The challenge of dining in Tortuguero is a bit different than the challenge of choosing a restaurant near most other popular Costa Rica destinations. Caribbean coast cuisine is lively and delicious, and most hotels and lodges in Tortuguero provide it as part of an all-inclusive package that includes everything from transportation from Limon to the lodge, all meals and snacks, and even National Park excursions and fishing trips.
Despite this convenience packaging, dining in Tortuguero presents unique opportunities and culinary rewards. It helps to have a sense of what to expect.
Most Hotels feature daily fresh seafood selections and the standard steak and potato fare–hardly surprising when dining in Tortguero, which is considered to be one of the best fishing spots on earth. Meals are typically served family style, although Pachira Lodge features a generous serve-yourself buffet instead.
Travelers who stay in one of the less expensive hotels in Tortuguero will likely be enjoying meals in the local sodas and downtown restaurants, most of which serve modestly-priced Tico fare. Rice and beans are staple Tico foods locally, and are even served at breakfast with everything from fish to meat to eggs. Standard platters almost always include rice and beans, as well as a main dish serving of beef, pork, or fish.
Tiny sandwiches and appetizers called bocas are also commonly served with drinks when dining in Tortuguero at local sodas. Popular bocas include tortillas piled with beef, chicken, or beans, ceviche—an appetizer made of fish marinated in lime, fried plantain chips, fried yucca, and tamales. Common desserts include flan, a rich caramel custard treat, tres leches cake, a rich moist cake, and Queque seco, a dry local pound cake.
One of the best local sodas is La Casona, located right downtown. La Casona is also the area’s only Internet café, and charges $3 per hour to surf online while enjoying the authentic local Costa Rican menu.
Travelers who decide to dine in Tortuguero at one of the local sodas should watch for one of several local drinks unique to Costa Rica as well. Agua dulce is a warm breakfast drink made from melted sugar cane and served straight or with milk or lemon. Frescos, refrescos, and jugos naturales are Costa Rican drinks made with fruit, milk, or water. Similar to smoothies, Jugos naturales might be made with mangoes, papayas, blackberries, pineapple, or carambola. Horchata is an unusual drink made from rice flour and lots of cinnamon.
Guaro is a type of Costa Rican liquor distilled from sugar cane, often served in a soft drink, or with mineral water or soda. Café Rica is a delicious coffee liqueur that is similar to Kahlua. As a common sense precaution, avoid untreated water when exploring local sodas and local cuisine—otherwise, enjoy!
In short, dining in Tortuguero can as adventurous or tame as individual taste. Stay close to the hotel or venture out, but be prepared for delicious fresh fare.