Costa Rica Turtles
Costa Rica is a sea turtle paradise. If youre flexible with your destinations its possible to see them nest and/or hatch nearly anytime you plan to visit.
Sea Turtles lay eggs on beaches on both the Pacific and Caribbean shores of Costa Rica every month of the year which in turn means hatchlings are emerging somewhere every day. Some species spend most of their lives far out to sea but others are commonly seen by divers and snorkelers around the popular island and reef dive sites, especially during nesting or hatching peaks.
If youve always wanted to see turtles plan ahead a little and you should have a good chance when you travel to Costa Rica.
There are a couple of National Parks established specifically to protect turtles and their nesting habitats, but depending on when youre traveling these may not be the best places to see nesting or hatchlings.
Most people automatically assume that since its namesake is the sea turtle that Tortuguero is the place to head to experience this incredible phenomenon, but except in the peak of the Atlantic Green (Chelonias mydas) nesting season July through September, youre not guaranteed sightings.
Costa Rica Turtles
The best chance to see turtles is to look for the right turtles in the right place at the right time. The right places are Ostinal and Nancite beaches. The right time is the few days around the new moon (last quarter or first quarter moon) between August and November. The right turtles are the Pacific Olive Ridleys (Scientific name Lepidochelys olivacea, Spanish Lora, Carpintera) because they exhibit an amazing nesting behavior referred to as arribadas.
A mass arrival or arribada may involve as many as 20,000 turtles arriving on the beach to nest in a single night. Even if you dont time the biggest landing perfectly there are usually hundreds of turtles nesting for a few days before and after the one to three night long main event and individuals are common nearly every night.
There is some variability in the predictive value of the new moon. Certainly many more “arribadas” occur on the darkest nights associated with the few days around the new moon but there are other factors. Sometimes rough weather and high seas interfere and reduce the numbers, but in half a dozen tries weve never been disappointed.