“Under the natural light of the moon and stars only, we shuffled through the sandy beach as a group until our leader motioned to us that he had found a female turtle laying eggs just metres away.”
Last month I travelled to a country that had been on my wish list for years, Costa Rica. My trip to Latin America was part of a hosted press tour with a group of fellow travel journalists and bloggers. The 8-day itinerary that was created by the Costa Rican Tourism Board incorporated the country’s ‘best bits’ and I left the destination with a suitcase full of amazing memories and a desire to share as much of the experience as possible.
As someone whose travel choices are often swayed by the possibility of wild animal encounters, Costa Rica had everything and more to offer me personally and it was in the small coastal village of Turtuguero that some of the most enchanting and mesmerising encounters were experienced. Located on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica the eco-friendly village where the sea meets the rainforest is a bird watching mecca and exotic wildlife haven.
After spending a few days in the capital city of San Jose we set off deep into the rainforest by boarding a small aircraft that would lead us into the jungle. After a short 35 minute flight that saw us passing active volcanoes we arrived in Turtuguero. With no need for passport control or additional checks we stepped out of the aircraft and straight into our boat, the river that would guide us to the village was just meters from the runway. Once in our boat, luggage in tow, the reality of being deep in the rainforest came to life. With Guns n’ Roses ringing in our ears, it was a welcome to the jungle indeed!
To set the scene for you, countless birds swooshed and swooped overhead filling the vast skyline with colours a-plenty, only to disappear into the thick fringe of trees that lined the river. Monkeys howled from their tree-houses and the tremendous roars were a stark and invigorating contrast from the surprisingly calming buzz of insects.
Within twenty minutes of leaving the landing strip we arrived at our home for the evening, Pachira lodge. A modest and beautifully located resort rich in flora and fauna . Rooms here are large but basic, they provide well for an overnight stay and the lodge also features a bar and large swimming pool for guests to wind down in after a day out exploring. In a place like Turtuguero very little time is spent in your room, so as soon as our overnight bags were dropped off we headed straight back out on the water, this time trading in our boat for a kayak.
For me the most magical experience of being right in the thick of things is being as close to the nature as possible and actually feeling like you belong. As caymans and crocs also call the river their home swimming is not an option so the safest close-up interaction is via kayak. Once submerged we meandered our way into the thick mangroves streams that line the river bed and directed our heads up for most of the duration 😉 The calm waters are easy to navigate your way around and within moments of wading through the tress we spotted our first family of monkeys playfully jumping form tree to tree. The cheeky chaps who are thriving in their natural habitat pay no interest to the boats and boards beneath them and swing effortlessly across branches in search of their next meal, making the experience of watching on even more incredible.
As well as the monkeys, (of which we ended up seeing all three breeds that Costa Rica creates a safe haven for, the squirrel, spider and howlers) we were also lucky enough to spot a number of rare and beautiful birds including the famous toucan from our balanced seats in the water.
The edges of the river bed is where the most exciting action lies, creepy crawlies of all shapes and sizes and the most excitable sightings of caymans happen here. We were lucky enough to see some baby snappers in the shallow waters but after watching on and capturing the moment on film, our rowing arms went into overdrive and we speedily steered away, feeling quite unnerved that the mamma was probably close!
After a day of exploring with our cameras full of wildlife snaps and our necks strained and sore we headed back to the lodge for a quick dip in the hotel pool and a warm shower. We then set straight back out to the river to head upstream to the beach.
In the evenings the town comes to life, not, however, in the way you may usually suspect! Turtuguero is one of the few regulated destinations in the world that sea turtles chose to lay their eggs. Mammas line the beach creating safe nests and laying hundreds of eggs and babies, thousands of them, will take their first walk down to the sea on this very beach. With such an amazing act of nature happening year in and year out on the beaches the Cost Rican government and tourism board have, quite remarkably, regulated the beaches in which the turtles chose to call home. Turtuguero is a perfect example of how wildlife can be enjoyed by tourists without damaging the environment and the animals that life within the area.
To see these magical moments of the Turtle’s birth process is possible but there are heavy guidelines and rules set in place. As an environmentally conscious tourist myself it was music to my ears to hear that these were in place and we were all more than happy to abide by them. All tours are guided, we met with ours in the evening after sundown and after taking the boat to the designated area, we were divided into small groups and given a short but thorough briefing for the tour. We had all been directed to wear outfits that were head to toe black or dark colours and closed toe shoes. We were also warned that under no circumstances were we to have a light or camera with us.
So with just one LED light between a group of 7 we headed onto the beach listening closely to directions form our guide. Under the natural light of the moon and stars only we shuffled through the sandy beach as a group until our leader motioned to us that he had found a female turtle laying eggs just metres away. As I moved closer the exciting and unexpected apprehension flooded over me, the soon-to- be mother was indeed laying eggs and one by one we watched from a distance as she dropped her precious cargo one after another into her carefully dug nest in the sand. It was mesmerising and a moment I’m sure I will not easily forget. After looking on for a while and asking our guide countless questions about the process we moved further up the beach in search of the next stage of the birth process. In what felt like seconds nature blessed us with another private show, a flurry of fresh freshly hatched babies were wandering clumsily down towards the water, flapping excitedly awaiting their very first swim.
To say the little guys and gals were cute would be the biggest understatement, they were freaking adorable!
After an evening of firsts we returned to our lodge with even more fond memories to add to existing bank made during the day! The following morning we set out on the water again to head further into the rainforest travelling to our next residing destination of Arenal, as we rode away from Turtuguero with the white water fuzzing at motor I had to pinch myself over the amazing wildlife interactions I had experienced the day prior. There are so few places in the world where you are able to get so up close and personal to animals, insects and marine life whilst they are roaming completely free and wild. Seeing nature run it’s true course is, for me, one of the most exhilarating and rewarding reasons to travel the world.