Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Costa Rica: How to see turtles at Ostional Wildlife Refuge

We actually went all the way to Nosara to see turtles at nearby Ostional, but we learned the hard way that it's not as easy as you'd hope. I wanted to share what we learned so others won't make the same mistakes that we did.

People come from all over the world to Costa Rica to see turtles coming onshore in droves to lay eggs (called the arribada) or to see babies hatching and making their way to the ocean. One of the best places to see Oliver Ridley turtles is Ostional National Wildlife Refuge.

What we didn't get to see. :( Credit: The Sasu Post.

How to get there (from Playa Guiones or Playa Pelada):

My recommendation: rent a car, or stay at Ostional Turtle Lodge, which is steps away from the nesting beach.

Alternative routes: 1) You can take an ATV there. However, during the rainy season, the Nosara River may be flooded, which means you'd have to hop off, wade through, and walk the rest of the way. Not pleasant, I imagine, especially when you have to return in the dark. 2) You could also take a taxi, but they're not easy to come across, and you won't find a line of them waiting at Ostional to take you back. You'd have to arrange a pickup in advance, which isn't easy, since you can't predict when the arribada will happen (anywhere from sunset to 6am). Maybe less of a problem if you have phone service.

What you do once you're there:

Once you get close to the beach, there's a ranger booth with the sign that says "Asociacion de Guias Locales de Ostional." The guides there will take you on tour for $10 per person. I believe you can't go there on your own.

When we went, the booth was completely empty – no one was there because there was no turtle activity. Which leads me to my next point...

When to go:

The time to see an arribada is the few nights before a new moon. You can't predict exactly when it's going to happen, so it's best if you have a few days in Nosara to hang out. Definitely can't do what we did, which was assume that we would see turtles in our two nights there.

I recommend following the local guides' Facebook page for information on when there's turtle activity.

What we didn't realize was that the timing is pretty strict. We went two days after the new moon, and there were no turtles. The night before, there was a family that hung out at the beach all night, waiting to see a turtle, and only saw one around 2am. The arribada had happened ~5 days before the new moon if I remember correctly, so we had missed it by SEVEN days. 

Oh well, at least there was a nice sky.

And we got to see some baby turtle eggs.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Costa Rica Day 6-7: Nosara and Playa Pelada

I'm combining a couple days, because one was fully dedicated to transportation, i.e. sitting in an SUV as we made the drive from Monteverde to Nosara. I think one big learning for me was that while the freeways are fast (well, as fast as you can go in Costa Rica), you don't really get to enjoy the journey.

There were still beautiful views from the windows, don't get me wrong, but there weren't many stops we could make along the way. Lots of green, though, and teak tree plantations.

We did make a rest stop at a three-way junction. There's a restaurant next to a grove of mango trees, where macaws and howler monkeys hang out.

In Nosara, we stayed in Playa Pelada, which is a small, pretty, surprisingly quiet beach next to the busier Playa Guiones. I had imagined something like Hawaii, where there are clear asphalt roads and an open view of the beach from any point in town, but I was completely wrong.

What we found was thick jungle that abruptly stops at the ocean. In "town," the dirts are thin dirt trails, and virtually everyone travels by ATV (we spotted no taxis while we were there!). There's very little visibility (and signage) to help you get from one point to the other. If it weren't for an old worn out map that a former traveler had left behind in our Airbnb, we would've gotten lost many, many times.

And that's why we found ourselves running late and sprinting to Nosara Yoga Institute in the morning. Nosara is known for yoga and is where a lot of yogis train. I don't really do yoga, and I'm as flexible as concrete, but I did it anyway.

After yoga, we walked around the town (it was swelteringly hot), had smoothies and lots of water, and sat around on the beach.

For dinner, we went to La Luna, a beachside restaurant in Playa Pelada, and watched the sun set. And that was the sunset and end of our trip.

Goodbye Costa Rica.

Other Costa Rica posts:

Friday, October 2, 2015

Costa Rica Day 5: Curi-cancha Wildlife Refuge

We squeezed in one more full day of hiking before leaving Santa Elena. We had asked several locals on where to go, and overwhelming the answer was Curi-cancha Reserve.

The reserve is partly lowland forest, but if you climb up, it technically transitions to a cloud forest. It was nothing like Santa Elena reserve – it was much drier. Animal-lovers come here because the lack of enveloping mist and fog makes the animals much easier to see.

Strangler fig wrapping itself around a host tree

Giant Rhino beetle

It's a "birdwatcher's paradise," and one of the few places you can go to see the resplendent quetzal, now sadly endangered. It's known as one of the world's most beautiful birds.  Our guide told us to keep our expectations low, that he knew of travelers who had come to Costa Rica multiple times for a glimpse of it, and had never gotten lucky.

You may have heard of the quetzal. Maybe it sounds familiar as the "quetzalcoatl" from your history books. It means "feathered serpent," and was named for how the males look as they fly across the sky with their long emerald tailfeathers rippling behind.

Their tail feathers used to be exchanged as currency, and interestingly enough, the Guatemalan dollar is called the "Quetzal" (and has one flying in the corner). Montezuma's headdress was also made with the long feathers of the quetzal.

We actually managed to see one through our guide's impressive telescope! I'm guessing it was a juvenile male, because its tailfeathers were kind of short.

iPhone + telescope picture. Not the best quality, BUT HEY we saw a quetzal!

We also saw other animals too – coati, agouti (which look like giant chinchillas), a blue-crowned motmot, a keel-billed toucan, and...hummingbirds. There were a bunch of hummingbird feeders in an area of the reserve. Our guide commented that it wasn't the right thing to do, but as it's private property, it was not his decision to make. Apparently hummingbirds are only in the Americas, which I didn't know – and explained the swaths of people taking pictures and recording videos like crazy.

"Don King" caterpillar

A view of the cloud forest at higher elevation.

Inside a strangler fig. The host tree has long died and decomposed to nothing.

Capuchin monkey!

Glasswing butterfly, pretending to be dead

If you like animals (especially birds) and not tourists, I recommend coming to this place.

Other Costa Rica posts: