Camaronal Wildlife Refuge
- Location : 7 miles south of Samara
- Area : 600 land acres & 39,537 marine acres
- Hours : 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily
- Telephone : 2659-8190 or 2659-8193
- Entrance Fee : Free
Located along Costa Rica's North Pacific shores, Playa Camaronal is situated seven miles south of Playa Samara, in the province of Guanacaste. Wildlife congregates near the brackish estuary, where the Ora River empties into the sea. The refuge offers fishing and surfing; however, it is most famous for the pivotal role it plays in the preservation of the sea turtle.read more close
Of the seven species that exist in the world, four of them frequent Camaronal’s shores: the Olive Ridley, the Atlantic leatherback, the hawksbill, and the black sea turtle. In Spanish, they are known as the lora, baula, carey, and negra – and all are endangered.
Leatherback turtles nest here year-round, 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). PRETOMA is a non-profit organization that aims to protect sea life and to promote sustainable fisheries. The project’s prime objective at Camaronal is to collect warm eggs from recently dug turtle nests, and then re-bury them in a fenced-in area safe from predators. Once babies begin to hatch, workers tag and carry them outside one by one – and watch as the creatures toddle into the sea. Information gathered from earmarked turtles is vital to understanding and predicting these reptiles’ behavior, and to better protecting the species as a whole.
The most probable time to view these graceful giants corresponds with Costa Rica’s rainy season, which runs from May through November. Babies can hatch 24 hours per day, but generally do so early in the morning or after the sun sets. Adults only lay eggs at night – tour guides, which can be hired for about $40 in Samara or Carrillo, are mandatory after park hours. Heavy downpours can lead to impassable roads coming from any direction. Be sure to ask locals for advice on the best way to travel to Camaronal during rainier months of the year. Read more about turtle tours in Costa Rica.
Bird and wildlife observation is phenomenal at Camaronal Wildlife Refuge. Trogons, hawks, cranes, hummingbirds, frigate birds, white-fronted parakeets, roseate spoonbills, tiger herons, boat billed herons, green kingfishers, social flycatchers, and mangrove warblers are just a few of the birds that can be spotted. Other animals that like to linger about the Ora River Estuary include crabs, iguanas, monkeys, coatimundi and armadillos.
Fishing is quite popular at Playa Camaronal, and anglers often surf cast from the shore. Common catches include sea bass, yellowtail and roosterfish.
The consistent waves at Playa Camaronal are perfect for seasoned surfers. Waves have been known to grow so big that they become tubular – and far too enormous for casual swimmers to enjoy. The largest wave recorded at Camaronal reached upwards of 20 feet.
There is a small information center with a restaurant and parking at the main entrance. The center sells drinks and a few food items and has bathrooms equipped with showers. Five spaces for camping are also available. Before and after park hours, a certified guide must accompany visitors to the refuge. Local experts in wildlife observation can be hired from both Samara and Carrillo for this purpose.
There is no public transportation to Camaronal. The only option is to take a bus from San Jose to Hojancha, or to Nicoya and then on to Samara and Carrillo. From there, a taxi or rented vehicle can be acquired.
By Car: From Nicoya, drive 23 miles west to Playa Samara. Take a left to Carrillo, and on toward Estrada. At the fork in the road just before Estrada, take a right. Follow the path until a sign for Islita appears on the right. Turn here, and take a left where the road ends. The entrance to Camaronal is well marked. The sign will be on the right in less than a mile. During the rainy season, this route may not be possible. It is best to hire a local guide to arrange transportation from Samara or Carrillo, particularly at night when visibility is low.