Tortuguero is a village in the North East of the province Limón about 80 km north of the Caribbean city Limón in Costa Rica. It is the entrance of Tortuguero National Park which is one of the most popular parks of Costa Rica.

Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica

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The village of Tortuguero was founded in 1930 when a Colombian family settled in the area. The exploitation of the rainforest around Tortuguero began in 1940. In order to facilitate the transport of the timber canals were dug. Today there is little of primary forest left in the area. The largest part of the vegetation consists of secondary forest. In 1975 the national park was created to protect the area. As a consequence, a growing number of sea turtles nested on the long beach of Tortuguero. Tourism is the main source of income for the inhabitants of Tortuguero. The park has an area of 77,032 acres (31,174 hectares) of which 52,000 acres (21,000 hectares) in the Atlantic ocean.

Sandbanks form the coastal area as a result of sedimentation. The low-lying areas are exposed to short-term flooding by heavy rains causing lakes, grass marshes and wooded swamps of brackish water. Small tides, of about 40 cm height, also affect the coastal zone. Rivers and streams that have emerged in the hinterland flow through the park to a depth of 3 m. The lakes in the northern part of the reserve are fed by the Colorado River. The very high humidity of the tropical forests is caused by extreme rainfall and humid winds from the Caribbean. It is cloudy on more than 330 days per year.

A blooming orchid (Epidendrum nocturnum)

In Tortuguero are about 400 tree species and 2,000 plant species. The largest and oldest trees are the almond trees (Dipteryx panamensis). The wood of these trees is so hard that termites do not eat it and it is heavier than water. The almond tree is an important food source. In these trees nestle the rare buffon macaws (Ara ambigua), of which about 30 pairs are breeding here. The riparian vegetation is dominated by fig, mimosa, legumes of the pea family (Leguminosae, Pterocarpus officinalis, Prioria copaiifera) and Raphia palms. Many vines hang like curtains along the banks, such as the velvet bean (Mucuna pruriens).

About half of all bird species in Costa Rica (350) live here. The jaguar, puma, ocelot, tapir, manatee, peccary and many other mammals, including several species of bats, possums, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates live in this area. In Tortuguero three special monkey species are found: the mantled howler, the white-headed capuchin and the Central American spider monkey. The latter is most threatened for extinction. It lives here as it needs food from forest with a great diversity of plants. Other mammals, such as coatis, sloths and raccoons are seen here even as they prefer young secondary forest.

A Leatherback sea turtle on the beach

There are seven species of sea turtles on earth of which 5 come to Costa Rica and 4 to Tortuguero to lay their eggs. All species are threatened with extinction. Several thousands of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) come from June to October to lay their eggs. The average female lays 110 eggs which have an incubation period of 2 months. The few that survive return to Tortuguero after 25 to 50 years.

The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), which can grow to more than 2 m, comes between February and June. This big sea turtle has a less hard shell than other sea turtles. The shell consists of small bone chips and is coated with a substance which is reminiscent of leather. The leatherback turtle is a diver and eats jellyfish. Plastic bags are their downfall, because they confuse it with jellyfish. Approximately 100 females come to Tortuguero. Other important breeding areas are Playa Grande (Pacific) and Manzanillo (Caribbean) in Costa Rica.

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