There are only seven species of sea turtles in the world. All of them are threatened and some of them are even on the Red List. Five of the seven species of sea turtles are found in Costa Rica. The most important nesting site in the western hemisphere for the Green Sea Turtle is located on the northern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica in Tortuguero. The oldest ongoing sea turtle conservation project was founded in Tortuguero in 1959 by Archie Carr and is quite successful. The green turtles were almost extinct there in the 1960s but today several thousand of these turtles come each year to lay their eggs on the Costa Rican Caribbean coast. In Tortugero between July and October you have the opportunity to observe the fascinating animals laying their eggs on a nightly guided tour without disturbing them. In Corovado’s south there are lodges where you can observe the turtles as well.
The rules are extremely strict because the protection of the animals is of the upmost importance. All the more special to join one of the exciting tours. No artificial light, i.e. no flashlight, no cell phone and also no camera may be taken along. It is best to wear dark clothing. Only the guide is equipped with a small flashlight with a red light that does not affect the turtles. In the dark we start. Only the glow of the moon reveals outlines on the beach. Slowly your eyes get used to the darkness and you follow the steps of your guide who explains how you can find the tracks of the turtles in the sand even in almost total darkness. Everyone is on the lookout with anticipation. There, in front! The first tracks leading up the beach from the surf. Is there really a turtle or has it already disappeared back into the sea? While you wait, your guide looks carefully and almost silently. Indeed. Only dimly you can guess the outlines of the huge shell of the green sea turtle. Slow are her movements as she heaves herself further up the beach. We still have to keep our distance so as not to disturb her in her search for the ideal nesting site. You sit down in the soft sand, enjoy the silence and the soft sound of the waves until your guide gives the signal “vamos” all right, here we go!
During egg laying, the turtles are in a kind of trance state, so you can approach them without disturbing them. About 110 ping-pong ball sized eggs are laid by the green turtle in its dug hole. After about 2 months, the tiny turtles hatch. Interestingly their sex is determined by nest temperature. Illegal collectors still exist, wild dogs, jaguars and vultures also like to taste the eggs. In fact, just one in a thousand turtles reaches adulthood or sexual maturity. The females return to Tortuguero after 25 to 30 years to lay their first eggs. Seeing these mighty, wise animals up close is an absolutely unforgettable experience.
Dramatic events take place at Playa Ostional and Playa Nancite that are called arribadas or mass arrivals. Thousands of female olive ridley turtles arrive at the beach at the same time to lay their eggs. The locals are allowed to dig up the nests of the first clutches because they would be destroyed by the following turtles anyway. This is conservation because it helps the local population to earn money from natural resources and also serves to protect the species even if it seems like a strange tradition to buy these aphrodisiacs. The second clutches, however, must not be disturbed. These arribadas are usually between August and October just before the full moon. Until recently, the beaches were flooded with “influencers” who don’t take nature conservation too seriously. Meanwhile, this is well regulated and the animals on the beach well guarded. If you want to know if there is an Arribada going on right now, you can check it out on Facebook at Asociacion de Guias Locales de Ostional (AGLO) Costa Rica.
The tours cannot be booked in advance and the choice of the desired time is not possible. The times are regulated by the National Park and the tours take place in two runs at 8:00pm and at 10:00pm.
The tours last about 2-3 hours depending on the provider.
Normal physical fitness is sufficient but you must be able to walk for some time through soft sand in the dark.
The tour is not dangerous.
The tour is suitable for any age group, however, you should not take small children who have no patience or can be quite noisy. The objective is to not disturb the turtles.
The tours cost about $30.