Tortuguero  sometimes fills up; if you arrive without reservations, make it a priority to secure accommodations immediately.
You have two dozen options in the budget bracket. The John H. Phipps Biological Field Station (tel. 506/2709-8125, www.conserveturtles.org ) has dormitory accommodations with communal kitchen and bathroom for researchers, students, and volunteers only.
A good backpackers’ option is Cabinas Meriscar (tel. 506/8876-2263 or 2709-8202, cabinasmeriscar [at] rocketmail [dot] com, $7 pp shared bath, $15 pp private bath), with 18 simply appointed rooms with fans and hot water. Owner (and local baker) Dorling offers guests use of a kitchen ($1 daily). There are hammocks slung beneath the stilt-legged house and you can camp on shaded grounds.
Cabinas Tortuguero (tel. 506/2709-8114, $10 s, $16 d shared bath; $20 s, $25 d private bath), toward the southern end of the village, is run by friendly Italian Borghi Morena. It has 11 simple rooms, each with three single beds, ceiling fan, and baths with hot water. Plus, you get to dine at a romantic restaurant serving Italian and vegetarian dishes, seafood, and orange chicken.
Nearby, on the lagoon, the Cabinas Tropical Lodge (tel. 506/2709-8110, $10 pp) has charming, simple cabins with fans and TVs. The bar here has a deck over the lagoon, with pool table, large-screen video, and (for better or worse) karaoke.
Within a stone’s throw of the beach, Miss Miriam’s (tel. 506/2709-8002, $15 pp), on the north side of the soccer field, is a two-story complex with six simple rooms featuring fans and private bathroom with hot water. You should stay here for Miss Miriam’s colorful restaurant.
I also like Miriam’s neighbor, La Casona (tel. 506/2709-8092, $15 s, $20 d). It has six airy, well-kept cabins with ceiling fans and modern bathrooms in a garden, plus a three-bedroom casona (house). The rustic restaurant with sand floor is a charmer. There’s an Internet café here, and Andres is a licensed tour guide.
Miss Junie’s (tel. 506/2709-8102, www.iguanaverdetours.com , $45 s or $50 d downstairs, $55 s or $60 d upstairs, including breakfast), at the north end of the village, has parlayed its international fame into pretty stiff rates for what you get: 12 clean and simply furnished rooms in a two-story unit, each with tiled floor, ceiling fan, screened windows, and modern bathroom with hot water. The locale is great, but calling the upstairs rooms “deluxe” is a stretch. Still, it has the best restaurant in the village, and your gear is more or less secure now that Miss Junie has erected a fence.
Miss Junie’s son Rey Taylor operates Taylor’s Inn (tel. 506/8319-5627, $30 s, 40 d, $50 family), with four comfy rooms set in a small family apartment in the village center where you get nature to yourself. The grounds have fruit trees and a thatched rancho with hammocks. Rey even has a restaurant (lunch and dinner) that prepares fusion dishes at the grill.
One of the nicest options is Casa Marbella B&B (tel. 506/2709-8011, http://casamarbella.tripod.com , $35 s or $40 d standard, $50–60 s/d superior, including breakfast), a bed-and-breakfast with five airy, clean, delightfully simple bedrooms with terra-cotta floors, high ceilings with fans, and clinically clean and spacious bathrooms with tiled showers and hot water. You can settle down in a common room to watch TV or enjoy games when rain strikes, plus there’s a communal kitchen and a dock with hammocks. Canadian owner Dale Roth is a mine of local knowledge and offers nature tours.
For a beachfront locale, opt for Princesa Resort (tel. 506/2709-8131, $15 pp, $20 pp with breakfast). This two-story wooden structure is stretching things in calling itself a “resort”; it offers 12 no-frills but clean rooms with private bathrooms that open to a breeze-swept veranda. It has a restaurant serving seafood and Caribbean dishes.
Most nature lodges offer multi-day packages, with meals, transfers, and tours included in the rates below.
The Canadian Organization for Tropical Education and Rainforest Conservation (COTERC, P.O. Box 335, Pickering, ON. L1V 2R6, tel. 905/831-8809, www.coterc.org , $40 pp) has a research field station, Estación Biológica, at Caño Palma, a dead-end channel about eight kilometers north of Tortuguero. A dorm has bunk beds for which COTERC volunteers get priority. You may also camp or sleep in hammocks. Rates include all meals and a guided walk on trails into the rainforest and swamps.
I’m fond of Turtle Beach Lodge (tel. 506/2248-0707, www.turtlebeachlodge.com , from $245 s, $420 d for one-night/two-day packages), also at Caño Palma. It has 55 spacious, simply furnished cabins raised on stilts, with fans, porches, and modern bathrooms. Meals are served in an airy thatched restaurant, and you can relax in the hammock hut or take a cooling dip in the turtle-shaped pool with sundeck. It has the advantage of both beach and lagoon location, and 175 acres of shoreline jungle to explore.
Nearby, the lower-priced Vista al Mar Lodge (tel. 506/2709-8180, www.vistaalmarlodge.com , from $90 pp with meals) is also a pleasant option, with 40 simply furnished rooms.
Now rather pricey, Mawamba Lodge (tel. 506/2709-8181, www.grupomawamba.com , from $440 s or $614 d year-round for one-night/two-day packages, including transport and meals), about 800 meters north of Tortuguero  on the east side of Laguna del Tortuguero, has upgraded and now has 58 attractive all-wood rooms reached by canopied walkways. All have king beds and four superior rooms have huge bathrooms. There’s an airy family-style restaurant and bar, a lovely swimming pool and sundeck, plus a whirlpool tub, game room, and nature trail.
Nearby, almost identical and more reasonably priced, the Laguna Lodge (tel. 506/2709-8082 or 2272-4943, www.lagunatortuguero.com , $240 s or $394 low season, $279 s or $472 d high season for one-night/two-day packages, including transport and meals), sprawls amid spacious landscaped grounds. It has 52 modestly elegant rooms in eight hardwood bungalows, plus a swimming pool, and a hip riverside ranchito restaurant and bar.
Set in lush grounds, Pachira Lodge (tel. 506/2256-7080, www.pachiralodge.com , from $249 s, $418 d for a two-day, one-night package), on the west side of the lagoon, has 88 attractively furnished thatched cabins. A handsome dining room serves buffet meals, and there’s a gift store, bar, and turtle-shaped pool. Thirty-two upscale rooms in A-frame stilt cabins are connected by raised boardwalks; the aesthetic is lovely and they get heaps of light. This section (formerly a separate hotel called Anhingha Lodge) has a large turtle-shaped pool and whirlpool tub, and an open-air full-service spa with steam baths.
Pachira also has an annex—Evergreen (www.evergreentortuguero.com , same prices as Pachira)—on the west bank of Laguna Penitencia. Actually, it’s divided into Evergreen I and Evergreen II. Together they have 36 handsome stilt-legged A-frame cabins (some in a riverside clearing; some in the forest) and rooms with wrought-iron furniture. There’s a pool in a raised sundeck, plus a nice restaurant, and the Aerial Trails Canopy Tour.
Squeezed between the two Evergreens, and sharing its pool (yet independently owned), is Rana Roja (tel. 506/2709-8260, www.tortugueroranaroja.com , $25 pp, or $60 pp with meals), with five identical units to Evergreen I. A similar option on Laguna Penitencia is Samoa Lodge (tel. 506/2258-5790, www.samoalodge.com , $265 s, $416 d for a two-day, one-night package).
Manatus Hotel (tel. 506/2709-8197, www.manatuscostarica.com , from $365 s or $676 d low season, $416 s or $754 d high season for a one-night/two-day package) is the snazziest show in Tortuguero. The reception lobby has a pool table, a small gym, and Internet. The 12 air-conditioned rooms with glazed hardwood floors are beautifully appointed with canopy beds, cable TV, and spacious modern bathrooms with both indoor and outdoor showers (the latter in their own garden patios). Sheltered raised pathways connect the units. Kayaks and aquabikes are available for guests, and a nice pool and the finest restaurant for miles round out this winner. A potential downside: All the glass and the TVs potentially divorce you from the nature experience.
Setting the all-around standard to beat, Tortuga Lodge and Gardens (tel. 506/2257-0766, www.costaricaexpeditions.com , from $378 pp for a one-night/two-day package), operated by Costa Rica Expeditions, offers the best food, the best guides, and the best overall experience. The eco-sensitive lodge, facing the airstrip four kilometers north of town, has a sophisticated lounge bar and gourmet nouvelle Costa Rican cuisine in its torch-lit waterfront restaurant.
It has 24 spacious riverfront rooms (each with ceiling fans plus fully equipped bathrooms with heaps of solar-heated water; telephones were to be added) fronted by wide verandas with leather rockers. Each has queen-size beds, huge screened windows, ceiling fans, and modern bathrooms. The lovely two-bathroom penthouse suite has king-size and queen-size beds. A stone-lined gradual-entry swimming pool shines beside the river, where a sundeck has lounge chairs.
It’s set amid 20 hectares of landscaped grounds and forest; a short (albeit muddy) nature trail offers good sightings of poison-dart frogs and other wildlife. Service is exemplary and includes a cold-towel welcome and turn-down service. It’s the only fishing lodge in Tortuguero and also offers hikes and turtle walks plus multiday packages. Guests arriving by boat are greeted with a gourmet picnic lunch midway, and staff gather to wave as guests arrive and depart.