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Turtle Watching in Costa Rica

Among Costa Rica’s abundant wildlife are turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs. This extraordinary creature can be seen year-round, burrowing holes along the country’s pristine beaches.

Along the Caribbean Coast in the Tortuguero area are Green and Hawksbill Turtles that can be seen from July to October. North of Limon at Barra de Matina are Leatherbacks, that are more frequently seen from February to July. Across this coastline are also the large Loggerhead turtles.

The Pacific Coast is home to Leatherbacks that frequent Playa Grande, Nancite and Playa Naranjo from October to March. Olive Ridleys come ashore at Playa Grande, Ostional Wildlife Refuge, Nancite and Playa Naranjo, with peak nesting from July to December. Throughout the year are Pacific greens found at Nancite and Playa Naranjo.

There are several spots where visitors can witness thousands of turtles emerging in one evening on small stretches of beach. Below is a detailed list of some of the best places to go turtle watching.

Tortuguero
Located on the Caribbean coast, Tortuguero National Park is home to 21 miles of beach where six of the world's turtle species come to lay their eggs. Among them are the endangered green sea turtle, the leatherback, and female hawksbill turtles. Green sea turtles return to Tortuguero from June to November, the giant leatherbacks arrive mid-February through early August, and female hawksbills appear in July.

This area is considered the largest Caribbean nesting area for the green sea turtle, with the animals returning to the coast every two to four years. After laying their eggs, the turtles return to the water while the eggs lay buried in the sand for sixty days. Once hatched, the babies scramble their way to the ocean. Unfortunately, poachers steal the eggs for the shells and meat. This means that only one in 1,000 turtles reach full adulthood. With its high population of turtles, Tortuguero is now a sanctuary for endangered turtles. This area offers turtle-awareness programs in the surrounding villages, and educational programs for visitors wanting to learn about this incredible species. Moonlit beach tours allow guests to witness turtles laying their eggs.

Parismina
Since 1991, a small group has been protecting the sea turtles around the Caribbean town of Parismina. Together with help from the Coast Guard, the volunteers patrol the beaches from the Parismina river mouth north to Jalova.

Each year the Leatherback, Green, Hawksbill and Loggerhead turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. In 2001, the Costa Rican Coast Guard and local volunteers opened a turtle hatchery here to save the turtles from poachers. During nesting season, the volunteers collect the eggs and take them to the hatcheries where they are guarded.

Parismina is a great place to see the four types of sea turtle that nest on the beaches. Turtle season here is longer than in Tortuguero due to the large number of leatherback sea turtles that nest in the black sand dunes. It is possible however, to see individual turtles year round. Guided tours and home stays are available in the town itself.

Playa Grande
One of the most popular places to spot turtles is Playa Grande located on the Guanacaste coast. Known for its great surf, Playa Grande is a 2-mile long, crescent-shaped beach that has become a nesting ground for Leatherback Sea Turtles. As the world's largest reptile, the Leatherback can grow over 2 meters in length (7 feet) and can weigh up to 600 kilos (1,322 pounds).

Incorporated into the Las Baulas National Park, Playa Grande is open to the general public during the day, and is closed at night while police patrol the area. The turtle hatching season at Playa Grande is from October to May, when thousands of turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. The shoreline is free of construction and at night, lights are covered so that turtles are not disturbed. Occasionally, guided night tours are available, allowing visitors to monitor nesting leatherbacks, measure and tag them, record nest locations, and count eggs to help the researchers with their studies.

Ostional Beach
Located on the Nicoya Peninsula, Ostional Beach draws in thousand of sea turtles that come to burry their eggs in the black, volcanic sand. Since 1984, the turtles have been protected, which has helped to make Ostional an important nesting site for the Olive Ridley sea turtle.

Although turtles nest here year round, peak season is from August through December. During wet season (May to December), up to 300,000 turtles may lay eggs over a period of eight to 10 days. To reach the shore, turtles generally ride in on the high tide at night, with their heavy bodies clambering across the sand. Finally, they dig a nest with their flippers to deposit approximately 100 eggs. Over the course of a five-day nesting period turtles will leave up to 10 million eggs on Ostional Beach.

Like most beaches in Costa Rica, Ostional is targeted by poachers that are responsible for endangering these beautiful animals. Tours and volunteer programs are available for those who want to help by relocating threatened eggs to hatcheries.

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