As one of the most important locations in the world to see turtles in Costa Rica, Ostional Wildlife Refuge is a must visit for animal lovers. This refuge protects 238 hectares of protected land, including 15 km of beach where thousands of turtles lay their eggs. This is one of the best things to do in Guanacaste and best places in Costa Rica for a nature and wildlife experience.
If you want to see turtles in Costa Rica, then you have to visit Ostional Wildlife Refuge. In this guide, you will read more information about Ostional, how to get there and the best time to go.
The Ostional Wildlife Refuge was established in 1983 for the sole purpose of protecting the crucial nesting site of the Olive Ridley Sea turtle.
Since there were many poachers, it became necessary to protect this land as the turtle population was declining rapidly. Since 1983, thousands of turtles are safe from harm and can lay their eggs in peace. Visitors can come to this beach to learn more and witness the spectacular nestings of turtles and hatchings of babies.
Location and Directions
The Ostional Wildlife Refuge is is located in the Nicoya Peninsula about 50 km (31 miles) from Nicoya city and a few kilometers (couple miles) from Nosara. Ostional is 107 kilometers (66.5 miles) and a 2.5 hour drive from Playas del Coco, 60 kilometers (37.6 miles) and 1.5 hour drive from Tamarindo and 104 kilometers (64 miles) and 2 hour and 15 minute drive from Liberia Airport.
How to Get to Ostional
You can enter in Ostional Nacional Wildlife Refuge on Google Maps as your destination. Please note you should have a 4wd or high clearance car for this route as the last hour or so of the drive is on completely unpaved roads if going by Route 160.
Bus: From Santa Cruz, take the bus leaving at noon to Ostional which returns at 5 PM. Another way is to leave from San Jose to Nosara by bus which leaves at 530 AM and from Nosara take a taxi to Ostional.
We do not recommend driving to Ostional at night (gets dark by 6 PM everyday) and in a sedan. A high clearance car is the best for dry season and in rainy season (May through November), a 4wd. Something extremely important to know about Ostional is that when there are tropical storms, the river floods and it is not possible to pass.
Ostional, Costa Rica Turtles
The majority of the turtles that come to nest are the Olive Ridley sea turtle but leatherback and pacific green turtles can also be seen during certain months. The first documented occurrence was in 1959 and in 1970 began the official research of this phenomenon in Ostional, started by Dr. Douglas Clark.
Ostional, Costa Rica Arribadas
Turtles come to nest all year long at the beach but there are certain times of the year where you can see hundreds of thousands of turtles all come to hatch their eggs at once.
This period of time is called an arribada, which means arrival in Spanish and it only occurs in a few spots in the world. The biggest arribadas occur from July – December and November generally sees the biggest arribadas.
This arribada occurs in 8 beaches in the world and 2 of them are in the Pacific coast of Costa Rica (Nancite beach in Santa Rosa and Playa Ostional). Ostional Wildlife Refuge is considered as the site of the most reproduction of Olive Ridley turtles in the whole world.
They come to shore to lay their eggs usually right before a new moon when it is the darkest. Sometimes there are SO many turtles, they have to crawl on top of each other and there’s no room to walk!
Arribadas occur once a month, sometimes even twice for 3 to 4 days. The largest number of mother turtles during an arribada recorded has been 500,00!
Although turtles normally nest at night when it is the darkest, they will come during the day to nest during arribadas. We have been to the refuge during an arribada and have seen hundreds of turtles at 2 PM.
Best Time to Go to Ostional Wildlife Refuge
The best time to visit Ostional Wildlife Refuge is during the rainy season so May – December. During rainy season, you can see turtles almost every day even if it’s not an arribada. Arribadas are the most intense September – December. There may be really small ones in June and January.
Even though turtles nest all year long, there may only be one or two a night for the dry season months. So if you go to Ostional from February – April, there is a very good chance you won’t see any turtles.
Turtles prefer to nest in the dark so it’s best to go during the waxing crescent moon or right after the new moon when it is the darkest. The best time to see turtles in Ostional is during sunset around 5 PM and early morning around 5 AM. It’s common for babies to hatch early in the morning.
We visited in November twice (not during an arribada) and saw lots of mother turtles around 4-5 PM. We saw babies hatching around 6 AM.
If you are flexible in your schedule and want to see an arribada, follow the Association of Guides in Ostional Facebook page. They post updates on when arribadas start, how long they think it will last and current conditions.
Ostional Turtle Tours
To go into the refuge, every visitor has to go with a guide, you can’t walk in by yourself. If you are traveling to Ostional on your own, you can hire a guide at the Guide Association office in town right next to the soccer field. You can also message the official Ostional Guide Association Facebook page to reserve one in advance.
If you want to do a day trip from Tamarindo or Coco and need transportation, you must book with a tour company as they will provide round trip transportation and the guide. A tour costs $50-80 depending on where you are coming from.
Lodging, Town and Beach
The town is very small with only one soda, a few pulperias and a few cabinas for lodging.
The beach is also popular with surfers since Playa Ostional is a great surfing beach.
There aren’t a lot of hotels around but there are a few right in town near the beach. Many of them are cabinas or small local hotels, nothing fancy since Ostional is a rural town.
If you’re looking for a higher end hotel, Ostional Turtle Lodge is a good option. Cabinas Ostional and Cabinas Arribadas are two near the beach that are not too expensive. You can also stay in nearby Nosara.
We have camped in Ostional a couple times. There are some locals who will let you camp in their yard, we stayed twice at one house near the entrance of town coming from the river. He charges 5,000 colones per person and the property has picnic tables, showers and bathrooms. He also offers turtle tours.
Important Things to Know Before You Visit
You must go with a guide to the refuge
I know I mentioned this before but this is very important. If you try to go in the refuge by yourself, the rangers will stop you.
If you go on a tour, wear black
Turtles are very sensitive to light and colors. When they’re swimming in the waves near shore, they will pop up to check out the beach and see if it’s a good time to go nest. If they see bright colors or white light, they won’t nest. So make sure to wear black.
No flash photography and no white light
Guides will give you or have a red light which is not harmful to the turtle. When taking pictures, don’t use flash.
Don’t touch turtles and give the nesting ones plenty of space
It’s sad to have to say this but please don’t touch the turtles and don’t get too close when they are nesting.
If you see babies, you can help them get to the ocean by shooing away vultures and dogs
Many volunteers do this. If you see babies crawling on shore, you can help them by shooing away the many vultures and dogs who will try to eat them. But don’t touch the babies or pick them up, they need to feel the sand in order to remember where it is. If they are female, they will come back to the same beach to nest when they’re adults and they need to feel it to remember.
Ostional is the only beach in the world where locals can legally harvest eggs
Since there are so many turtles during arribadas, many of the eggs get destroyed by other turtles. The government set up a program where locals can legally harvest a certain number of eggs to sell so they can make a living. You may see locals collecting eggs on the beach and in town, they wash, clean and pack the eggs in a station on the beach.
Ostional National Wildlife Refuge Video
Watch our video of our trip to Ostional Wildlife Refuge back in 2013.
Want to see more turtles? Head to Tortuguero National Park, an excellent place to see Green and Leatherback turtles.
Read about other wildlife reserves in Costa Rica!
La Marta Wildlife Refuge in Turrialba
Hacienda Baru in Dominical
Curi Cancha Reserve in Monteverde
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Hi Sammy –
We will be arriving in your beautiful county a week from today! We are planning to stay near Ostional for two days in hopes that we will see the turtles and hatchlings. Can you tell me what beaches you went to in order to see the turtles in the afternoon, and also at sunrise? I know we need to go with a guide to the Refuge and plan on doing that, but what other places nearby can we drive to?
Thank you for all you do!
You can only go in the Refuge which is Playa Ostional, the guide will take you to see turtles
I was so happy to see the hot water lake behind Ostional beach now has an exit for trapped turtles. Before that it was up to folks to grab them and pull them out by hand, which although fun, did leave me with years of parasitic infection… worth it, just saying. So really glad to see the progress made in protecting these monarchs of the ocean.
Emily Kendall says
We will be staying in Ostional for only 1 night coming up in September. Do you think we will be able to get on a tour with the Guide Association Office if we go that afternoon? Im not sure if you usually have to book in advance or if they fill up
They require reservations in advance, so you have to contact them beforehand to schedule your visit, they don’t allow guests without reservations now
Thank you for all the information. I want to go tomorrow for two nights and hope there will be a a small arribada. Do you think it can happen at this time? And if there is no arribada can you see some turtles at the beach? Last question: I want to stay somewhere cheap because I am a backpacker. What is the place called you stayed and how do I get in contact with the local? Is it also safe because I am a girl on my own 🙂 Thank you!
I saw the Ostional Guide Association posted on their Facebook morning the arribada has started. But just keep in mind that nobody can predict an arribada, they can just kind of guess around which dates but not the exact date or time since it’s nature and nature does what it wants.
We didn’t stay in Ostional in a hostel or hotel, we free camped on the beach at a friends house but there are some very small cabinas and rooms in town.
Pura Vida! I love your site and appreciate the information very much. We are going to be visiting Costa Rica early-mid August. Would you recommend Tortuguero or Ostional for our best chance at seeing turtles?
Both are great places in August actually. But in Ostional, that refuge actually has “arribadas” which are the mass nesting of turtles. We can’t predict exactly when they happen, usually when it’s the darkest but it depends since it is nature.
Thank you for posting all of this info! We’re visiting Costa Rica for a week in mid-February, I booked our flights through Liberia in hopes of seeing leatherbacks nesting at Playa Grande only to learn that there hasn’t been much activity this year. Now looking into how likely it is that we’d see a (small, I know) arribada around Ostional. I saw that one just occurred and that it began a few days before the new moon. We’ll be 2-3 hours north around Feb 16-18, the next new moon is Feb 23. Do you think it would be worthwhile for us to spend a day or two near Ostional in hopes of it happening again while we’re there or do you think it’s unlikely in February since it’s not the peak nesting season?
(trying this again, don’t think it went through the first time)
Hi Dave, the arribadas do usually go by the moon cycle but it’s nature and sometimes they don’t happen, sometimes they’re early/late, sometimes it’s only for 1 day, sometimes it’s just a few turtles and especially now that we are in dry season the amount is way less. I’d follow the Ostional guide association Facebook page as they update when the arribadas occur and conditions https://www.facebook.com/GUIASAGLO/.
Veronica from seattle says
Am dying to do this! Hoping to stay in samara and come up here to see the nesting or hatching over Christmas 2019. To see both do you need to stay overnight on the beach? Are there tours that you can take to do both or would you need to do multiple tours: one in the evening and one in the morning. do they allow kids?
Hoping to basically do your 2 week itinerary backwards! very excited! Thank you so much for this awesome info!
I would definitely stay overnight, it gives you more chances to see nestings and hatchings because most hatchings happen early in the morning like 5 AM and nestings happen when it gets dark. Kids can go in but everyone has to go with a guide so you can hire a guide/book a tour with the guide association in Ostional or find one from Samara.
Glad the blog is helpful, we hope you have a great time!
Hello! Thank you so much for all your information! I use your blog all the time as a reference for traveling in Central America! I plan to go to Ostinal by bus from San Jose…do you know how much the taxi would cost from Nosara to Ostinal? and do you have any return information regarding public buses? Thanks in advance!
Hi Jannet, I believe you need to take San Jose – Santa Cruz – Ostional, there is one a day from Santa Cruz to Ostional at 1230 PM and returns at 5 PM.
November is the best month for the turtle nestings and during that time of year, you can see them everyday (not 100% guaranteed of course since it’s nature but there’s a great chance). You probably won’t see the arribada but there are usually babies hatching and nesting females at night. Ostional is the best place.
I’ve really enjoyed reading through your site as I plan a trip to Costa Rica. Super informative! As part of our trip in early November, we plan to spend a few days exploring the beaches of Guanacaste. Unfortunately, the days we will be there are between the quarter moon and full moon. Any idea if it is worth a turtle tour when the moon is out? I am also curious if we may see a turtle or two if we explore Ostional and Junquillal during the day.
It would be really neat to see turtles, but I’d be happy enough just seeing a few.
Thank you for the help!
We will be in Tamarindo Aug 24 – 31 2019. Are there any turtle tours to Ostional from Tamarindo that you would recommend? Or would we need to hire a taxi and arrange a tour when we arrive? I have read that during an arribada you can see turtles during the day. Is this true in August?
There are arribadas in August, it depends on the moon and there’s never an exact date for it (it’s nature so it occurs when it occurs) but usually it’s when the moon is at its darkest. You can check with Tamarindo Tours and Transfers or Native’s Way to see what they charge or if they have Ostional turtle tours available and turtles nest 24/7 during arribadas which happen during our rainy season (May – December).
Sarah Brice West says
Hello! You have been so helpful with other questions, and I love your blog! My family will be in Playas Del Coco the first week of January 2020. Do you think this is too late in the year to see the arribadas?
There are usually a small one in January (they happen once a month) and they go according to the moon (new moon is usually when it happens). Arribada will probably happen towards the end of January looking at the moon calendar for January. There is a possibility to see baby turtles though.
Ostional is the place to go to see an arribada, it is one of the 7 places in the world to see them and you won’t see this natural phenomenon at Junquillal. So if you want to see it, definitely stay in Ostional, it’s a pretty incredible experience and definitely worth it.
As for Hermosa, you could also check out Panama or Ocotal but they will probably all be around the same prices since there are so close to one another. You can probably find cheaper, maybe not as nice rentals in Sardinal or Communidad since those are local towns but they are not at the beach, you will need to drive around 15-20 minutes to go to the beach. Hermosa and Panama are communities known for their luxury houses. In Ocotal you may find cheaper condos.
I used your blog almost exclusively (including car rental link which I’ll do again!!) for our last trip to costa and here I am back planning a “turtle trip” for the last week of November. We will be in the area over the new moon the very last week of November. we love to rent air bnb’s or home away lovely private houses. In addition to turtles, we would like to explore different beaches and daytrip for some hiking. To make the best use of only staying in two places on our trip I was thinking somewhere vaguely near nosara and somewhere vaguely near Playa Hermosa for our two rentals (9 nights).
Here’s the conundrum I’m hoping you have a suggestion on! We like one rental about a 5 min walk to the beach at Ostional. We like another really close to Junquillal beach. Is Ostional really that much better to see an arribada? It looks potentially much further out of the way for daytripping! We drove a great deal near Uvita, and while I’m very comfortable driving, I don’t feel the need to be unnecessarily far out. If It’s worth the extra driving to be right on that beach, then I’m game for that too!!!!
Also, I’m finding rentals near Playa Hermosa (the one near coco) very pricey. Any suggestions on quiet areas near there that you like? We were attracted to the quiet beach at Hermosa since we stayed there the night before our flight last trip!
So much thanks for any suggestions – you guys rock!
are the turtles currently nesting in ostional?
The nesting season has started and the mass nestings will start getting bigger from now until December.
Thank you so much for this post! We are going to be staying in Tamarindo for a few days, do you think seeing the turtles could be a day trip, or do we need to stay overnight in Ostinal?
It depends on when you’re going, you have better chances to see both babies hatching and nestings if you stay overnight but you could go on a day trip in the evening to see nestings for sure from Tamarindo.
You’re welcome! You can do it as a day trip in the evening to see nestings during the season. You have better chances to see more nestings and babies hatching if you stay overnight but an evening trip is totally doable.
Amber Nunn says
I will be traveling to Costa rica in June. I’m wanting to see the hatchlings. Which beach is best to visit? We were going to go to camaronal but not sure if my odds would be better at ostional.
Hi Amber, I haven’t been to Camaronal in June but Ostional starts having the mass nestings and more nestings in June. The peak time is not until Sept-Nov so there may not be as many hatchlings but maybe you can check with the tour company in Camaronal to see how conditions are and check the Ostional Associaion Facebook page for updates.
Thank you so much for great information so clearly written!
We are driving from Tamarindo to Nosara today and not sure if the timing will work to arrive in Ostional to see the turtles. Is there any chance we would see some just on the beach during the day?
Also, is it crazy to drive South to Nosara at night if we do get an evening guide? We are staying in Nosara for the next two nights.
Thanks for any advice you may have! Much appreciate it.
Hi Ola, right now the turtle nesting season is not necessarily “over” but activity is super super super super low and they do not nest during the day this time of year (only during arribadas which are June – December roughly). In March, you will need to be super incredibly lucky to see a turtle nesting and it would only be at night. Companies and guides don’t even run tours this time of year because there may be like one turtle every few days nesting.
Regarding the new bridge to Ostional… is that approaching from the north via Playa Marbella or from the south via Nosara? I stayed in Nosara in 2014 and remember the river crossing when visiting Ostional.
The new bridge is north from Marbella, south from Nosara does require another small river crossing I believe and I don’t think they have a bridge there yet, which is why they always recommend to go via Santa Cruz and down south.
Thank you for all this great information! We are thinking of going to ostional at the beginning of September and we particularly want to see babies hatching – we will be there for a couple of weeks –
Have you got any tips? 🙂
Hi Abi, September is a great time to go and you will most likely see babies when you are there. They normally come out super early in the morning but you will need to take a tour or go with a guide to go in the reserve and they should be able to know when and where to go. You’ll be there for a couple weeks so you’ll definitely see them.
Tanvi Karvat says
Hey Sammi ,
We are a group of 9 staying Nosara. We will be visiting 11,12,13 September.
How do we get from Nosara to Ostional ? We cannot self drive. Are there tours ? Any idea how much they will charge.
Also what time will be the best time to go see them ? Morning or evening ?
THANKS A LOT 🙂
Hi Tanvi, you can check if there are any tour companies in Nosara running tours and the tour guide can give you information on the turtles and how much it will cost. Nosara is pretty close to Ostional so you can even get a taxi and then hire a guide in Ostional to go on the refuge.
Sammi, where can we hire a local guide? We will be driving into town from Ocotal. Plan to arrive around 4 PM.
Hi Scott, you can go to the office of the Ostional guide association (right in town, near the soccer field) and hire a guide there.
We are in Coco at the moment and we heard the next Arribada is between 20-23th December. We are planning of driving from Coco to Ostional instead of taking the tour. How is the road? Can you get there with a normal car?
Once you turn onto the road to Ostional, the road is super bumpy and pot holey. There is one huge river to cross right before you get into the wildlife refuge, so I highly recommend driving at least a 4×2. We made it with a sedan a few years ago but ruined the license plate and got water into the car, so I don’t recommend going with a sedan, especially if you’re renting a car because river crossing damage isn’t covered at all (negligence).
Big Mike says
Do you recommend any tour guides or is there a section to read about it on your website? Couldn’t find it. Guess on price? Thanks!! Do you still live in Coco or did you guys move?
If you’re in Coco, there are a couple tour companies you can inquire: Avispa’s Adventures or Shaman Tours. They will know when it’s the best time to see turtles. For a one day tour, I think it’s around $70. If you’re already in Ostional, you can ask your hotel and there are lots of desks where you can ask about a tour.
We don’t live in Coco anymore, moved last year!
Big Mike says
Hey Sammi!! We will be in Costa Rica April 2-9, 2016 and the new Moon is on April 7th. I know it is not rainy season but will we be able to see any turtles then? I also was wondering about tour guides? We would probably drive back at night to Coco, what do you think? Any help would be appreciated!!
I highly recommend going with a tour company as they usually know. Turtles are seen all year round though it may not be a guarantee you will see them in April. Arribadas normally occur in the peak of rainy season.
Michael Orobona says
I love that you often have maps. Such an obvious thing, but so often missing from travel blogs!
Thanks! Yeah, we like putting it in there just giev a more visual idea of where it is. Always helpful !
Nathan Anderson says
Great post and wonderful pictures! I’ve been meaning to do something similar in Greece for years, but have never gotten around to doing it. Thanks for the kick in the pants to get in gear. Hope you get the chance to go during an arribada soon 🙂
Thanks! Oh you should if you get the chance! It’s an amazing experience especially if you love turtles in particular.
Ashley Hubbard says
Adorable! This is definitely something I want to experience one day! 🙂
Hi Ashley, yeah if you are around you have to go, just make sure to check the “arrival” dates.
Thanks for stoping by !
I love sea turtles (and dolphins too) and I loved reading this post! It must have been an unforgettable experience to see the sea turtles nesting. Also, a great video and sunset pic!! 🙂
Thanks Constance! It was pretty cool I have to say. The baby turtles are so much smaller than I expected too, I’m hoping next time to go during an arribada to see more!
Those baby turtles are too cute!
They are!! Soo adorable
Great post! 🙂