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Slow Down and Watch the Turtles!

see-turtles-in-costa-rica How and Where to see turtles in Costa Rica
If you haven’t experienced a guided night tour to observe any of the different types of sea turtles laying their eggs in the sand then consider traveling to Costa Rica for this incredible opportunity. Our country is a primary nest site for 4 of the main species of sea turtles. Being part of this sacred ritual gives us the chance to appreciate their beauty and innocent energy. Watching the babies hatch starting their journey through life is an amazing analogy for human kind. Some do not get to see the light, some make it just a few steps after devoured by their predators, even when entering the water there are other predators waiting, many make it beyond the ocean shores but just a few actually become fully developed adults. It is a process you can’t interfere with, if you take them directly to the water they would drown. They need to do it on their own, the short walk from the nest to the ocean helps them get their flippers stronger and ready to swim. It is quite a life lesson to watch this natural event, one learns to accept that we need to move at our own pace. 

Unlike land turtles, sea turtles cannot retreat into their shell. They also have paddle-like flippers. While their flippers are great for propelling them through the water, they are poorly-suited for walking on land. They also breathe air, so a sea turtle must come to the surface when it needs to breathe, which can leave them vulnerable to boats. There are seven species of sea turtles. Six of them (the hawksbill, green, flatback, loggerhead, Kemp's ridley and olive ridley turtles) have shells made up of hard scutes, while the aptly-named leatherback turtle is in the Family Dermochelyidae and has a leathery carapace made up of connective tissue. Sea turtles range in size from about 2 feet to 6 feet long, depending on the species. The Kemp's ridley turtle is the smallest, and the leatherback is the largest.

Tortuguero beach is the most important nesting site of the endangered green turtle in the western hemisphere. Giant leatherback, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles also nest here. Amazingly, females return to the same beach where they were born to lay their eggs. Even though it may be 30 years later and the appearance of the beach may have greatly changed. Sea turtle eggs need to incubate for 45 to 70 days before they hatch. The length of incubation time is affected by the temperature of the sand in which the eggs are laid. Eggs hatch more quickly if the temperature of the nest is warm. If eggs are laid in a sunny spot and there is limited rain, they may hatch in 45 days, while eggs laid in a shady spot or in cooler weather will take longer to hatch. Sea turtles may migrate long distances between feeding and nesting grounds. Estimates for the life span of sea turtles is 70-80 years.

Where to find these remarkable creatures:
Caribbean side:
1- Tortuguero
Green Sea turtles nest along the beaches of Tortuguero National Park from July to October, the hatching season here is October and November and there are tours to see them. Tortuguero is the most important green turtle hatchery in the western Caribbean. Each female arrives two to six times, at 10 to 14 day intervals, and waits two or three years before nesting again.
Our Costa Rica Connoisseur takes you to the magic Caribbean coast of Tortuguero to watch this marvel of nature and during this turtle season (July thru November) the trip is free, you can either choose to do the night walk or the baby turtle hatching tour!
2- GandocaWe suggest to visit between March and June (the peak months are April and May) to look for Leatherback's nesting. You will actually be standing a few feet away from a massive 1,000 pound Leatherback turtle while she lays 80-100 eggs, covers up her nest, tosses sand to throw off predators, and finally returns to the sea after more than an hour. The best time for hatching season is June and July. Our Undiscovered Caribbean Costa Rica Adventure offers the opportunity to see them if you visit at the right time!

Pacific side:
1- Las Baulas National Park
In the North Pacific at Las Baulas National Park the best time to see the Leatherback turtles is from October to January (the peak dates are December, January and February). January and February are good months to see them hatching. If you are around Tamarindo Beach or Playa Grande, don’t miss the opportunity!

2- Guanacaste Province
The Olive Ridley turtles nest in Ostional (Guanacaste province) where they come ashore in large numbers for several days each month from August to December. We have to coordinate very well with the cycle of the moon to make sure you have the best possibility to see them by the 1000's!!! I normally suggest people to stay at Nosara, and from here take tours to visit them at night.

Also, check out our infographic on the best time to see the turtles in Costa Rica.
Keeping it wild,
Grettel Calderon
Central America Program Director
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