We drove from Cariari into the back of beyond on Thursday morning to La Pavona, getting out first real experience of banana plantations along the way. Being no fan of the big banana corporations (I have been a loyal customer of the Dominican Republic when it comes to bananas for 21 years now… ever since I read an article in the Sunday Times) I was dismayed to see Dole Corporation farm number 3….. Oh well….

There’s nothing at La Pavona, just a bit of a beach on the river where the boats for Tortuguero stop and a big open-sided building housing a ticket office, shop, and snack bar. Next to it is a car park. It cost us just under £30 to park for 4 days. We then went to buy our boat tickets and were astonished that the boat fare from La Pavona to Tortuguero (which took an hour and a half) was only £3.80 each. Plus 75p to go to the loo before setting off…..

The water level in the river was very low, with sandbanks and logs clearly visible in the river. We did get properly stuck once, at which point our driver jumped into the water to push us off the sandbank. This was a bit worrying as we’d seen one big crocodile on the river bank just a few minutes before. Luckily he got us unstuck and himself back into the boat without incident…..

Once we got close to Tortuguero we hit the big canal that runs parallel to the coast…. From there it wasn’t long before we were back on dry land.

Tortuguero village is basically on a narrow spit of land between the canal on one side and the sea on the other. We’d booked a hotel by the beach on the sea side, but when we got there, they didn’t have our online booking (not the first time this has happened in Costa Rica) so they put us in another hotel overlooking the canal for our first night. The couple who checked in just before us got a poor deal. They had also booked online, the hotel didn’t have their reservation either, and put them in the last available room for their first night, which was apparently seriously substandard… so we were glad that we hadn’t arrived 10 minutes earlier than we did. We got a nice room for the night, though the canal side of town was noisy first thing in the morning. The roller shutters at the café downstairs squeaked open at 5.15am, then the boat traffic started….. It was much quieter over on the beach side of town….

We did a few trips whilst there. We visited at the wrong time of year for the turtles on the beach, but we did a “canoe” trip (actually a small boat for 6 people), a kayak trip, and the night walk. The “canoe” and kayak trips were along waterways within the National Park, so entrance tickets had to be purchased separately. These were good for the day, so we had two afternoons wandering on our own along a path within the National Park looking for wildlife.

We saw lots of good stuff…. the three types of monkey at Tortuguero (howler, spider and white-faced capuchin), lots of birds, turtles, caiman, otters etc….

We did the night walk on our last evening. It wasn’t a proper night walk as I had envisioned it (I’ve done one before, in Ecuador: 4 tourists and 2 guides, one to explain things and the other a local guide scampering ahead to find things, heading down tiny paths in the jungle). This night walk involved a wide path (the main route to one of the lodges just outside town) and a bit of wasteland behind the village school. There were lots of groups of people out, maybe a hundred people all looking for wildlife along the same path. Nevertheless, we did see a couple of snakes in trees (both green vine snakes, one curled up, the other slithering along through the foliage in search of food), a red-eyed frog, spiders, lizards, and a small mammal that shot up a tree which the guide identified as a peeled-tailed fox (zorro cola pelada). Mark got a good view and said it did have a tail like a rat, though we haven’t managed to find a picture online yet of the exact creature he saw….

Overall, Tortuguero was well worth visiting….. Mark was particularly impressed by the brick-sized chunks of chocolate cake…

We were pleased that we’d stayed in the town rather than at one of the lodges outside town. These seemed to run their own boat tours (which I guess were included as part of a package deal as they also had their own boats doing transfers to/from La Pavona), in larger motor boats taking about 20 passengers. We soon learned the disadvantage of this – the best places to see wildlife are up the narrower channels. Also there’s an area we went to on both of our tours where no engines are allowed (our “canoe” had a small outboard motor to get us up the main channels but then we had to paddle using the oars provided…..). The bigger lodge boats can’t access these areas where the best wildlife was hanging out on both days we were there….. The “canoe” and kayak tours were well worth doing, not sure about the night walk. We’ll try to fit in another night walk before the end of our trip…..

Our boat ride upstream back to La Pavona and Reggie took 2 and a half hours. We retrieved Reggie from the car park and set off South then East back to the Caribbean coast.