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Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge

Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

  • Location : Tamarindo Bay
  • Altitude : Sea level
  • Telephone : 2659-9194

The saltwater jungle of the Tamarindo Estuary lies at the heart of this wildlife refuge. Spanning 1,200 acres, the mangrove estuary serves as the natural border between Tamarindo and Playa Grande. Its winding canals are home to ospreys, herons and kingfishers in addition to howler monkeys and coatimundis. The refuge lures visitors with beautiful beaches and a variety of water activities. Guided boat tours and kayak trips are an excellent way to spot local wildlife. On boat tours, most guides won’t rest until the group is able to spot one of the Estuary’s most renowned and mysterious creatures – the American Crocodile, which can reach up to 10-feet (3 m.) in length and weigh between 40 and 500 pounds (18 and 226 kg.).

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The refuge is an important nesting site for several species of sea turtles. Playa Grande is one of three beaches in the refuge, and is known as one of the largest leatherback turtle nesting sites in the world. Every year between October and March, hundreds of leatherback sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. The refuge also hosts nesting Pacific green turtles, Olive Ridley turtles and hawksbill turtles.


The Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge lures visitors with its beautiful beaches and variety of water activities. Guided boat tours and kayak trips are an excellent way to spot local wildlife.

Guided evening turtle tours can be arranged at the Las Baulas Marine Park ranger station in Playa Grande, or with the Local Guide Association at Tamarindo's satellite ranger station. Most hotels are happy to book turtle tours for an additional fee.

Flora and Fauna: 

Flora: There are five species of mangroves in the Tamarindo Estuary. The mangroves provide a safe spawning site for many fish and other marine animals. Trees include the acacia, carob, mahogany, Tamarindo and Guanacaste.

Fauna: Herons, white ibis, ospreys, egrets and kingfishers are commonly seen in the refuge. Howler monkeys, coatimundis, crocodiles, and basilisk lizards are also spotted on kayaks/ boat rides through the mangrove estuary.


There are no public facilities in the Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge. However, nearby Las Baulas Marine Park has ranger stations in Tamarindo and Playa Grande, and both are staffed with bilingual guides. During turtle nesting season (October-March), visitors are asked to make turtle tour reservations at least eight days in advance.

Getting there:

From Liberia: From the intersection on the Pan-American Highway at Liberia, drive west towards the Pacific coast. At the town of Belen, take a right turn and continue on paved road for 21 km. until you reach Huacas. Turn left here, staying on pavement, and continue to Villareal and then to the town of Tamarindo. Numerous tour operators in Tamarindo offer guided kayak and boat excursions through the estuary.

From San Jose: Depending on road conditions and traffic, travel time between San Jose and Tamarindo is roughly 4.5 hours. From San Jose take Hwy 1 North. Follow signs to San Ramon and stay in the center lane— the road splits to the left goes to the airport and to the right to goes to Alajuela.  Stay in the center lane. Exit right on Highway 1, following signs for San Ramon and later Liberia.

Continue north on Highway 1 towards the Nicoya Peninsula, and follow signs for the Tempisque River Bridge, Nicoya and Route 18.  There is a well-marked intersection at a Shell gas station with signs to the Tempisque River Bridge on Route 18. After crossing the bridge, look for Route 21 and take this through Nicoya and Santa Cruz.

During the dry season, it’s possible to turn left (heading west) just after Santa Cruz, following signs to Tamarindo. The paved road passes though the small town of 27 de Abril and then turns to dirt and gravel. The 11 mile stretch has many deep potholes and must be navigated slowly and carefully. It can be impassable during the wet season, even with 4WD.

An alternate route is via Belen. Continue north past Santa Cruz to Belen, then head south through Huacas to Tamarindo. This road is completely paved and is better for non-4WD cars or during the rainy season.

Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge in Pictures

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