Our first full day in Tortuguero started with a jungle cruise among the many canals in the park. Our boat slowly cruised up and down the canals as we all concentrated hard to find wildlife hidden in the water, the trees and along the riverbanks.
Tortuguero National Park
Rainforest Jungle Cruise
Looking for wildlife in a rainforest requires a lot of patience. It was certainly a different experience than the Galapagos where the animals seemed to have no fear of us and were in plain sight. In the rainforest we had to work for a sighting. But it was fun to search the water, trees and riverbanks – and when we found something everyone celebrated!
Our 11-year-old became pretty adept at taking pictures with her phone through the lens on her binoculars – our Thomson guide called this “iPhone-scoping” and I’m not sure if he just coined the term or it’s really a thing.
Our guide, Jose, had a passion for photography and was skilled at finding many animals from all the tours he leads. He was a great source of information and could tell us about all the animals we saw.
We also came across a lot of buildings and homes along the canal. Since there are no cars or true roads most everything is accessible by the water.
Exploring the Canals by Canoe
After a quick break for lunch, we headed back out in a canoe to a different area of the park. Originally we were going to go out in kayaks, but because of the crocodiles our guide thought it best to go in a more stable canoe – we all happily agreed.
The highlight of our two expeditions was finding this little caiman hidden just above the canal. Our 11-year-old, who loves all animals, had a knack for spotting them. This caiman stayed in this exact position with his sharp teeth exposed while we floated nearby for a good 5-10 minutes.
We also saw toucans and monkeys, but they were flying around high in the trees and hard to pin down with a camera. But we loved watching them fly and jump above us and listening to their calls.
After a long day out on the water we treated ourselves to fresh coconut water from one of the many stands along the road. It was cold, delicious and refreshing! After we were done, the guy selling the coconuts broke open the shell and fashioned a piece into a little scoop so we could use it to eat the coconut meat. At the beginning of our trip, our guides had given us each a bamboo straw that we had to carry around with us. They asked us to use them instead of any plastic straw we might be offered at a restaurant etc. Thomson Family Adventures is committed to sustainable travel and this was just one of the small things they did to support that. We were all required to bring a reusable water bottle which they would refill for us during the trip, but they never gave us plastic water bottles. We were easily able to collect a full garbage bag of trash just casually collecting as we walked along the beach from our hotel into town!
Friends Across Borders
A memorable experience for our kids was the Friends Across Borders program that Thomson coordinates. Months before we even left on our trip, our kids were paired up with students from Tortuguero who shared similar interests and they became pen pals. They wrote back & forth in the months leading up to our trip and then had the opportunity to meet each other. We walked over to their school where they introduced themselves. The children from Tortuguero practiced their English while our kids practiced their Spanish. Then they played a game where they all had to work together and learned some new English & Spanish words in the process. It was a really fun experience!
At the end of the long day, we headed back to our hotel along the beach. Our kids were wet, sandy and exhausted – all signs of a great day!
We finally reached our hotel at sunset. It was conveniently located about a 15-20 minute walk from town – or about a 5 minute boat ride. It was also steps from the Caribbean Sea on one side and right along the canal on the other.