Guided turtle tours are a fun and environmentally-sound way to observe these gentle giants as they come ashore to lay their eggs. Five species and one sub-species of sea turtle nest on the country's Caribbean and Pacific coasts, where park rangers and turtle conservation organizations strive to protect and monitor their populations. Visitors can arrange evening turtle tours with a licensed guide or park ranger. Note that cameras, video or flash photography are strictly prohibited on night turtle tours. Turtles are extremely sensitive to ambient light, and rangers and biologists want to keep our impact to a minimum.read more close
Tortuguero National Park is home to four of the world’s eight species of sea turtles: loggerhead, hawkbill, leatherback, and green sea turtles. The green sea turtle season is officially July 1st - October 31st. Loggerhead turtles appear in smaller numbers around the same time. Leatherbacks – the world's largest sea turtle– nest from March through May, and the hawksbill's nesting season runs from March to October.
Female green sea turtles have an inherent nesting instinct that drives them back to their natal beach to lay eggs. Green sea turtles are large — three to four feet long and weighing between 300 and 400 pounds — and usually live 80-100 years. In general, females nest every two to four years and lay eggs four to seven times per season, usually about 14 days apart. Each turtle lays 100-125 eggs per nest, and by the end of the season, a healthy green sea turtle will have laid 600-700 eggs.
The leatherback turtle comes ashore most abundantly along the shores of the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge just south of Puerto Viejo. Here, the conservation organization ANAI has been researching turtle nesting habits and protecting leatherbacks for more than 20 years. Hawksbill sea turtles are protected along the shores of Playa Negra in the village of Cahuita. The hawksbill is one of the smaller marine turtles and has a beautiful, serrated shell. They typically nest from April through October.
The beaches of Ballena National Marine Park, just south of Dominical, are a nesting site for both the hawksbill and Olive Ridley turtles. Between the months of May and November, both species nest on the beach and can be observed on night turtle tours.
The best months to see Olive Ridley sea turtles in Ostional National Wildlife Refuge are between June and December. Olive Ridleys are known for their huge arribadas, or egg-laying episodes, where tens of thousands of turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. While turtles are spotted here just about any night during the wet season (May-November), the peak months from August to October are truly a treat.
Las Baulas National Marine Park encompasses the beach of Playa Grande, an important nesting site for the endangered leatherback turtle. Nesting season runs from October through March.
Playa Camaronal, just south of Samara, hosts four species of marine turtles. Leatherback turtles nest here all year, although with less frequency from December to April. On a given night, visitors can usually spot between one and five female turtles laying eggs. From May to November, scientists may find up to 120 new nests nightly, with an average of 30 per night. Nesting sea turtles at Camaronal arrive one by one – unlike the arribadas of northern Playa Ostional and Nancite, where thousands of turtles storm the shore en masse. Scientists, students, researchers and volunteers work diligently at Camaronal’s turtle hatchery, initiated by Costa Rica’s marine turtle restoration program (PRETOMA).
The black sea turtle can be observed nesting along the shores of the Osa Peninsula. This sea turtle is slightly smaller than the green sea turtle and nests sporadically along the coast throughout the year. There is still much debate in the scientific community if the black sea turtle is a sub-species of the green sea turtle, or its own species. The Osa Sea Turtle Conservation Program runs turtle preservation projects in Drake Bay.