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Tortuguero: Its People and History
The ParkTurtles and TortugueroThe PeopleTortuguero Now

TORTUGUERO National Park

This national park is located 50 Km (31.1 Miles) from Puerto Moín in Limon, and 30 Km. (18.6 Miles) from the town of Guapiles.

It is the third most visited national park in the country, and has one of the most internationally renowned wetland regions, named RAMSAR. This park is part of the Tortuguero Area of Conservation (ACTo), and has an area of about 3000 km2 (300000 hectares) that is spread throughout the cantons of Pococi, Guacimo and part of Sarapiqui.

The park, as said before, is composed of around 26,156 ha of land and 50,160 ha of sea space. The region has a great deal of biological diversity. Among the region you can find flooded Woods and swamps: both regions with high humidity and animal species on great worth. This area possesses canals and lagoons that go from the Northeast to the Southeast. These canals and lagoons are the hábitats for species like Manatees, crocodiles –easy to spot along the shores and waters of the canals, tropical gars –known to be “living fossils”, and birds like blue garzóns –the largest garzóns of the region, Northern Jacanas, and Great Curassows. There is also a large population of sea turtles that come to the region to lay their eggs. There are a total of 57 species of amphibians, and 111 species of reptiles. Tortuguero also gives home to 60 species of mammals and 30 species of freshwater fish.


The first inhabitants of Tortuguero were considerably similar to the Mayas of Mexico. They would live in this region, hunting, fowling, and fishing to survive. These first people would also slay and eat sea turtles that would come to nest in the area, cultivate roots like yuca, and harvest peach palm fruits, which were abundant in the region.

These first inhabitants would build spacious cone-shaped sheds with hay and palm leaf roof. These first houses would have enough shelter for two or three whole families.

In Costa Rica, the Northern coast of the Atlantic was part of the Great Mayan Route of Commerce that went from Mexico to nearly all the regions of Central America.

The Mayan Emperor sent out an exploration party to Nicaragua and Costa Rica to search for gold. Gold, an important metal to the Mayas for its luster and religous meaning, was found all throughout Mexico. Some of the gold mined out from Mexico ended up here in Tortuguero, where the first people made sacred figurines and decorations out of it.

Turtles and Tortuguero:

“Tortuguero” or “Turtle Bougue” means “land of the Turtles”, and was named this way because of hundreds of Turtles that would come –and still come- to the region to lay eggs.

Green turtles have always been an important source of protein for the coastal people of this region. Long ago, green turtle meat and shells were also important trading goods in and out of the country.

During the Pre-Columbian era, the natives of this region would eat turtle meat and would use their fat as lard. After the XVIIIth century, merchant fleets would stop by Tortuguero regularly to fish before returning home.

Turtles were important in during this time because they were sources of food for long-term voyages. Turtle meat was durable as long as it was kept out of the sun and in a moist environment.

To satisfy American and European demand, turtle hunting increased and got to the peak of its productivity in the mid XXth century. Turtles that would go to Tortugero to nest were quickly and systematically killed for their goods.

The habit of hunting and extracting turtles in Tortuguero nearly lead to their complete extinction. Near the year 1960 the hunting of turtles ceased, as it became illegal under the Costa Rican Laws of Conservation.

Nowadays, the locals are allowed to capture and kill two turtles per week during their nesting season. It is through this sort of regulations that locals are still given the permission to eat what they would typically while the turtles are protected.

Tortuguero's People

Aside the fact that Tortuguero is a distant, isolated region, it has provided a decent, easygoing lifestyle for its locals. It is thanks to this that most locals have desired to stay in this tropical paradise.

In the past, and before the main canals were built, people would live in small, single story houses –some of which are still lived in today! During the time of when there was a lumber mill running nearby, some built two story buildings out of rough, poorly sanded wooden planks that would come from this mill.

During the time when Tortuguero had a lumber mill, all the locals of Tortuguero would work long hours cutting wood and dragging it to the mil. Their shifts would start at 4:00 a.m. when the women of the town would prepare breakfast for the men that would go off to labor. These men would work until 7:00 p.m. when they would return from their jobs weary and worn.

In the weekends, all the locals of the town would come together to party and dance. They would play instruments day and night, turning to tin cans filled with grain and combs wrapped with paper for music when instruments like the guitar and drums would fail.

During the “lumbering era” of Tortuguero, it wasn’t always possible to get medical help in the town. When it was impossible to find help in the city, they would have to use traditional remedies. Local cures for snake bites and mechete cuts were found in town during this time. The locals believed in their medicinal practices, telling foreingers that they could heal anything.

When the lumbering factory went bankrupt, the families in Tortuguero went back to thier traditional way of life; fishing sábalo, snook, snapper, sea bass and crappie, and hunting White-faced monkeys, lowland paca, and manatees. They also kept a few cows and pigs as livestock, and started to harvest yucca, name, and Creole bananas in small openings in the forest.

To earn Money, the people of Tortuguero would harvest coconuts, cultivate rice, and hunt crocodiles, caimans, and wildcats to obtain their skins and meat. The people of Tortuguero also turned to turtle hunting once more.

Tortuguero Now

With the last lumber mill being shut down in 1972, the population dwindled down to a few hundred inhabitants. Only the oldest families of Tortuguero and the most recent newcomers would stay.

The town went back to its old ways. Some of the most passionate lumberers would continue to cut wood along the canals of the region. They would make the fallen logs float back to the villaje, where they would make a raft out of them and would make a dangerous 80 kilometer (49.7 mile) voyage through the sea to Limón.

The construction of more canals that would connect Limón, to Tortuguero and Barra de Colorado would make progress easier in our region. Traveling through the Atlantic Ocean was far more dangerous than traveling through these new canals since the climate in the Ocean was inconsistent and hazardous. Traveling through the canals would make voyages less dangerous.

In 1972, three public telephones were put in the town, and in 1979 the government created a public transportation system that would take people out of the town two times a week. In 1972 the national park was made, and the first power generator in Tortuguero was installed in 1982.

NOWADAYS, Tortuguero has a population of approximately 1800 inhabitants. The town has all the basic services, aside an elementary school a high school, a daycare center, a health center, supermarkets, Souvenir shops, Cabins, Restaurants, a few churches, a museum (SCT), a dance club, and even Internet services! The region is visited by thousands of travelers that come with hopes of seeing a great sea turtle nesting on the shore, as well as spotting exotic birds, caimen, and even tropical gar. Travelers also wish to spot monkeys in the trees and the perfect beauty of a green macaw sitting by the great Tortuguero Lagoon!