Most people don't know that they can get to Tortuguero pretty easily from the capital of San Jose for
as little as $8 US Dollars.
Here how you do it:
The fastest and most convenient option to get to Tortuguero is:
1. Get to the "Terminal Gran Caribe" (aka "Caribeños") Bus Station in San Jose
2. Take the bus at 9:00 am for CARIARI (2 hours, $ 3.50)
3. In Cariari, walk 500 meters north to the old bus station
4. Take the bus at 11:30 am for La Pavona (aka "Rancho El Suerte") (1 hour, $ 2.00)
5. In La Pavona take the boat (it will be waiting for the bus) to Tortuguero (1-2 hours, $ 3.20)
There are other options and pretty in-depth details below.
From the airport
If you are coming straight from the Juan Santamaría Airport, the easiest way is to take a taxi for
about 20 USD (US Dollars) to the Terminal Gran Caribe Bus Station.
A much cheaper, and slightly more complicated option is to take one of the many public buses that
run from directly outside of the airport to San Jose Central (just ask the driver if they go to San José
Centro), and then either:
1) taking a taxi to the Terminal Gran Caribe Bus Station. (it will cost about 4 USD from here)
2) walking to Terminal Gran Caribe Bus Station (see map below)
From Terminal del Caribe Bus Station to Cariari
First step: Find Terminal del Caribe. This bus station is commonly
referred to as "Caribeños". All taxi drivers will know how to get there
and your hotel will be able to give you directions. You can also take a
look at this map.
The buses that leave from here are very modern, secure, and
comfortable. They have under carriage compartments to stow your
luggage which locks and is monitored by bus station personnel when it
is open while loading.
Go to the ticket counter inside the building and buy a ticket for the 9am or 10:30am bus going to
“CARIARI.” It will cost 1800 colones (about 3.50 USD). The 9am bus will result in a 5 hour total trip
to Tortuguero and you will arrive at about 2pm. The 10:30am bus will result in a total trip of about 6
1/2 hours and you will arrive at around 5pm. The later buses will not get to Cariari in time to catch
the last boat to Tortuguero (which leaves at 3pm) and you will have to stay the night in Cariari (not a
real nice city). The 1pm direct bus to Cariari probably will make it to Cariari in time, but sometimes it
doesn’t, so it would be a risk. Better to take the earlier buses.
This bus will take you to Cariari. This is an amazing trip crossing the
country through the high rain forests of Costa Rica, and Braulio Carillo
National Forest, so get a window seat if possible, the views are
incredible. The trip will last about 2 hours.
Click Here to see Google Map Directions.
The bus will stop at various places. Stay on the bus until the very last stop which is Cariari. You will
know it is the last stop when everybody jumps up to get off. You can also ask anybody if you are in
(Note: don’t leave your bags unattended in Cariari as they will likely be stolen).
If you can’t get to the Caribeños Bus Station by 10:30am you can still take a direct bus to GUAPILES
that leaves every 45 minutes or so from the same bus terminal (duration 1 hour 15 minutes) and
then in Guapiles take a local bus to Cariari (duration 45 minutes). That option takes about 2 hours
(sometimes longer). Don't forget you will need to be in Cariari BEFORE 3:00pm to be able to catch
the last bus to La Pavona. If you get there later, you will have to stay the night in Cariari, here are
some hotels in Cariari.
If you are traveling to Tortuguero from other parts of the country besides the capital, San Jose,
check out thispretty nifty nation-wide online bus schedule.
Cariari to La Pavona Boat Launch
Cariari is a rapidly growing town, but does not have much to offer a visitor. For
most independent travelers it is the gateway to Tortuguero. There are a few
hotels here in case you arrive in the evening and have to wait until the next day
to take the boat to Tortuguero.
Next walk about 500 meters to the OLD bus station where you will buy a ticket
to La Pavona (now also called El Rancho El Suerte). It costs 1000 colones.
(about 2 USD). Buses leave the OLD bus station from Cariari at 6am, 11:30am,
Sometimes the bus to La Pavona will stop by the NEW bus station
about 30 minutes early to pick up tourists before going to the OLD bus
station to pick up the masses. I have never really trusted this option,
but many of the local guides swear it is a consistent option, and it is
nice to get on the bus and get a seat before everybody else fills it up.
Just make sure you are waiting in front of the yogurt shop along the
main road so the bus will see you and stop. Otherwise you will have to
run to the OLD bus station to catch it before it leaves for La Pavona.
If you took the 1pm bus from San Jose and got to Cariari shortly after the last bus to La Pavona has
left at 3pm, then you can get a taxi to take you to La Pavona for around 30 USD. The driver will have
to catch up to the bus before it gets to La Pavona, because the boats leave shortly after the public
bus arrives. If you arrive in Cariari later than 3:30pm, you will not be able to make the boats to
Tortuguero. There are no sleeping accommodations at La Pavona so stay in Cariari for the night.
The bus ride takes about an hour. This is an interesting ride through
the banana plantations and the 'banana towns' that were first
developed and operated by the United Fruit Company.
The bus ends right at La Pavona boat launch. There is a newly built
‘Ranchero’ restaurant and parking lot there, so the locals also refer to
the boat launch as El Ranchero El Suerte.
Boat from La Pavona to Tortuguero
You can grab a bite to eat and use the restroom for a small fee at La
Pavona (El Suerte).
Go to the cashier at the restaurant under a sign that says ‘boletos’
and buy a boat ticket for Tortuguero. Your receipt is your ticket. It
currently costs 1600 colones (about 3 USD). There are two boat
companies, Clic Clic and Coopetraca. The ticket is valid for both and
they both share revenue, so there is not any pressure to choose any
particular boat company.
The boats leave La Pavona shortly
after the public bus arrives (usually
around 7:30am, 1pm and 4:30pm,
Arrival in Tortuguero
The boat trip takes about and hour and 15 minutes. It will
take longer if the river is low. During the dry seasons
(September-October or February-April) the boats may take
two hours or more to arrive in Tortuguero.
For the first 45 minutes or so you wind along through the
jungle on the River Suerte. Then Rio Suerte runs into
Tortuguero river which is very wide. You will pass next to
Tortuguero Hill, which is the highest point on the Caribean
coast (119 meters high). The boat will stop at a little village called San Fransisco and various places
along Tortuguero River and let off locals who live on the outskirts of Tortuguero.
Next you arrive in Tortuguero. The main dock (’muelle central’) is really just a little beach area next to
a large Gavilan tree. If you want to book tours, right to your left is the guide association’s office. They
also have a map of the village (the same one here) so you can find your accommodations.
Welcome to pure life paradise!
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