How to get from San Jose to Tortuguero

Chances are, if you’re considering visiting Costa Rica, witnessing some of the country’s wildlife wonders will be near the top of your wish-list. And, being one of the most beautiful national parks, and blessed with a bounty of unforgettable experiences, you’d to well to include Tortuguero in your itinerary. With that in mind, read on to find out how to get from San José to Tortuguero.

How to get from San José to Tortuguero 

Though pretty isolated  — 254km from San José — Tortuguero National Park (Parque Nacional Tortuguero) is eminently accessible.

Indeed, it’s among the most visited national parks in Costa Rica, and visitors have a number to options when it comes to deciding how to get from San José to Tortuguero.  

From taking a short flight or shared shuttle service, to going it alone in a rental car or private transfer + boat, read on to discover how to get from San José to Tortuguero. 

Not a fan of planning? Check our tailor-made trip service. We can simplify the process and take care of all the details for you.

National monument of Costa Rica is a sculptural group located in the National Park of San Jose © Shutterstock

With a bit of planning, it's easy to get from San José to Tortuguero, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

What's the quickest way to get from San Jose to Tortuguero?

If time is of the essence, and you want to make the most of your time in nature, the quickest way to get from San Jose to Tortuguero is by plane. The flight is just 30 minutes.

With a journey time of around 4 hours, the second fastest option is via private transfer, or driving yourself in a rental car to La Pavona dock. From here, you'll board a boat to Tortuguero.

Coming in as the longest way of getting from San Jose to Tortuguero, booking a shared shuttle service and boat means a journey time of around 4.5 hours.

Note that the total journey time of the road + boat options are dependant on water levels, with boat transfer times varying from 50 minutes to two hours.

Short on time? Read about our comprehensive, 7-day Costa Rica itineraries.

Tortuguero canals, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

However you get from San José to Tortuguero, you'll board a boat to expore its canals © Shutterstock

By shared transport — bus shuttle and boat

Duration: 4.5 hours | Cost: from $68 

A little cheaper than booking a private transfer, shared shuttle services from San José to Tortuguero are almost as fast. 

In addition, shuttle services are usually sold as a bus and boat package, which means they’re also convenient. You’ll usually be collected from your hotel and driven to the dock in La Pavona, stopping off to pick up fellow travellers along the way. 

From La Pavona, you’ll enjoy an exhilarating boat ride to Tortuguero. Be sure to have your binoculars and camera at the ready as plenty of wildlife-watching opportunities will present themselves during the scenic ride.

Several operators offer this shuttle service, with early morning departures from San José — 5.30am/6am — meaning you can reach Tortuguero around lunchtime.

Thinking of extending your stay in this exceptional spot? Read up on the best tours of Tortuguero National Park.


Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife during boat transfers to Tortuguero © Shutterstock

By rental car and boat

Duration: 4 hours | Cost: rental car cost + $10 parking and $5 for public boat

For freedom from operators’ schedules, and having to pick up other travellers on shuttle services, you could rent a car and drive from San José to the dock in La Pavona.

This road journey takes around 2.5 hours, with stunning cloud forest scenery opening up along the winding route. 

On arrival in La Pavona, you’ll leave your vehicle in a secured car park, paying a daily fee of around $10. Next, take a public water taxi from to Tortuguero. This costs around $5 each way, plus $2 for each piece of luggage you’re bringing aboard.

There are four boats a day, departing La Pavona at 7.30, 11.00, 13.00 and 16.30. The boat ride takes between 50 minutes and two hours, depending on the water levels. Expect an average time of 1.5 hours.

What better way to plan a trip than to rely on personalized experiences? Our content manager has traveled to Costa Rica and shares with you what to consider when planning your trip.

Tortuguero Canal, Costa Rica © Kenneth Vargas Torres/Shutterstock

Tortuguero Canal, Costa Rica © Kenneth Vargas Torres/Shutterstock

By private transfer and boat

Duration: 4 hours | Cost: from $79 

Arguably the most popular way for travellers to get from San Jose to Tortuguero, the private transfer option is often as affordable as a shared shuttle, especially if you’re travelling as a larger group. 

You’ll be collected from your San José accommodation, with an English-speaking driver on hand to answer any questions, and provide local intel.

The private option also means you can ask to stop-off when you want to stop off to snap shots of the stunning scenery along the way. In addition, this option synchronises with the boat schedules, which means less hanging around.

Planning a Costa Rica road trip? Before you go, arm yourself with more tips on getting around Costa Rica.

Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero is a paradise for wildlife-watchers © Shutterstock

By plane

Duration: from 30 minutes | Cost: from $80 

Want to get from get from San Jose to Tortuguero as quickly as possible? Book yourself on a plane.

With a flight time of 30-60 minutes from the capital, two domestic carriers — Sansa and Areobell — offer the route. Expect to pay from $80 to $125.

After landing on Tortuguero’s small landing strip, a brief boat ride will take you to the village centre, or your lodge.

Sloth in Costa Rica © Harry Collins Photography/Shutterstock

Not keen on hanging around? Take a plane from San José to Tortuguero © Harry Collins Photography/Shutterstock

Thinking of taking a trip to Costa Rica? Read up on the best things to do in Costa Rica, and read The Rough Guide to Costa Rica before getting into the nitty gritty of planning.

Alternatively, forego the hassle of planning by booking one of our customisable Costa Rica itineraries, or talking to alCosta Rica local expert.

Joanne Owen

written by
Joanne Owen

updated 31.05.2024

Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her @JoanneOwen on Twitter and @joanneowenwrites on Instagram.

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