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Where to stay?

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Canada
posts: 347
reviews: 17
Where to stay?

We are planning 2 nights in Tortuguero in late September and I'm just wondering, is it worth it to pay big $$$ to stay at one of the inclusive lodges or should we pick something more basic? I'm kind of looking at Rana Roja or for example. Flor de Tortuguero at the opposite end of the scale.

I'm very open to suggestions!

Playa Conchal...
posts: 1,597
reviews: 54
1. Re: Where to stay?

Many people recommend Casa Marbella at the budget end of the scale. Basic but charming and great value, in a nice setting in the village within walking distance of restaurants and the park. Also great hosts, owner Daryl runs excellent canal tours.

Canada
posts: 347
reviews: 17
2. Re: Where to stay?

Thanks. Are we better to stay in town or out? I understand some turtle species will be nesting during our visit and we hope to see 1 or 2. Do we need to book a tour for that or can we walk the beach and hope to spot some? From a respectful distance of course!

Slovenia
Destination Expert
for Costa Rica
posts: 5,903
reviews: 54
3. Re: Where to stay?

Back in 2008 it was OK to walk the beach during daytime. Chances to spot the turtle nesting during daytime are slim. Tours went out after dark. Tour guides are informed where the turtles are, and they guide you to that point.. The beach i "on the other side of the town" say a football field away, but it is a long one. I have stayed in "town" (Casa Marbella) and had a great time. No pool but several nice eating places, and a great bakery nearby. Not to mention their own dock!

Costa Rica
posts: 20,378
reviews: 24
4. Re: Where to stay?

I think that staying in one of the "all-inclusives" tends to isolate you from all things Tortuguero and, of course, you get no choice of restaurants.

As for the turtles -- they are only viewed at night and that activity is strictly regulated. Your lodging can arrange a turtle tour for you. The guide will go to the National Park late afternoon and pick up a permit and be told what time to take his/her group. You will walk to a meeting point where each of the groups will be assigned an area. You will then be taken to see the turtle by your guide. Depending on the number of people, you may get 4-5 minutes with the turtle and then be asked to moved away so that other people can see. No flashlights or cameras are allowed and you should talk softly.

During the day, you can walk the beach freely and see the turtle tracks and if you're lucky, you might see a few straggling hatchlings heading to the sea.

I like Casa Marbella but Miss Junie's is also a great place for the independent traveller.

Canada
posts: 347
reviews: 17
5. Re: Where to stay?

Thank you! After I wrote that I thought it wouldn't be possible. We're there late Sept so possibly we will miss the turtles all together.

Costa Rica
posts: 20,378
reviews: 24
6. Re: Where to stay?

I don't know, QuincySlave, I was there once in October and that night, 25 turtles came ashore to lay their eggs.

San Jose, Costa Rica
posts: 98
reviews: 6
7. Re: Where to stay?

I absolutely enjoyed to stay in Miss Junies. The staff is very friendly, it is a family run business and the familiy belongs to the founders of the town of Tortuguero. The rooms are nice and the ones on the upper floor have a nice view to the channel and garden if you want.

The place is very quiet and they have a restaurant with delicious real caribbean food. They also offer interesting tours- even if you don't come during tutrle season Tortuguero is interesting. You shouldn't miss the canoe tour through the channels of the national park etc.

I also had the experience to stay in one of the big resorts (Pachira Lodge) and did NOT like it. Too many people, you will eat in the same restaurant 3 times per day, you always have to go by boat to get to somewhere- to the town, to the supermarket, to the nationalpark...

When you stay in the town you will get in touch with the culture, can learn about the history of Tortuguero, eat in local restaurants and try the great food and everything is within walking distance.

Canada
posts: 347
reviews: 17
8. Re: Where to stay?

That leads to another question! I'm vegetarian and Caribbean food isn't exactly known to be veg friendly. Will I have trouble eating there? I do actually love rice and beans as long as it's not cooked with stock.

Costa Rica
posts: 20,378
reviews: 24
9. Re: Where to stay?

Most restaurants have a vegetarian option. Just ask. "vegetariano" pronounced "vehetahreeano" if it's not on the menu - but most people in Tortuguero speak English.

Rice, beans, salad, plantain, maybe some avocado and cheese, if you eat cheese. With a warm, fresh homemade tortilla -- that makes a nice meal.

Most beans are not cooked with stock, per se, but a powdered consomme is often added for flavor. You can just ask. I was vegetarian for many years but not sure I would get too excited about a teaspoon of consomme powder.

Tortuguero, Costa...
posts: 78
10. Re: Where to stay?

Everyone has provided good tips here, I'll just add a bit more detail.

The all-included lodges are often criticized for the strict schedule and buffet-style meals. Save a few exceptions (Manatus, Tortuga) you will be shuffled around in large tour groups for all of the activities with no option to change the schedule. Others like this aspect, because they don't need to worry about planning anything.

Nothing in Tortuguero is really a luxury option, and there is honestly little difference between the rooms at the lodges and the rooms at Miss Junie's.

Rana Roja is a good option as far as the rooms are concerned, provided you get a cabin and not the new rooms. The cabins are quaint, a bit outdated, but are set underneath the huge Almendro trees along raised walkways. You get very close to nature there, and there is a pool available. I have heard the food is quite poor, however, even worse than most of the all-inclusive lodges. Rana Roja is across the river, so if you were planning to eat in the village you will have to pay around $2-$5 per person, one-way, each time you would like to go to the village.

Casa Marbella has simple rooms, but most customers have raved about the cleanliness there. Everything is painted white, with white linens, so you would see the dirt if there was any! They have some newly added rooms on the second floor that used to be the owners' private residence. These should offer fantastic sunset views, and are larger and I think one has a kitchen or kitchenette.

I personally recommend the village rather than the lodges because you have the freedom to go on as many or as few tours as you like, and you can choose your meals. There are quite a few restaurants in town, most offering traditional Costa Rican or Caribbean food. As Hattie mentioned, they will be able to provide vegetable-based options, but these may have been seasoned with stock or cooked in the same pans as non-vegetarian items.

If you prefer strictly vegetarian or vegan options, your two best options are Budda Café (pizzas, pastas, salads) or my own restaurant (California-Costa Rica fusion). Also, if you let the large lodges know ahead of time they should prepare special menu items for you.

The lodges also offer round-trip transportation from San José, which (in my opinion) is a bit inflated in the final cost. I have heard that Riverboat Francesca is a fantastic option if you prefer to not use public transportation, and they can also provide tours during your stay in Tortuguero.

As far as the turtles are concerned, you will most likely see nesting Green turtles in September. If you are lucky, you may see another species as well, but there are very few Hawksbill and Loggerhead turtles, and the Leatherbacks' nesting season ends in May. Beach access is restricted from sundown to sunrise, and you may only go out during these hours with a guide. Please remember to buy the "Sticker" which supports the spotter program, a great step toward more responsible tourism.

September is also a good time to see hatching turtles by walking along the beach at sunrise. ***Please do not hire a guide for this.*** There is a problem with some guides who hire people to dig up nests so that they can guarantee a sighting. This is extremely disruptive to the turtles. I do not know who specifically takes part in this, but I can guarantee that the guides associated with Casa Marbella DO NOT. Either way, a guide is not necessary.

And, if you're here around the 15th of September, my husband and I organize a cultural festival, which is completely free to the public! It will last about a week, with most of the performances over the weekend.