Ostional Turtles: A Remarkable Event You Don’t Want To Miss

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A helpful guide if you’re planning to see the Sea Turtles at the Ostional Wildlife Refuge in Costa Rica…

Did you know that the synchronized, large-scale nesting of sea turtles is called an “Arribada“?

Each year, something truly remarkable happens on the shores of one of Costa Rica’s famous beaches.  Giant leatherback sea turtles return to to the beach where they were born.  Read on to find out more…

Aribaba has begun! After finding their way back to their birth place, thousands of sea turtles jockey for a nesting position

The Start of the ‘Arribada’

As one of earth’s most incredible creatures starts to make its swim inshore, they’ve come for a very specific reason. Something you can witness first hand.

While it happens all year round, between the months of July and November, Ostional beach is the home for hundreds of thousands of Olive Ridley Sea Turtles. They swim for many miles, finally resting on Ostional beach to lay their eggs. As each turtles finds their spot on the beach, they start to dig a nest big enough to house and protect as many as 80-100 eggs at a time.

The locals call this event ‘Arribada’ – or ‘Arrival’ and it usually happens under the cover of nightfall between the times of 8pm and 4am.

Harvesting Ostional Turtle Eggs Is LEGAL – Here’s Why…

While it might sound like a terrible thing to let happen, it’s for good reason. Turtles aren’t exactly the most nimble of animals and as they struggle to pull themselves across the sand, local scientists have found that during this treacherous final leg of journey thousands of eggs are destroyed in the process.

It takes tremendous effort to climb the beach in search of a nesting place. After an exhaustive effort, these big female sea turtles will return to the ocean, and will not return for another year.

That’s not the end of it however…

These defenseless eggs are vulnerable to other ‘outsiders’. Poachers, vultures, dogs and raccoons are on the prowl. For this reason, the government of Costa Rica have allowed the locals to harvest the eggs. This protects them from being destroyed.  Locals and tourists can also help clean the beach to make it as clean, comfortable and safe as possible for the nesting to take place.

But There’s More…

If these eggs manage to get through all this, there’s still more to contend with…

After around 50 days, each hatchling breaks out of its shell, clambers out of the nest dug for it by its mother and starts to make a scramble to the sea. Guided by the feel of the cool breeze coming from the ocean and protected by onlookers, each turtle then makes a ‘run’ for it.

In addition to the Jurassic looking Leatherback, the Hawkbill Turtle is another of the great sea turtle species that make the annual migration back to the Costa Rican nesting grounds.

Because of the sheer amount of grueling tests these turtles go through, the survival rate is typical quite low. It’s for this reason each mother lays up to 100 eggs at a time.

Each turtle will take anywhere between 10-15 years to mature into a fully grown adults. They’ll also have many other tests to content with as they swim the oceans.

It’s a real tough test from the outset for the baby turtles – but with the help of the locals and tourists alike, if these turtles make it to the sea, some of them, will, one day be back to lay their own eggs.

Ostional Turtles Fun Facts

  • Scientific Name: Lepidochelys Olivacea
  • Other Names: Olive Ridley Sea Turtles / Ostional Turtles
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Weight: Weighing between 75lbs – 100lbs
  • Size: Grows up to around 2 ½ feet long
  • Life Expectancy: 50 Years
  • Diet: Wide variety of food including; crustacean, jellyfish and other types of fish

While they are in size, the second smallest sea turtles, Olive Ridley’s are the most common sea turtles in the world with an estimated 1 million+ adults.

Also another fun fact you might not know, is the temperature at which they hatch will determine the sex of the turtle. Incubation of anywhere between 87.8-89.6º F will hatch as females while male sea turtles will hatch at 84.2-86º F.

Olive Ridley Sea Turtles can expect to live up to 50 years old. That said however, their chance of survival is so low and it is for this reason mothers will lay up to 80-100 eggs at a time

Seeing Ostional Turtles in Costa Rica

Visitors are often in awe at the untouched beauty of the land these turtles call home. Spanning 3 miles across the coast, the area in which the nesting takes place is protected by The Ostional Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is located in the Guanacaste Province in the north-western region of the country.

If you’re looking to experience this wonder of nature you basically have two options:

  1. Book a tour and be taken to the Ostional Wildlife Refuge by bus
  2. Or, make your way there yourself.


Ostional Turtle Tours can be found from various different companies and hotels. You can expect to pay anywhere between $50-100 for the round trip to and from the refuge.


If however, you want to drive to the Refuge by car, there are a few things to keep in mind. The roads can tricky to drive through in dry season let alone if it’s middle of rainy season. As the best time to experience the Arribada is right in the middle of rainy season – drive with caution.

Immediately after hatching, baby leatherback turtles must run the “gantlet” as they try to avoid many predators on their way to the safety of the surf

You’ll Need a Guide

Whichever way you decide to go – it’s important to note, that by law, guides are required to accompany you through the Refuge area. Guides tend to have a good level of English and will cost you around $15 USD for each adult.

Depending on the price you pay for the tour, you may or may not get the guide included. So make sure you ask before booking.

If you’re going there by yourself head towards the Guide Association office or alternatively contact the Ostional Guide Association Facebook page to book a guide before you arrive.

The Ostional Wildlife Refuge

First founded in 1984 (although the intial protection had been set up 3 years prior to this), the Ostional Wildlife Refuge is located around 50km from the city of Nicoya within the Nicoya Peninsula.

Once you get to Costa Rica the distances to Ostional are as follows:

  • Liberia Airport: Around 2 hours
  • Playas Del Coco: Around 2.5 hours
  • Tamarindo: Around 1.5 hours

If you plan to drive there yourself, use Google Maps and be prepared to hit some bumpy dirt paths. Take it slow and account for any weather changes.


When is the best time to see turtles in Ostional?

While nesting happens all year around the best time to witness this event is in the rainy season months of August to the end of November. Peak season however is between the months of September and October. Again, as its rainy season make sure you’ve got suitable clothing.

As each arribada gets closer, turtles can be seen congregating off the coast. The turtles will mate in open waters but once it’s time for an arribada, they will make their way ashore to start digging their nests.

It’s Time…But How Do The Know?

While it isn’t yet quite clear why the turtles choose these specific months, it’s commonly believed it has everything to do with the moon. Scientists believe as the moon reaches it’s last quarter, the turtles use this as a sign to start the arribada.

What happens if you’ve already booked a trip outside of August to November? Well, you’ll be glad to know that nesting actually takes place all year round. Most tourists tend to visit during these months just because of the sheer size of the arribada taking place.

In regards to the time of the day – It’s recommended you get there for around 5pm.

Though awkward, slow and lumbering on land, sea turtles are magnificently graceful in the water
Can I take pictures?

Yes and no.

In the dark of night, you won’t be able to take any pictures as the flash from any photos taken can disturb and distress the nesting turtles.

Arriving in the day time? No problem – you’ll often be allowed to record and take pictures.

Am I allowed to touch the turtles?

Seen someone else pick a turtle up? Don’t follow suit – for a multitude of reasons, it’s generally advised you leave them alone. One being the fact, each new hatchling will need to build up its lung capacity before entering the water.  By picking them up you might think your are helping them but in fact could be hampering their development. Second, they will also need to build some sort of physical strength before entering the water.

You can however ensure safe passage by making sure vultures and other predators aren’t able to get in contact with the baby turtles.

How do I find accommodation near Ostional Beach?

If you’d rather head closer to the refuge you’ve also got a few options.

  1. Book a budget hotel
  2. Stay at higher end hotel
  3. Stay with a local

Ostional isn’t the busiest town in Costa Rica and finding accommodation can quite difficult around an Arribada. So if you want to stay closer to the action, get in contact and we can arrange accommodation for your budget

Play an active role in the preservation of Olive Ridley Sea Turtles

Olive Ridley Sea Turtles were once critically endangered of going extinct. But, through the efforts of local governments and international organizations the numbers are slowly rising. Now, you too can play an active role in the preservation of these beautiful animals.

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