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Best Places to See Turtles in Costa Rica

Famous for their sea turtle conservation work, Costa Rica is a haven for these beautiful creatures to come ashore and lay their eggs. Having been on earth for more than 100 million years, unfortunately their numbers are declining at an alarming rate.

Costa Rica is considered the birthplace of eco-tourism and its protected Pacific and Caribbean coastlines provide a haven for 5 of the world’s 7 species of sea turtle.

With Costa Rica at the forefront of marine turtle conservation, you can enjoy the increasingly rare sight of sea turtles in their natural, wild habitats, coming ashore and nesting. Each species of turtle found in Costa Rica has its own season and preferred region for nesting. From seeing more than 200,000 sea turtles coming to nest to learning about Costa Rica’s conservation efforts; with this Costa Rica turtle guide, you’ll be able to schedule your vacation to Costa Rica around your turtle spotting desires.

Costa Rica arribada

Experience Costa Rica’s incredible ‘arribada’ where 200,000 sea turtles come ashore to nest

♦ Olive Ridley Sea Turtle

Nesting Season: All year round
Pacific Nesting Sites: Ostional Wildlife Reserve, Santa Rosa National Park

The Olive Ridley turtle nests on the Pacific side of Costa Rica with the highest numbers found on the Guanacaste coastline. As the smallest sea turtle found in Costa Rica it is often seen not too far from the shoreline. Providing what is perhaps the best Costa Rica turtle experience, the Olive Ridley displays spectacular behavior in what is known as an ‘arribada’ meaning ‘arrival’ in English.

From January to April, about 15,000 sea turtles come ashore to nest 3 days a month while from July to December, some 200,000 turtles invade the beaches lasting for 4 or 8 nights.

The Ostional Beach in the Ostional Wildlife Reserve and Nancite Beach in the Santa Rosa National Park on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast are 2 of the 5 beaches in the world where arribadas take place. Due to the frequency and sheer number of sea turtles arriving specifically to the Ostional Wildlife Reserve, the area has been recognized as the world’s primary nesting site for Olive Ridley Sea Turtles.

Olive Ridley Turtle, Costa Rica

Olive Ridley Turtles coming ashore during the arribada at the Ostional National Wildlife Reserve / Source

♦ Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Nesting Season: May – end of August
Caribbean Nesting Sites: Tortuguero National Park

The Loggerhead Sea Turtle is the world’s largest hard-shelled turtle measuring over 3ft. long and can weigh up to 440lbs. Small populations of Loggerhead turtles appear in Tortuguero, enjoying the beautiful Caribbean coastline of Costa Rica from May to August.

Although the loggerhead is now protected by international laws, it remains an endangered species as a myth that its eggs could cure impotency or serve as an aphrodisiac led to it being overhunted.

Seeing a Loggerhead Sea Turtle in its natural habitat in the Tortuguero National Park is one of the most spectacular and unfortunately rare sights to enjoy in Costa Rica.

Loggerhead Turtle, Costa Rica

Newborn Loggerhead Turtle reaching for its first Caribbean wave in Costa Rica / Source

♦ Leatherback Turtle

Nesting Season: October – end of June
Pacific Nesting Sites: Corcovado National Park, Las Baulas Marine Park, Ostional Wildlife Refuge
Caribbean Nesting Sites: Tortuguero National Park, Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge

Spending most of its time in the deeper waters of the Pacific and Caribbean, the Leatherback Turtle comes ashore the beautiful sandy beaches of Costa Rica to nest. It tends to be found in the National Parks and Wildlife Refuges of Costa Rica, particularly from February to July on the Caribbean side and from October through March on the Pacific coast.

Along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, the peak activity of Leatherback Turtles takes place in November and December and on the Caribbean coast in April and May.

A critically endangered species, the number of Leatherback Turtles has fallen to almost a fifth of what they were in 1980. The leatherback is also the largest of the living turtles in the world and one of the planet’s largest reptiles. Interestingly, Leatherback Turtles are great wanderers and often go off on their own with the turtle being documented as far north as Alaska and as far south as Argentina and New Zealand.

Leatherback Turtle, Costa Rica

A beautiful, nesting Leatherback Turtle in Costa Rica / Source

♦ Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Nesting Season: October – end of March
Pacific Nesting Sites: Marino Ballena National Park
Caribbean Nesting Sites: Tortuguero National Park, Cahuita National Park

The Hawksbill Sea Turtle is often regarded as the most beautiful sea turtle in the world due to its colorful shell. Hawksbill Turtles found in the shallow waters of the Pacific and Caribbean in Costa Rica differ slightly in their coloration and shells.

As dangerous as it is delicate, the Hawksbill Turtle is one of the most aggressive sea turtles found in Costa Rica.

Your best chance at seeing this critically endangered species is on the shores of Tortuguero National Park from March to October, in the Cahuita National Park between April and October and at the Ballena Marine National Park from May to November.

Hawksbill Turtle, Costa Rica

A young, colorful Hawksbill Turtle on its way to the ocean in the Cahuita National Park / Source

♦ Green Sea Turtle

Nesting Season: July – end of October
Caribbean Nesting Sites: Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica is one of the most important Green Sea Turtle nesting sites in the world. The endangered turtle giants of Costa Rica are also the country’s most famous sea turtle, weighing up to a hefty 350lbs.

Approximately 22,500 female Green Turtles nest in Tortuguero annually with the prime nesting season running from July to October.

The best time to spot Green Sea Turtles coming ashore in Costa Rica is in July and August when their nesting activity is at their highest. Responsible tours to the nesting sites of Green Sea Turtles are extremely popular and make for an unforgettable experience as you watch them in the darkness come ashore to nest.

Green Sea Turtle, Costa Rica

A Green Sea Turtle making its way back into the ocean at the Tortuguero National Park

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