Costa Rica is home to five of the seven species of sea turtles, making it one of the best places to see turtles in the world. If seeing turtles is on your bucket list, then read on to find out where the best places are to see sea turtles in Costa Rica, Costa Rica turtle tours, best time to see turtles and more.
5 Species of Costa Rica Sea Turtles
The five species of sea turtles in Costa Rica are the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle, Leatherback Sea Turtle, Hawksbill Sea Turtle, Green Sea Turtle and Loggerhead Sea Turtle.
Sea turtles can be seen on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Although it is not super common to snorkel with turtles in Costa Rica, you have a good chance to see turtles nesting during the right time of year.
Best Places to See Turtles in Costa Rica And Best Time of the Year
Toruguero National Park in the North Caribbean
Tortuguero, or the place of the turtles, is one of the most important nesting sites for Green Turtles in the world. Leatherback and Hawksbill sea turtles also nest on Tortuguero beach.
Best time to see turtles in Tortuguero: Leatherback and Green Sea turtles nest from April to mid December. You can see nesting mothers from April to October. After October it is more common to see babies hatching.
We have visited twice in September and November. In September, we took a turtle tour and saw 4 nesting Green Turtles. In November, we didn’t see any nesting females but saw two nests of baby turtles (shown in the video above).
Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge in the South Caribbean
On Gandoca beach, three different species lay their eggs there: the Leatherback, Green and Hawksbill. Fortunately, the Leatherback population has a large number of nesting females on this side, much more than the Pacific. The Green and Hawksbill are not as abundant.
Best time to see turtles in Gandoca: March to June, with the peak nesting time between April and May.
Ostional Wildlife Refuge
Ostional is one of the seven sites in the world that hosts a natural phenomenon called “arribada” in Spanish. It is when tens of thousands of female turtles come to nest at the exact same time over the span of 1-6 days.
Best time to go to Ostional: Nestings occur all year long but rainy season, July – December are the peak months where you can see turtles every night. During the arribada, turtles nest 24 hours a day. In the dry months of January – April, it is not common to see turtles and you will be extremely lucky to see one.
Nancite Beach in Santa Rosa National Park
Nancite beach is the second site in Costa Rica that hosts arribadas. However, this beach is much more difficult to access as it’s in a remote part of Santa Rosa National Park. There is a biological station but is mainly just for researchers or students. Special permits granted by the Guanacaste Conservation area are required for every visitor.
Guanacaste Leatherback Marine National Park (Las Baulas Marine National Park)
This national park was specifically created to protect leatherback turtles in Costa Rica as it is estimated that around 50% of female leatherbacks in the Western Pacific lay their eggs in this park. Although there has not a huge number of nestings lately (it has been decreasing the past several years), it is still an important site.
The park encompasses Playa Grande, Playa Ventanas, Playa Carbon and Langosta. Although Grande is a popular surfing beach, it is completely closed at night and only those on a tour with permits and reservations can go. Las Baulas Marine National Park and Ostional are the best places to see turtles near Tamarindo.
Best time for Las Baulas National Park: October to February with the peak time in December and January.
Gulf of Papagayo
The Gulf of Papagayo’s rich waters, many bays and calm seas make it one of the best places to snorkel with turtles in Costa Rica.
Best time to see turtles in Gulf of Papagayo: June – November. You will many turtles mating out in the ocean! You can see juveniles while snorkeling the rest of the year. It’s not super common so keep your fingers crossed. We snorkeled with turtles on the beach near Four Seasons and by Playa Matapalo while beach hopping from Playas del Coco.
Montezuma and Cabo Blanco Reserve
Although Montezuma doesn’t have an intense population of turtles, they do get Hawksbill Sea Turtles nests on Playa Montezuma and Grande.
Montezuma also has a small sea turtle conservation center and they release baby turtles at 4 PM every day during nesting season. When we went in February, we got to see it twice!
The Cabo Blanco Reserve is at the south end of the Nicoya Peninsula and connects with Playa Los Suecos, a beautiful “hidden” beach in Mal Pais. There’s a chance you can snorkel with turtles there!
The Osa Peninsula has a couple areas where the four species of turtles (mostly Hawksbill, Green, Olive Ridley and Leatherback). We saw some in Puerto Jimenez and they also nest in Corcovado National Park and the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve. Best time is April – November and Osa Conservation allows people to volunteer with turtles.
Cano Island is another great place to snorkel with turtles in Costa Rica. It’s a biological reserve that’s said to have the 2nd best snorkel and scuba diving in Costa Rica.
Here you can see juvenile turtles feeding on the reef. We saw this guy when we went snorkeling at Cano Island in January.
Playa Hermosa Wildlife Refuge
Although Hermosa is known for its great surfing waves, part of the beach is also protected due to the turtle nestings that occur. There is an organization that protects the eggs and baby turtles. Sometimes turtles even nest on Jaco!
Best time to see turtles at Hermosa: June – October is the nesting season.
Camaronal Wildlife Refuge
This private reserve near Samara sees four species of turtles that lay their eggs on the beach. Best time to go is May – September.
Costa Rica Turtle Tours
The best place to take a turtle tour in Costa Rica is Ostional, Tortuguero, Camaronal Wildlife Refuge and Gandoca Wildlife Refuge. We were also at Hermosa beach (near Jaco) in November and they had turtle tours running.
Depending on the place and if you need transportation, turtle tours cost around $25-55 per person. Visitors have to wear dark clothing, can’t use flash and can’t touch the animals. Follow the guides instructions, be quiet and have a great time observing the incredible Mother Nature at her finest.
Hi there. We are planning to be in
the Jaco and Quepos in early February and through a Facebook group called Del Mar Camping at Palma Beach they are advertising a turtle release where participants will get to release some hatchlings themselves. They are charging $100 per person. I am worried whether it is legit (seems like off season for Lora turtles) and if it’s overpriced.
Hi Jackie, we don’t know anything about this unfortunately maybe you can try to Google and see if it’s legit. It does seem a bit overpriced to me and normally tourists don’t release hatchlings themselves unless they are volunteers with an organization…normally tourists just observe so to be honest it does sound a bit strange.
Hi Sammi –
We had such a a great trip last year we are hoping to go back this year! Your blog and suggestions (car rental, hotels, places to visit) made our trip extra special. So, I’m reading through a lot of your posts especially regarding turtles in Ostional and other places. Will they be releasing baby turtles in Montezuma the first week of October?
Thank you for all you do to inform the rest of us, you are truly a great ambassador for Costa Rica!
Hi Silvia, thank you for your nice words and we’re glad the site is helpful.
I am not sure if they release sea turtles in October but they could be as it’s nesting time for the Olive Ridley sea turtles, not sure though. Ostional would really be the best place to see turtles during that month
Mika Morgan says
We will be in Jaco at the end of July. Is there a way to book a tour at the Playa Hermosa Wildlife Refuge to try and see the turtles? I can’t seem to find much information about what reservations to make. Thank you so much. Your site is wonderful!
Unfortunately we’re not familiar with any guides or companies that run tours to Hermosa WIldlife Refuge
Sian Walkington says
This is incredibly helpful!
We were wondering if you might be able to advise.. we are planning on staying around either Samara beach or Tarmindo whilst visiting for 6days from tomorrow.
Was wondering where you might think the best possibility of seeing or snorkelling with turtles on this side of Costa Rica might be at this time of year?
We have no fixed plans so any suggestions welcome.
Thank you in advance
It is not very common to snorkel with turtles in Costa Rica, if you’re lucky you may see one but it’s not like a super common thing that occurs all the time.
Travelling to Costa Rica in August. Hoping to stay around Manuel Antonio, are there any spots to see turtles around there? If not where would you say is best to see them, trying to stay on the Pacific?
I think there are but it’s not super common in Manuel Antonio, Playa Hermosa (Jaco) is a little north of Manuel Antonio and is a wildlife refuge that has turtle nestings, it’s not super duper common but we stayed in Hermosa beach once at a hotel near the beach and saw one turtle nesting
Looking to visit Costa Rica October 24-30. Would love to see a hatching! Where is best for that? Is it possible in October?
Ostional would be the best (more information about this refuge in this post)
Matt P says
I plan to travel to Tamarindo after spending the morning at Rincon de la Vieja on December 3rd this year. I was thinking about stopping at Las Baulas in the afternoon to see the turtles on my way there, probably between 2-4pm. Are you able to see turtles during the daylight or is it only possible to see them when the sun is down?
No possibilities during the day, only at night and you have to go with a guide inside the national park, you aren’t allowed to go on your own. Unfortunately not that many nesting turtles at Las Baulas either lately
Sarah Barnes says
This is so helpful. We are planning to be in nosara in late March and Oso in early April… any chance to see turtles hatching or nesting there? If not any suggestions on where to go during that time?
March and April are not great times to see turtle hatchings or nestings in Costa Rica, you may get a random rare turtle who chose to come early (best times are May through November)
Mary Dreger says
Love your site.
Want to see best turtle nesting and/or hatching sites. Planned trip last year in May( cancelled for COVID) then September (also cancelled) trying again this year! What’s your advice for best turtle experience?
Mary in Denver
Hello Mary, Tortuguero National Park guide and Ostional Wildlife Refuge are the best spots.
Peter Grauer says
Hi, Thank you for creating this blog. I’m coning to visit Costa Rica in February. Arethere any turtle watching opportunities that time of year? If so which places would be best to see them?
We saw turtle releases in Montezuma, Costa Rica in February!
Hello. We are going to Costa Rica (guinecaste) in mid March. Any chance of seeing sea turtles? If so, what’s the best tour to take?
Hi Allan, unfortunately March is not a very good month to see turtles in Guanacaste 🙁
Hi!!! This blog is wonderful! Thank you for all of the information. We will be in Guanacaste region in Late November, where would be our best location to see turtles? And do you recommend a tour at that time?
Definitely Ostional, Costa Rica for November!! And you have to take a tour or go with a guide to go into the reserve, you can book a tour if you need transportation or if you have a car, you can drive to the town and go to the guide association office by the football field but they have schedules so you should check before on the official FB page “Asociacion de Guias Locales de Ostional(AGLO)Costa Rica”
Jenny & Lowell says
Many thanks for all the hard work and detail you put into this blog! It’s been an amazing daily resource for our upcoming trip.
I’ve read varying information from other sources about sea-turtle viewing in December. Our trip is in late Dec., and includes a four nights in Puerto Viejo, one in Tortuguero, two in La Fortuna, and four nights in Playa Manzanillo near Santa Teresa. Do you think we have decent odds of seeing turtles anywhere during our stay, or would you suggest any tour companies to get more info?
Hi Jenny, for late December, you may see some babies hatching in Tortuguero, maybe. The nesting season is pretty much over by November but if there happens to be any late nesters, there may be a chance to see babies but not guaranteed. For in Santa Teresa, you can reach out to the Romelia Se Turtle Conservation who works in the reserves of the Nicoya Peninsula (cabo Blanco, Curu, Karen Morgenson) and ask if there will be any turtles that time of year. Those are the closest reserves to Santa Teresa. When we were in Montezuma in February, their hatchery there was releasing baby sea turtles but I am not positive when that season starts.
We will be there in November. Is Ostional our best bet, or are there other places we can see the turtles at that time? Also, do you know of any places that do tours that are responsible?
In November, Ostional is the best hands down for accessible guided tours and viewing.
Hello we are planning to be near the Osa Peninsula in early January. Is the timing good for seeing nesting turtles? Also are there reputable tour companies that we could hook up with? Thank you!
Hi Rick, in Osa they do have some turtle nestings in January on Piro and Peje beaches (best months are Oct/Nov/Dec) and you may be able to see babies. Definitely check with Osa Conservation to see how you can visit/volunteer.