San Jose to Tortuguero

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How to get from San Jose to Tortuguero?

Tortuguero is Costa Rica’s third most visited National Park, located in Limon Province northeast of the capital San Jose. It boasts of a biodiverse marine and wildlife, thanks to its various kinds of habitats. From rainforests to lagoons, mangrove forests to swamps – there is so much to see and experience in Tortuguero National Park!

Amidst all its glory, Tortuguero is most popular for its turtles. In fact, Tortuguero is a Spanish word that translates to Land of Turtles. If you visit from July to October, you’ll most likely find hundreds of sea turtles nesting on its beaches!

Basically a sandbar island between the Caribbean Sea and Tortuguero River, you can only reach the national park by flight or boat from the mainland.

4 ways to get from San Jose to Tortuguero (Sorted on popularity)

Transport ModeDurationCostsAvailability
Minivan + Boat3.5 hours47,000 CRC ($68)Check Minivan Tickets
Taxi + Boat3 hours89,000 CRC ($129)Book a Private Transfer
Bus + Boat5 hours6,000 CRC ($8)Read article for more info
Flight1 hour 20 minutes71,000 CRC ($103)Check Flights

There are 4 ways to travel on your own the 120km from San Jose to Tortuguero National Park: a 3.5-hour minivan + boat, a 3-hour private transfer + boat, a 5-hour bus + boat, a 1-hour-20-minute flight (including transfers). Rates range from 6,000 CRC ($8) to 89,000 CRC ($129).

Via land, you can only go up to La Pavona, from where you’ll need to take a 1-hour boat to Tortuguero National Park.

A minivan is a convenient option for solo tourists travelling from San Jose to Tortuguero. You will get a direct ride from the country’s capital to La Pavona. Your minivan operator will also take care of your boat ride to Tortuguero, so you won’t have to worry about anything else. Combined rates start from 47,000 CRC ($68).

If you’re travelling with at least one other person, it will be cheaper to take a private transfer. Like the minivan, a private ride will take you straight to La Pavona, but with the inclusion of a hotel pick-up. Prices start from 89,000 CRC ($129) for up to 4 persons, already including the boat ride to Tortuguero.

Another option you can consider is to take a bus. A combined bus and boat ride from San Jose to Tortuguero is the cheapest option with rates from 6,000 CRC ($8). However, there are no direct buses to La Pavona. You’ll have to take two buses before you can transfer to a boat going to the national park.

Looking for the fastest way possible? A flight is the only direct way to get from San Jose to Tortuguero. Travel time is about 1 hour 20 minutes, including airport transfers. It takes away the adventure of the boat ride, but taking a flight is also an opportunity to view Tortuguero from a bird’s eye view.

If you decide to fly, please consider including a carbon compensation fee to help reduce your impact on the environment.

Boat ride from La Pavona to Tortuguero

You cannot travel the entire journey by land from San Jose to Tortuguero. You can only take land transportation up to La Pavona, and from there transfer to a boat going to the national park. Travel time by boat is usually around 1 hour. Some days though, the boat journey may take up to 2 hours depending on the water level and condition.

This boat ride, to us, is the best draw of travelling by land and river from San Jose to Tortuguero. You will be taking a simple, small and skinny boat, but the journey itself is beautiful. Your boat will be snaking through canals and rivers with wonderful views of dense rainforest and some sightings of birds and wildlife.

The boat ride alone is an experience in itself!

Organised Trip from San Jose to Tortuguero

Organised TripDurationCostsAvailability
Day Trip3.5 hours121,000 CRC ($175)Book a Day Trip
3-Day Trip3 hours319,000 CRC ($462)Book a 3-Day Trip

If you want to enjoy this trip without the hassle of preparing your transfers, there are a few organised trips you can join from San Jose to Tortuguero. Both one-day and 3-day trips are available.

It’s worth noting that one day will not be enough to really appreciate the natural gifts of Tortuguero. A 3-day trip will be more ideal. That’s if you have the budget for it!

Itinerary from San Jose to Tortuguero

San Jose to Tortuguero by Minivan

Duration: 3.5 hours
Cost: 47,000 CRC ($68)
Duration: 3.5 hours
Cost: 47,000 CRC ($68)

A shared minivan shuttle is a convenient way to get from San Jose to Tortuguero – at least for solo travellers. Tickets are quite expensive at 47,000 CRC ($68), and if you’re travelling with one other person, it will be cheaper to take a private transfer.

But for solo travellers, the shared minivan is already a great deal.

For this option, you will take a shared minivan from Selina in San Jose city centre to La Pavona (2.5 hours) and then transfer to a boat from there to Tortuguero National Park (1 hour). Both rides will be taken care of by the minivan operator Exploradores Outdoors.

Total travel time by minivan and boat from San Jose to Tortuguero is about 3.5 hours.

Minivan schedule from San Jose to Tortuguero

Minivan OperatorScheduleCosts
Exploradores Outdoors06:15-09:4547,000 CRC ($68)

There’s only one minivan trip daily so it’s best to book your ticket online at least a few days before. You can do that via BookAway, which offers great customer service and doesn’t add any hidden fees.

Check Minivan Tickets with BookAway

San Jose to Tortuguero by Private Transfer

Duration: 3 hours
Cost: from 89,000 CRC ($129)
Duration: 3 hours
Cost: from 89,000 CRC ($129)

Taking a private transfer from San Jose to Tortuguero can be cheaper than a minivan ride if you’re travelling with a group, or even just one other person!

Rates start from 89,000 CRC ($129) for a minivan that can accommodate up to 4 persons. Split the cost and that’s just about 22,000 CRC ($32.50) per person – less than half the price of a minivan ticket and well worth the convenience of a private transfer!

Like the minivan, you will travel by private transfer (2 hours) up to La Pavona and then transfer to a boat to Tortuguero (1 hour). Combined travel time is around 3 hours.

There are different car choices available depending on the number of people in your group. Paradise shuttle offers spacious cars with reliable drivers.

Book a Private Transfer with BookAway

San Jose to Tortuguero by Bus

Duration: 5 hours
Cost: 6,000 CRC ($8)
Duration: 5 hours
Cost: 6,000 CRC ($8)

A combined bus and boat is the cheapest way to get from San Jose to Tortuguero. Unlike the first two options though, you can’t get a direct bus ride from San Jose to La Pavona. You’ll have to take one bus to Cariari, transfer to another bus going to La Pavona, and then finally take a boat to Tortuguero.

The entire trip takes about 5 hours.

Step 1: San Jose to Cariari by Bus

Duration: 2.5 hours
Cost: 2,000 CRC ($3)
Duration: 2.5 hours
Cost: 2,000 CRC ($3)

First, you’ll have to take a bus from San Jose to Cariari, a town located 110km northeast of the capital.

Grupo Caribeños offer several trips every day, but we recommend taking the earlier departures (which we list below) to make sure you’ll be able to get a connecting bus to La Pavona.

Travel time is 2.5 hours. You can buy your ticket at the bus terminal for around 2,000 CRC ($3).

Bus schedule from San Jose to Cariari

Bus OperatorScheduleCosts
Grupo Caribeños06:30-09:00
09:00-11:30
2,000 CRC ($3)

It’s best to take the 09:00 AM bus so that you will arrive in time for lunch in Cariari. You can have a relaxed meal and maybe even walk a bit around town before transferring to your bus to La Pavona.

Buses depart from Gran Terminal del Caribe in San Jose city centre and make their last stop at Cariari Bus Terminal.

Step 2: Cariari to La Pavona by Bus

Duration: 1.5 hours
Cost: 1,000 CRC ($2)
Duration: 1.5 hours
Cost: 1,000 CRC ($2)

With limited travel still going on around the world because of the pandemic, there is currently only one bus available from Cariari to La Pavona.

This bus is operated by Coopetraca and departs at 14:00 in the afternoon, which is why it’s important to take a morning bus from San Jose. A ticket costs around 1,000 CRC ($2) and you can buy them only at the bus terminal.

Bus schedule from Cariari to La Pavona

Bus OperatorScheduleCosts
Coopetraca14:00-15:302,000 CRC ($3)

Buses depart from Cariari Bus Station, the same terminal you arrive at from San Jose. You will arrive in La Pavona after around 1.5 hours.

Step 3: La Pavona to Tortuguero by Boat

Duration: 1 hour
Cost: 2,000 CRC ($3)
Duration: 1 hour
Cost: 2,000 CRC ($3)

Upon arrival at La Pavona, you’ll have to find the boat ramp to Tortuguero. Don’t worry about losing your way, locals will lead you in the right direction. But before that, buy your ticket at the restaurant. A one-way ticket for public boats cost around 2,000 CRC ($3).

Boats from La Pavona to Tortuguero have fixed schedules. But it’s worth noting that as long as there is still a bus arriving on that day, whether it is delayed for one reason or another, there will be a boat waiting at La Pavona dock.

Boat schedule from La Pavona to Tortuguero

RouteScheduleCosts
La Pavona-Tortuguero07:30-08:00
11:00-12:00
13:00-14:00
16:30-17:30
2,000 CRC ($3)

San Jose to Tortuguero by Flight

Duration: 1hr 20m
Cost: 71,000 CRC ($103)
Duration: 1hr 20m
Cost: 71,000 CRC ($103)

The bus is the fastest yet most expensive option. You can complete the journey in around 1 hour 20 minutes, already including transfers to and from airports.

Combined fares start from 71,000 CRC ($103).

Step 1: City Centre to San Jose Airport by Bus

Duration: 40 minutes
Cost: 1,000 CRC ($1.10)
Duration: 40 minutes
Cost: 1,000 CRC ($1.10)

From San Jose city centre, you’ll have to travel 15km northwest to get to San Jose Airport. The best ways to get there are a 40-minute bus or a 30-minute taxi.

If you’re on a budget, the bus is the way to go. A ticket costs only 1,000 CRC ($1.10) and the buses are quite comfortable. Buses depart from TUASA Terminal in the city centre, every 10 minutes from 04:00 to 23:00 daily.

There are two companies operating this route: TUASA (coloured red and white) and Station Wagon (coloured orange and yellow).

A more convenient option would be to take a taxi. You can hail one from the street or thru the ride-hailing app Uber. Rates to San Jose Airport start from 17,000 CRC ($25).

PRO-TIP: While Uber is widely used in Costa Rica, it is still not entirely legal. There have been rare cases of Uber rides being stopped in the middle of the journey, not something you’d like to risk when in a hurry to make it to your flight. It’s best to confirm with your hotel whether it’s safe to use Uber before booking a ride.

Step 2: San Jose to Tortuguero by Flight

Duration: 35 minutes
Cost: 68,000 CRC ($99)
Duration: 35 minutes
Cost: 68,000 CRC ($99)

Sansa Regional and Aerobell offer daily flights from San Jose to Tortuguero. Flight time is about 35 minutes and ticket prices start from 68,000 CRC ($99).

It’s best to book your ticket weeks ahead for lower airfares! Sansa Regional can easily be booked through Skyscanner. Aerobell, on the other hand, can only be booked through its own website.

Check Flights with Skyscanner

Step 3: Tortuguero Airport to Village Centre by Boat

Duration: 5 minutes
Cost: 2,000 CRC ($3)
Duration: 5 minutes
Cost: 2,000 CRC ($3)

Tortuguero Airport is located on a tiny strip of land between the Tortuguero River and the Caribbean shoreline. It’s about 3km away from the village centre and you have to take a boat to get to your accommodation.

A boat ride from Tortuguero Airport to the village centre costs about 2,000 CRC ($3).

San Jose to Tortuguero by Day Trip

Duration: 12 hours
Cost: 121,000 CRC ($175)
Duration: 12 hours
Cost: 121,000 CRC ($175)

On a limited timeframe? You can also take a day trip from San Jose to Tortuguero. As public transportation is not that flexible between these two locations, it’s best to join an organized tour to make the most of your limited time on Tortuguero National Park.

GetYourGuide is a reliable tour booking website in the region. It offers a few tour choices from San Jose to Tortuguero. We recommend their Tortuguero Park Day Tour with Breakfast & Lunch.

The rate of 121,000 CRC ($175) per person includes:

  • Transportation in an air-conditioned vehicle
  • Spanish/English-speaking guide
  • Boat ride through Tortuguero canals
  • Park fees
  • Traditional breakfast
  • Buffet lunch

The entire tour, including roundtrip transfers, takes around 12 hours. Not enough time to explore Tortuguero, to be honest. But something you can consider if you’re really short on time!

Book a Day Trip with GetYourGuide

Three-Day Trip from San Jose to Tortuguero

Duration: 3 days
Cost: 319,000 CRC ($462)
Duration: 3 days
Cost: 319,000 CRC ($462)

Fancy spending several days in Tortuguero but don’t want to be bothered with transport options? GetYourGuide also offers a Three-Day Excursion from San Jose to Tortuguero.

This option definitely gives you the chance to make the most of your time in the national park, but of course, it doesn’t come cheap. Rates start from 319,000 CRC ($462) per person, but can get lower if you’re travelling with a group.

Inclusions are as follows:

  • Hotel pick-up and drop-off (from hotels in San José, Alajuela, and Heredia)
  • All meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner)
  • Air-conditioned modern transportation
  • Accommodation for 2 nights
  • Boat transfers
  • Naturalist guide
  • Guided tours
  • Taxes

Book a 3-Day Trip with GetYourGuide

  Hotel

Our favourite places to stay in San Jose


Barceló San José - Treating yourself

Barceló hotel blows most other city hotels out of the water. It has amenities usually only found in resorts and for extortionate prices. Here you’ll find an outdoor pool, spa, gym, 3 squash courts and 2 tennis courts. Plus they offer a free airport shuttle.

If you don’t fancy venturing out of the hotel to get some food, no worries! There’s 3 restaurants and a bar on site offering a variety of different cuisines. The rooms are spacious and clean, offering comfortable beds for a good night's sleep.

  • Outdoor swimming pool and spa
  • Tennis courts
  • Free airport shuttle
  • 3 onsite restaurants and a bar

Double rooms start from $80 per night

Read More

 

Isla Verde Hotel - Mid-Range

Isla Verde Hotel is a real gem within the urban jungle that is San Jose. They have so many extras that you wouldn’t expect for the price - a gym, free shuttle to the airport and a great breakfast every morning.

The hotel is ultra-modern, boasting some beautifully designed rooms and seating areas. All of which are very clean and comfortable. If you don’t feel like venturing too far for food, their onsite restaurant selling Cantonese food is highly reviewed!

  • Free airport shuttle
  • Breakfast included
  • Onsite gym
  • Modern and clean rooms

Double rooms between $50-$80 per night

Read More

 

Eco Stay Hostel - Budget Friendly

Eco Stay Hostel can start to feel like home after a while as it has a shared living room, communal kitchen, a lovely garden area, and even barbeque facilities. You can also spend your evenings having a friendly competition of snooker or darts.

The friendly hosts also make you feel at home. Making sure that your room is clean and comfortable, whilst offering their help in any way that they can. The rooms are basic, but nicely decorated and have everything you could need whilst in San Jose.

  • Shared living room
  • Communal kitchen
  • Good location
  • Friendly hosts

Double rooms between $15-$50 per night

Read More

 

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