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.

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