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Ostional National Wildlife Refuge

Ostional National Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

  • Location : 6 miles from Nosara
  • Altitude : Sea level
  • Area : 1,156 land acres and 19,768 marine acres
  • Hours : 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
  • Telephone : 2682-0937 and 2682-0400
  • Entrance Fee : Free

Ostional Wildlife Refuge is best known as Costa Rica's second-most important nesting site for the Olive Ridley sea turtle; it is second only to Playa Nancite, located in Santa Rosa National Park. Every year, tens of thousands of Olive Ridleys come to shore during arribadas, mass nesting periods that last year-round with peaks between June and December. The months of September, October and November see the largest number of nesting turtles. Small populations of leatherback and Pacific green turtles also nest on Playa Ostional.

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Arribadas occur at least once monthly, and between June-December, they may occur every two weeks. Turtle tours are booked from nearby towns including Nosara, Tamarindo and Samara, or visitors may visit the refuge and walk the beach with a park ranger. Note that flashlights, cameras and video cameras are strictly prohibited during evening turtle tours.  

The refuge also encompasses rocky headlands, an estuary and a mangrove swamp located near the Nosara River. Home to four types of mangrove tree, the swamp provides a safe nesting site for a variety of seabirds and other waterfowl – up to 100 species have been spotted here. The area is accessible by beach hike or, for a more relaxed visit, a dugout canoe ride. 

Volunteer Opportunities: 

Ostional Wildlife Refuge accepts volunteers year-round. Volunteers assist in research and investigation – recording data, counting turtle eggs, and administering medicines – as well as park and beach maintenance. A $20 per day donation to cover food and lodging is required, either at a local home or at the refuge’s research station. Ostional asks that volunteers donate a minimum of one to two weeks of their time, as training lasts two days.


A ranger station and a biological field station are located at Playa Ostional. Bilingual guides are available for turtle tours. Camping is not permitted.

Flora & Fauna:

In addition to sea turtles, visitors may observe starfish, sea urchins, anemones and large populations of fish. Ghost and red rock crabs scuttle down the beach, foraging for food at the water line. Iguanas, coatis and howler monkeys populate the refuge, and the estuary is home to at least 100 bird species. Other than mangrove trees, Ostional’s vegetation is sparse, consisting mostly of frangipani trees, cacti and other succulents that can resist the heat of Guanacaste’s summers. 

Places to Stay: 

A few small hostels and hotels cater mostly to surfers. Additional lodging options are located in Santa Cruz and Nosara. Most Playa Ostional lodging is budget to mid-range, and some businesses may not accept credit cards. 

Getting there:

By Bus:  Public buses depart San Jose’s San Juan de Dios Hospital for Santa Cruz at 7 a.m. 9:45 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m., 4:30 p.m., and 7 p.m. The trip lasts 4-5 hours and costs $9. From Santa Cruz, you must take the bus to Ostional; daily departures are at 12:30 p.m. Alternately, a bus ($8) departs San Jose for Nosara at 5:30 a.m., arriving around 11:30 a.m. From Nosara, take a taxi (about $20) or walk the remaining six miles to Ostional. Note that buses may not run during the rainy season (May through November).

By Car: From San Jose, drive north on the Interamerican Highway toward Liberia. Take the left turnoff for the Tempisque Bridge and continue west to the town of Nicoya. Follow the main road for roughly 18 miles. Immediately after the gas station, the main road veers to the left toward Samara. Here, turn right, following the signs to Nosara. Follow this bumpy dirt road about 15 miles. 

At the T intersection, there will be a sign pointing right toward Nosara. Once you reach Nosara, follow the gravel road between Ostional and Nosara, which will require you to ford the Mountain River about three miles south of Ostional. Note that the river may be impassable during the rainy season. Two miles later, the road divides; the left fords the Nosara River just before entering the village of Nosara and is passable in only the most favorable conditions; the right crosses the Nosara River via a bridge and the town of Santa Marta.

Ostional National Wildlife Refuge in Pictures

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