Did you know that it is possible to see an entire beach filled with nesting turtles in Costa Rica? This amazing experience occurs on the beach in the little seaside town of Ostional, Costa Rica.
We recently got to experience this for the first time (after almost four years of living in Costa Rica) and it completely blew us away!
If you would like to experience this amazing turtle nesting, just continue to read. We will explain everything you need to know!
About the Ostional Turtles
The turtles that arrive for nesting in Ostional, Costa Rica are called Olive Ridley Turtles. These are the second smallest sea turtles that you will find in the world. They tend to grow to a maximum of two feet long.
Olive Ridley Sea Turtles are the most common sea turtle in the world, but they are considered to be a threatened species.
Female Olive Ridley turtles return to the same beach in which they were hatched from to lay their own eggs.
What is an Aribbada?
These turtles arrive to Ostional once a month in packs. The name for this crazy phenomenon is called arribada.
To lay their eggs the turtles drag their bodies up the beach to above the high tide line. They then dig a hole (it’s really cool to watch) before depositing their eggs. The turtle then fills in their hole with sand before making their way back into the ocean.
Best Time to See the Aribbada
In Ostional, this happens throughout the year but typically the highest amount of turtles arrive between July and December. October and November tend to be the months with the most turtles.
We visited on the first day of arrival at the end of September and our guide predicted that there would be about 80,000 turtles arriving just on that day! At the time we were there, we definitely saw thousands of turtles.
Not all turtles arrive at once. Instead, they actually spread their arrival over several days. Our guide told us that they will start on one section of the beach and slowly stagger themselves down the beach so that they are not all laying eggs on top of one another. How cool is that?!?!
It is hard to predict exactly when the turtles will arrive each month. Usually, a new moon is a good indicator of turtle arrival (they like minimal light) but sometimes bad weather can affect this.
The Ostional Wildlife Refuge
The Ostional beach is considered a wildlife refuge. The Ostional national wildlife refuge was created in 1984 as a way of protecting the turtles nesting sites. Prior to that, it was very common for locals to eat all of the turtle eggs.
If you visit when the turtles are not nesting you are free to walk the beach without paying. During turtle nesting time you are required to walk the beach with a guide.
What Happens to the Eggs?
Ostional is the only beach in the world in which it is legal to harvest the eggs. Yes, you read that right. The eggs are harvested.
OK, well, not all of the eggs are harvested, See, scientist discovered that most of the eggs deposited on the first few nights of the arribada are destroyed by being trampled by other turtles.
The Costa Rican government allows the village of Ostional to harvest the eggs on the first few nights in return for them agreeing to patrol the beach for poachers, keep the beach clean, and help to protect the turtles.
I’m not sure what exactly happens to these eggs. I’m assuming they are mostly eaten by the locals, but we have seen them sold at a farmers market near San Jose as well.
So, the idea is that by harvesting turtle eggs it helps other eggs have a stronger chance of survival. Is this true? I really don’t know.
Important Info About Visiting Ostional
Let’s go through all the Ostional, Costa Rica details for visiting!
Finding a Tour
It is best to drive to Ostional yourself and take a tour from there. We did our tour with the Asociacion de Guias Locales de Ostional and it only cost $10 per person. However, I do not think our local guide spoke English.
If you would like an English guide you may have to ask around a bit in town. It shouldn’t be a problem though. The town is very small and everyone knows everybody. Somebody will find you a guide.
Another option is to book a tour through a tour company in Tamarindo, Nosara, or Samara. These tours typically cost about $60, but it might be a good idea if you do not have a vehicle that can get to Ostional.
What to Bring and Wear
You may have to walk about twenty minutes from where your tour begins to where the turtles are on the beach. This really all depends on where the turtles are on that particular day. We wore flip flops and were happy to be able to easily take them off for our beach walk.
On the day we visited it was very overcast (as you can see from the pictures) so we brought rain jackets and wore clothes that we didn’t mind getting wet. We also left a change of clothes and a towel in the car for if we needed them after.
However, on sunny days you will want a lot of sun protection. We were out there on the beach without coverage for over an hour.
We suggest wearing SPF50, a hat, and clothes that at least cover your shoulders if you get burned easily. You should also bring a water bottle in order to stay hydrated.
Keep in mind that typically the best time to see turtles is in the early morning or in the evening. We just got lucky that they happened to be out in full force during the day.
If you do visit in the evening you will not be able to take pictures. The flash scares the turtles. It is also best to wear dark clothing.
Directions to Ostional
Playa Ostional is located on the Pacific coast between Tamarindo and Nosara. It is not always the easiest to get here because the road is unpaved and you will have to make a couple of river crossings.
Fortunately, a new bridge was just put in. This covers the one very deep river crossing.
During the dry season, this is much easier (but that also happens to be the time of year when there are fewer turtles).
In rainy season we recommend a car with 4-wheel-drive in order to do the river crossings or at least an SUV with decent clearance.
Where to Stay Near Ostional Costa Rica
The town of Ostional is really small. There are a few hotels, but you won’t have much variety. The nearest popular tourist town is Nosara (20 minute drive away). Nosara is popular with surfers and yoga enthusiasts.
Although these are the closest popular towns with plenty of restaurants and things to do, you can always find a nice hotel within 20 minutes north or south of Ostional. Just don’t expect too much to do besides surfing and walking the beach.
Here are our favorite places within 20 minutes north or south…..
Hotel Boutique Lagarta Lodge: Nice hotel with large pool for guests which overlooks the ocean. There is a restaurant on-site and every room has a nice balcony.
Cocobolo Beach Resort: This hotel has amazing ocean views and a good on-site restaurant. There isn’t a pool here.
Nosara Sunrise B&B: This hotel has a nice pool for guests and great outdoor hangout areas. All rooms have air conditioning and a balcony.
Villa Mango B&B: Villa Mango has a restaurant on the property as well as a nice pool with a view. The architectural style here is really cool and unique.
Hacienda Sarah: This hotel has a pool and pool table for guests to use. The rooms are simple, but perfect for a budget-friendly stay.
Chill-Inn Nosara: – Chill-Inn has a minimum two-night stay for guests. These cabins are basic but have a nice patio. There is also a grill that guests can use for free.
Our Tips for Visiting Ostional
-We have been trying to get a chance to experience the Ostional arribada for almost four years now and this is the first time we actually made it.
The reason I’m saying this is to let you know that your chances of experiencing this phenomenon during your vacation are pretty slim.
You may get lucky (and we really hope you do) but although this happens once a month it is impossible to predict exactly when the turtles will arrive.
-To keep up with the turtle arrivals we suggest following this Facebook page. They are great about announcing the second that the turtles start arriving on the beach.
-If you do get to experience this, please remember to be super respectful. Many of the guides did not seem to care where their attendees were walking.
Although you might have a relaxed guide it is best to keep a distance to the turtles.
-If the turtles are coming up out of the ocean it is best to walk behind them or very far in front. If you walk right in front of them it will scare the turtles and they may make there way back to the ocean without laying their eggs out of fear.
-It is possible to volunteer with the turtles at Ostional. We, unfortunately, do not know much about the program, but you can find a bit more info through the World Wildlife Fund.
What to Do After Experiencing the Arribada
Go surfing in Nosara
The nearby town of Nosara is a prime surfing destination. The waves tend to be very big here, so it is definitely more of a place for more advanced surfers. However, if you are a beginner there are plenty of companies which offer lessons in the smaller waves closer to shore.
Take a horseback ride on the beach
In Nosara, you can also take a horseback ride along the beach. There are several companies in town which offer this.
Do some beach hopping
There are plenty of small beaches near Ostional. In fact, it is not unusual to have the beaches all to yourself in this area. Our favorites are; Playa Guiones, Playa Garza, and Playa San Juanillo.
Enjoy the sunset
The sunset around here is usually on point. Grab a few drinks, bring a picnic, and find an empty beach to enjoy the sunset.
Do some yoga
Nosara is a popular yoga destination. There are many yoga retreat centers in town, but it is also possible to take individual classes. Some places even offer classes on the beach!
We hope that this guide helped you to plan the perfect visit to see the Olive Ridley turtles in Ostional, Costa Rica. If you have any questions about planning your visit don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. Also, if you have visited Ostional and have tips for fellow travelers, we’d love to hear them!
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