Costa Rica's Garden of Eden

Tom Shevill travelled on our Discover Costa Rica trip last April…

Nestled on a thin strip of land between the Caribbean Sea and channels of lagoons lies Tortuguero National Park - the land of turtles. The beaches here are home to some of the most significant turtle nesting grounds in the world, and the small national park home to a vast array of life.

The park itself covers 19,000 hectares with everything from caiman and poison dart frogs to Howler monkeys; even jaguars reside on this narrow strip of humid jungle.

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An hour’s exhilarating ride by shallow boat up the sandy banked river is the only way to reach your lodge. The ride offers tantalising glimpses of the local wildlife; Northern Jacana wade in the shallows and flights of Fiery-billed araçari swoop above the canopy. We even see a basilisk sharing a log with an Anhinga, sunning the morning dew out of its sodden wings.

The lodge, like everything here, sits directly on the river. We arrive at the dock with moisture baked onto our faces, the sound of the outboard motor ringing in our ears and big smiles. The group is greeted with a tray of ice-cold fruit juice of indeterminable nature, which could not have been better timed.

Taking inspiration from the jungle, the lodge has a certain Gaudiesque feel about it; mosaic frogs and turtles adorn the visitor centre and restaurant area. Within minutes you discover that the connection with nature isn’t confined to the artwork - the local wildlife seems as comfortable here as the guests.

Basilisks speed across the lawns with a strange waddling gait, crabs dart in and out of their burrows, bats roost in amongst the eaves of the lodges and there is even a resident racoon in the visitor centre!

The cabins fit nicely with the lodge’s ‘back to nature’ theme, made of rough-hewn wood and so balanced with the local environment that they almost look to have grown, rather than been built. Despite their rustic look, they are extremely comfortable rooms, and after a long day the bed is welcome.

At 6am the next morning, I experience something not soon forgotten as I am woken by the cacophonous chorus of Howler monkeys. The sound they make is an instantaneous reminder that it’s time to get up and enjoy this slice of paradise.

After a hasty breakfast we set out on the boats, exploring the channels and lagoons that act like aquatic highways for people and animas alike. It doesn’t take long to spot the local inhabitants; we see a Tiger heron lazily sunning itself on a post, its comically long neck unfurling right on cue.  There is even a glimpse of a huge Boa constrictor, gorged on its latest meal and warming itself on the banks of the lagoon. Oblivious, a troop of playful Spider monkeys perform acrobatics as they feed high in the canopy above.

An even less common sight comes next; perched high on a rotting treetop camouflaged with an almost impossible accuracy is a Great potoo - a rare and beautiful member of the nightjar family. It has long been a personal goal of mine to see these masters of stealth in the wild, and I’m amazed and overwhelmed that we manage to spot it.

The afternoon is spent learning about the importance of the turtle nesting grounds here, and the efforts to protect them at the conservancy centre. Despite the pitiful resources and mounting pressures, you are left with the unequivocal sense that the locals genuinely want to protect these magnificent creatures.

There is such diversity here that I already feel satisfied that I’ve seen some of the best of Costa Rica, and it’s only been two days! As I pack my bags to move on to the next destination, I am already making plans to visit again, perhaps next time in turtle nesting season!

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