San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Tortuga Lodge: Adventure at a turtle’s pace

From the print edition

“What’s the name of that place where Odysseus and his men stop where they just want to keep eating flowers and taking naps?” asked my travelling companion as she languidly swirled a toe through the water of the pool at Tortuga Lodge and Gardens.

Above the drowsy drone of jungle insects, I listened to the crash of Caribbean surf on a distant beach.

“The Land of the Lotus Eaters,” I said, laying my copy of “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” on my chest and leaning back in a hammock stretched between the posts of a thatch-roof tikki hut.

“They should call this place the Lodge of the Lotus Eaters,” she said, but I barely heard.

My eyelids were already drooping toward my cheeks.

Before Costa Rica Expeditions bought it in 1987, Tortuga Lodge and Gardens had been a dedicated fishing lodge on the bank of the Tortuguero Canal. Today, you’ll find eco-luxury wrapped in the somnolent whir of Caribbean warmth and humid jungles. Moments creep by at the pace of the languorous Tortuguero River that feeds the canal.

“We are a small lodge with only 27 rooms,” said manager Julian Fallas, who personally greets many of the guests who arrive by commuter plane (his recommended method) on the landing strip across the canal from Tortuga Lodge. “Our idea is to keep it small and focus on personal service.”

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Delicious ginger-marinated beef on sugarcane skewers. Courtesy of Katherine Silvester

After a ride across the black-water canal, where you might see tarpon rolling or crocodiles lurking, in one of the lodge’s boats you can drop your things in your room and head down to the Green Turtle Bar for a Tico Sour (hint: it’s complimentary should you pass a quiz administered by your bartender, and answers to the quiz are found in reading material in the rooms and possibly in this article).

The chairs and hammocks lining the lodge’s elegant stone-rimmed pool are great for reading or dozing and half-watching the slow parade of boats trickling past along the canal.

Tortuga Lodge boasts of having the best alarm clocks in the world, by which they mean the howler monkeys that bellow from the treetops each morning. To make sure you don’t sleep the day away (which would be easy enough to do in the comfy beds caressed by powerful ceiling fans) the lodge uses mosquito netting instead of glass windows.

“If the air conditioning is running inside a closed room,” Fallas explained, “you won’t be able to hear the nature, you won’t be able to hear the toucans or the monkeys.”

 The result, when you awake in your bed on the high thread-count sheets to hear a monkey howling outside your window, is the feeling that you’ve suddenly found yourself off on an aristocratic expedition to a very luxurious heart of darkness.

It is a feeling that makes a pre-dinner gin-and-tonic seem perfectly appropriate on the lodge’s deck, as night falls over the canal and lightning bugs dance through the jungle.

“Being here you can see wildlife right in front of your room,” Fallas said, and he’s correct. A short hike around the lodge’s grounds in the heat of the afternoon revealed blue morpho butterflies, legions of strawberry poison dart frogs and resident troops of both howler and spider monkeys. 

“You have to disconnect yourself from your day-to-day life, “ he continued. “If you you’re able to do that you can really connect with the wildlife, with the jungle.”

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There is plenty of opportunity to see wildlife.

Clayton R. Norman

A perfect way to disconnect from daily life is a tour along the Tortuguero Canal and river. After an early-morning breakfast of gallo pinto, eggs and coffee, our tour guide led us deep into the jungle in a Tortuga Lodge boat. We saw lattice-tailed trogons, crocodiles, emerald basilisks, sloths creeping to the tops of trees to bask in the sun and troops of monkeys crashing through the jungle canopy. Iguanas are ubiquitous and after a few miles of river-cruising it becomes almost impossible to “un-see” them, draped over tree branches arching over the river.

And when you get back to the lodge a little before noon, staff will greet you with steaming cups of hot chocolate. The hot chocolate will help tide you over until you can enjoy ginger-marinated beef on sugarcane skewers and cucumber salad with coconut milk and soy sauce for lunch, followed by watermelon and mango sorbet.

After lunch, the hammock, pool, bar and jungle all beckon. My default selection when faced with such dilemmas is the hammock and a book – my traveling companion’s is the pool. Neither of us were disappointed.

But of course the Tortuguero area is famous for its namesake turtles that mate, nest and hatch on the beach across the canal from Tortuga Lodge and Gardens. Fallas says those interested in the amorous endeavors of the turtles should visit in May. July through October are the peak nesting seasons when the lodge can offer guided nighttime trips to watch females crawl up the beach and lay their eggs, and August through December will see thousands of baby turtles making their debut on the world’s stage and plunging toward the ocean.

Going There

Tortuga Lodge is located on the northeast coast of Costa Rica, 47.5 kilometers from the Nicaraguan border, as the crow flies. You cannot drive to Tortuguero because there are no roads; the only way to get there is by a combination of bus and boat or domestic flight on Sansa ( or Nature Air (

Room start at $138, and complete packages are available that include round-trip transportation, lodging, excursions and meals. For more information visit: or call 2521-6099.

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