With Barra del Colorado Nacional Wildlife Refuge, it is the most important laying site in the whole western half of the Caribbean for the green turtle (Chelonia mydas). Other species of sea turtles that also lay on the wide beaches of the park and the refuge are leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) and hawksbills (Eretmochelys imbricata).
Geomorphologically, the park and the refuge and made up of a wide floodplain formed where deltas merge which, with their meandering channels, filled up part of the former Nicaraguan Trench. This extensive plain is broken only by a few hills and low cones, the remains of an archipelago of volcanic origin that helped anchor the sediments brought by rivers from the mountain systems.
The park and refuge are included on the Ramsar lsit of wetlands of international importance and are one of the wettest area in the country, with between 5,000 and 6,000 mm of rain falling every year. It is also one of the world areas with greatest biological diversity.
As many as 11 habitats have been recorded. The main ones are: coastal vegetation with coconut palms (Cocos nucifera); very moist high forests; hill forests; swamp forest with trees up to 40 m high; forest almost exclusively made up of holillo palm trees (Raphia taedigera); herbaceous swamps consisting of herbaceous plants up to 2 m high, and herbaceous plant communities of floating vegetation where water hyacinths (Eichhornia crassipes) are sometimes so dense ti makes it impossible to use a boat. In general, some of the most abundant trees are wild tamarind (Pentaclethra macroloba), the crabwood (Carapa guianensis) and the cative (Prioria copaifera). 642 plant species have so far been identified in the park.
The fauna is rich and diverse. Among the mammals, monkeys are particularly abundant. One of the most interesting species is the fishing bulldog bat (Noctilio leporinus), one of the biggest in the country, which feeds mainly on fish. There are 309 known bird species, including the green macaw (Ara ambigua), which is highly threatened with extinction, and the keel-billed toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus). 60 species of frogs and toads, including the glass frog (Centrolenella valerioi) and the poison dart frog (Dendrobates pumilio) occur there. In the sea, off both protected areas, there are important populations of mackerel (Scomberomorus maculatus) and shrimp (Penaeus brasiliensis), and the immense whale shark (Rhincodon typus) has been recorded.
The natural network of beautiful channels and navigable lagoons that crosses the park from southeast to northwest is the habitat of 7 species of turtles. It is also the home of the threatened West Indian manatee or sea cow (Trichechus manatus) and the rare crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). Among the many fish found here are: Caribbean Snook (Centropomus undecimalis), gar (Atractosteus tropicus), a living fossil whose laying habits provide an extraordinary spectacle, and freshwater shrimp (Macrobrachium sp.).
These two protected areas are situated on the Tortuga Plains and are on the border with Nicaragua. The park offices are at the northern end of the park near the town of Tortuguero, 84 km from Limón vía the Tortuguero channels. It is accessible by light aircraft from San José or Limón, via the Tortuguero channels from Moín, or by land from Guápiles as far as Puerto Lindo, with a four-wheel drive vehicle and then by boat to Tortuguero (125 km). In the Cuatro Esquinas sector these are the following path: Ceiba and El Gavilán (to the coast). In the Jalova sector there are the El Tucán and Mile 19 paths (along the coast) and Caño Negro path.
Boats for cargo are available for hire between Moín and Tortuguero and a bus service operates between San José and Guapiles. In Moín it is also possible to hire boats to make the trip to Tortuguero. In Guápiles taxis can be hired to Puerto Lindo. In Tortuguero and Barra del Colorado there are hotels, guest houses, restaurants and grocery stores. For more information on these two protected areas and for the Tortuguero Conservation Area, call Tel. (506) 710-7542.