Turtle Tours in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is not only home to five species of sea turtles (leatherback, green, loggerhead, hawksbill, and Olive Ridley), but also to three of the most important nesting sites in the world. Marine turtles nest on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. The most important nesting sites are Manzanillo in the south Caribbean for the leatherback, Ostional National Wildlife Refuge for the Olive Ridley, and Tortuguero for the green sea turtle.
See below to find out when and where each of these turtles can be seen in Costa Rica.
Luckily for all of these turtles, there are several strong turtle conservation projects led by biologists, conservationists, and dedicated park rangers. As part of these ongoing projects, you can take a guided night tour and watch these amazing creatures as they make their way up the beach to lay their eggs. All proceeds go to support the turtle conservation projects.
Where will You Be?
There are several turtle projects that offer volunteer opportunities in Costa Rica. Contact us to find one right for you.
Did You Know?
Adult female green sea turtles return to their natal beach every two to three years. They nest several times in one season each time laying between 80 - 120 eggs. The eggs incubate for 60 days before hatching. If you're lucky, you might get to see the little hatchlings make their epic journey to the sea.
Where & When to See Them?
The North Caribbean
Tortuguero National Park is the largest nesting site for the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) in the Western Hemisphere. In total, the North Caribbean region has four species of turtles nesting on their protected beaches:
- The green sea turtle nests July - October. Annually, there are an average of 100,000 nests per season made by anywhere between 18,500 - 40,000 individual turtles.
- Loggerheads come in much smaller numbers at the same time (July - October).
- The leatherback (largest marine turtle in the world) arrives March - May. There are an average of 400 - 1000 nests per year.
- The hawksbill's season runs March - October, less than 50 nests are recorded annually.
Slightly south of Tortuguero (about 25kms north of Limon) is another turtle nesting beach and research station. It is one of the most important leatherback nesting sites in Central America. Here, March to June is the nesting season for the leatherback turtle and from
June to September the green turtles also nest, though in lesser
numbers. Contact us
if you want to stay at the research station for a few nights or volunteer.
Contact us for a great tour.
The South Caribbean
Gandoca - Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge hosts four species of marine turtles: the loggerhead (Caretta caretta), green, hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea). For over 20 years the ANAI conservation organization has been a main component in protecting and researching the nesting habits of turtles in this region. Contact us for tour information.
- Leatherback season: March - July, with peak months being April and May.
A bit further north in Cahuita, the hawksbill sea turtles come to lay their eggs on Playa Negra from April - October.
The North Pacific
When the Olive Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) come to lay their eggs, they don't come out one by one, but in huge waves known as arribadas which is thousands to tens of thousands of turtles at a time.
Arribadas occur all through the year, at least once a month and, in some
months, may occur twice. The months between June and December (the rainy season), see larger arribadas. That means that the number of
nesting turtles may be in the range of hundreds of
thousands as opposed to tens of thousands in the dry season months.
The most popular place to visit and see this phenomena is in Ostional National Wildlife Refuge. The Olive Ridley comes ashore all year long here, but in the greatest numbers from July thru December, often coinciding with start of the last quarter of the moon. At first, a few hundred turtles will come out on the beach, followed by a
steady stream of turtles over the next three to seven days (day and night). The largest arribada thus far recorded in Ostional, took place in
November 1995 when a calculated 500,000 females came ashore.
During an arribada, so many turtles come onto the beach in a such a short span of time that most of
the first nests are destroyed by later turtles. In 1987, a
project was initiated to allow local people the right to collect and
sell a percentage of these eggs from the first three days of each
arribada, since they were likely to be destroyed anyway. This is the only place in the world where it is legal to
harvest turtle eggs. This practice is designed prevent poaching and to
help support the local community.
During the peak months of August to October, you are almost guaranteed to spot a turtle on any night. Contact us to reserve a spot on a tour.
The Olive Ridley also comes ashore at Playa Nancite in northern Guanacaste near Santa Rosa National Park from June - December, with peak months being September & October. They arrive here too in arribadas, coinciding with the last quarter of the moon.
One of the five most significant leatherback turtle beaches in the world is Playa Grande at the Las Baulas National Marine Park. Between the months of October thru February, with rare sightings in March, you can sign up for a guided night tour and see this magical giant lay her eggs. Sign up for a tour.
The South Pacific
Take a tour of Marino Ballena National Park and see the hawksbill and Olive Ridley turtles lay their eggs anytime from May to November.
Most of the turtle preservation projects in the south Pacific are run by the Osa Sea Turtle Conservation in Drake Bay. There is an ongoing debate whether or not the black turtle, which nests sporadically along the coast of the Osa Peninsula, is a sub-species of the green sea turtle or its own species. Take a tour and find out for yourself.
Turtle numbers have been highly affected due to many factors, development and pollution to name a few. In order for us to be able to continue to observe these gentle giants on their home turfs, it is extremely important that we do so in an environmentally friendly way.
Please respect the laws and only go on turtle tours with licensed guides or park rangers. Also, observe requests to stay off turtle nesting beaches at night.
Turtles are ultra sensitive to ambient light, so cameras, video or flash photography are strictly prohibited at night. The rangers and biologists are working hard so we leave as small of a footprint as possible so that the turtles keep coming back.
- Be prepared for a turtle tour. Wear dark clothing, long pants and closed toed shoes.
- Note: All our night turtle photos were taken using infrared night vision. No damaging light or flash was used.
Tours & Packages
Let us arrange this magical experience for you.
Tell us if you'd like to coordinate your vacation to coincide with one of these egg laying events.