Costa Rica is a prime spot for seeing turtles. We absolutely love that you can see sea turtles in Costa Rica on both the Pacific and Caribbean coast at different times throughout the year. How cool is that?
Every time we have seen turtles in Costa Rica it has been one of those out of this world experiences in which we can’t even believe this is really our life. See, Thomas and I moved to Costa Rica without ever visiting Costa Rica before. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. There are still many moments where we turn to each other and just say, “We actually live here,” with looks of pure excitement and pride on our faces because we just can’t believe that we moved to this paradise and somehow thrived.
Seeing turtles is always one of those moments for us. We just feel so lucky that we live in a place where we can be walking along a beach and stumble upon baby sea turtles making their first journey’s into the ocean. It blows our mind.
Anyway, enough of my sentimental talk. Now on to what you really came for. Turtles, turtles, and more turtles!
- 1 Turtles in Costa Rica – Background info
- 2 Turtles in Costa Rica – Tortuguero
- 3 Turtles in Costa Rica – Ostional
- 4 Turtles in Costa Rica – Montezuma
- 5 Turtles in Costa Rica – Our tips
Turtles in Costa Rica – Background info
All of the sea turtles that you can find in Costa Rica are on the endangered species list. In total there are five types of sea turtles you might be lucky enough to see here. These types are the leatherback turtles, the olive ridley turtle, the hawksbill turtle, the loggerhead turtle, and the green turtle.
Leatherback turtles are the largest turtles in the world. They can weight up to 2,000 pounds. How insane is that? That’s a number I can’t even wrap my head around. During nesting season they lay between 50 and 100 eggs.
Olive ridley turtle:
These are the smallest sea turtles you will find in Costa Rica and by small I mean still relatively large. They typically weight up to 88 pounds. The olive ridley turtles gather in large groups, which we’ll talk about in a bit.
These turtles can grow up to 180 pounds. Before things were regulated in Costa Rica they were killed for their shell. This was then turned into various decorative items.
The loggerhead turtle can weigh up to 440 pounds. You won’t see many loggerheads in Costa Rica, but they do come in small numbers.
Green turtles can weigh up to 440 pounds. You can see these turtles in Tortuguero.
After a turtle lays it’s eggs there is an incubation period somewhere between 50 and 70 days. Unfortunately, many turtles don’t make it until hatching time because the eggs are a popular snack among various animals. Even if the turtle does reach the water, most do not survive until they are adults due to various predators.
Turtle poaching is declining and Costa Rica is working hard to prevent poaching from happening, but it’s just impossible to completely prevent poaching. We didn’t realize poaching was still a thing here until we were at a farmers market recently and saw a stand selling turtle eggs to eat.
In Ostional poaching is allowed, in a sense. In fact, it is apparently the only beach in the world where poaching is legal. The reason for this is that massive amounts of sea turtles come to Ostional over a period of days (we’ll get more into that later). Apparently, the rate of survival for the eggs that are laid on the first few nights is really low. This is due to other turtles coming later to lay their eggs and stomping over previously laid eggs.
Because it is known that these eggs won’t survive until hatching time, locals are allowed to come and collect a percentage of these doomed eggs for consumption and sales. This is designed to help gain support from the local community and to prevent poaching during the rest of the nights of egg laying.
Unfortunately, this has opened the door for other poachers because they can easily sell their turtle eggs by saying they are from Ostional, even if they really are not.
On the other side of that, conservation of sea turtles has become so important in Costa Rica. There are a lot of sanctuaries set up throughout the country which do a great job in helping the sea turtles.
Alright, now let’s talk about the best places to see sea turtles in Costa Rica!
Turtles in Costa Rica – Tortuguero
Sea turtles and Tortuguero go hand and hand. What I mean is that although Tortuguero is not nearly as touristy as other parts of Costa Rica, one of the only reasons people come to Tortuguero is to see big sea turtles and their cute babies. Not to mention “tortuga” literally means “turtle.”
The Sea Turtle Conservatory has an office in Tortuguero. They have worked really hard to get the locals to help them with turtle conservation. It has worked really well because several locals work as guides and the turtles have dramatically increased tourism to the area, which benefits the local community.
They have an interesting museum you should check out if in Tortuguero. Also, they are accepting volunteers, if you are interested in really getting involved with sea turtles this is an amazing volunteer opportunity!
The best time to see turtles in Tortuguero is during green turtle season between July and September. The other species of turtles in Tortuguero are not as common and the chances of you seeing them are pretty slim.
Type of turtles:
Green turtles, leatherback turtles, hawksbill turtles, and loggerhead turtles. You can possibly see it all in Tortuguero!
How to see them:
They are very strict in Tortuguero about protecting the sea turtles. Because protection is really important here, the only way you will be allowed to see the mommas laying their eggs is by going on a tour. The green turtle tours occur in the evening at either 8 pm or 10 pm and costa $20 per person. You have to wear dark colored clothes, and some type of stable shoe (you have to keep light to a minimum).
If you are interested in doing this (which we can not recommend enough) just ask at your hotel. There is no need to reserve anything ahead of time. Your hotel in Tortuguero will set it all up for you.
Guys, the turtle tour was hands down one of the top five experiences we’ve had in Costa Rica. It is a “must do” if you are in Costa Rica during late summer.
We went on the tour in mid-August. There were about ten people in our group in total. After receiving strict instructions from our guide (no bright lights, no sudden movements, and no pictures) we crept on to the beach. Other tour groups were strewn across the beach, but they did a great job of keeping groups separated on different areas.
Our first big momma turtle started making her way up the beach before deciding she wasn’t feeling it, turned around and went back into the water. We were so disappointed! We thought, “was that our one chance and she turned around?” Little did we know, there were way more turtles to come!
The next turtle that came out of the water came all the way up to the top of the beach. Man these ladies move slow! I guess I would too if I weighed that much and had to push myself up a beach. Anyway, she started digging her hole and our guide explained the whole process to us. She then started laying her eggs. Our guide had a red light which he held next to the whole so we could each take turns to look at the process. Coolness overload! She then flicked all the dirt on top to cover up her little babies and made her way back into the water.
We got to see parts of the process with a few other turtles before returning to our hotel.
I’m not joking when I say I barely slept that night. Thomas always says I’m scary when my adrenaline kicks in because I have no shut off to it. It’s possibly the reason I can’t drink coffee without going crazy. Experiencing the turtles wired me up to the max!
Turtles in Costa Rica – Ostional
If you want to see a beach completely covered in turtles, Ostional is the place to go. Sometimes literally thousands of turtles will arrive at one time to lay their eggs on this beach. This unique experience is called arribada.
The best time to see the arribada is between July and December during the last quarter of the moon. The turtles will continue to come over the next several days. Peak season is in October.
It is hard to predict exactly when the turtles will come, but there is a great Ostional turtle association which maintains a detailed Facebook page here. They update very frequently so you can see if there is an arribada going on while you are visiting.
Type of turtles:
Olive Ridley Sea Turtle
How to see them:
You can just go to the beach and see them, but the locals will try and encourage you to do a tour. This is how several locals make money, so if you would like detailed info on the turtles, this is the way to go. Plus, we always like the idea of supporting locals. To do a tour you can just show up in the area. It is such a small beach town that the people who do tours will just approach you and ask if you’d like a tour. You will generally pay about $10 per person (maybe a bit more) for a one-hour long tour.
We have tried twice to see the turtles in Ostional and failed both times. It is definitely on our must-see list this year!
The second time we tried to see them we were staying in Nosara with two friends. We met a German couple at our hotel who also wanted to see the turtles. So, at 5 am we all woke up, piled into our rental car, and drove 45 minutes to Ostional, to see absolutely nothing. It was a funny morning, of complete failure.
Oh well! I guess that will just make it that much more rewarding when we do finally see them!
Turtles in Costa Rica – Montezuma
Montezuma is home to the Romelia Sea Turtle Refuge which does great things for protection of the turtles. While walking along the beach in Montezuma you will see the refuge not far from the town. If you are really interested in sea turtles they provide a great volunteer program. You can find out more about it here.
Between July and December.
Type of turtles:
Olive Ridley Turtles
How to see them:
The best way to see them is to just walk the beach in Montezuma.
We saw our first ever baby sea turtle making its way out into the ocean while we were walking the beach in Montezuma in October. It was one of the coolest experiences we have had while living in Costa Rica. We had tried many times before to find a perfect situation to see baby turtles and then this occurred when we were not expecting it at all. I guess that’s the way life goes sometimes!
Turtles in Costa Rica – Our tips
– Be careful if fishing during turtle season. In the picture above Thomas thought he had hooked on to a big fish, but in actuality, it was a momma sea turtle. Thomas was luckily able to get the hook out and the guy we were with told us that the hook was so small in comparison to the turtle that it would be the equivalent of a human getting a paper cut, but we still felt horrible.
– If sea turtles are really important to you, why not volunteer to protect them? We mentioned two great places above, but those are not the only spots looking for volunteers. I found a good opportunity on Workaway here. There is this one, south of Tortuguero (which look amazing). I also found a great opportunity on Playa Tortuga.
– Don’t forget to help the baby turtles out as much as possible. Their chance of survival is low, so we need to do what we can. If we see a baby turtle trying to make its way to the water we always clear a path for it, don’t touch it, and stay until it makes it into the ocean.
– These are not the only places to see sea turtles in Costa Rica, but rather the places which are well known for turtles.
Playa Nancita in Santa Rose National Park near the Nicaragua border also has an arribada. In the Gandoca-Manzanillo Refuge on the Panama border, there are leatherback turtles who lay their eggs between March and July. You may also see Leatherback turtles on Playa Grande near Tamarindo between late October and mid-February, but if you do a tour here you can end up waiting several hours to see a turtle.
– If you happen to come across a turtle laying her eggs, keep your distance and don’t take any pictures. They scare easily and will turn and go back in the water without finishing the process.
If you have any questions about sea turtles in Costa Rica or have any helpful info to add just leave it in the comment section below. We love to hear from you all and are always happy to help you out!
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