You can reach Tortuguero by x2 buses and a boat for under $10.00. From San Jose, take a bus to Cariari. PLEASE NOTE! You need to go to a different bus station at Cariari. It is situated just round the corner. A great guide on how to take the bus is here. It is then a 2nd bus from Cariari to La Pavona then a boat to Tortuguero.
- If you have any other questions, feel free to comment here or email me.