Ostional is considered as one of the most impressive nesting beaches for Olive Ridley turtles anywhere in the world.

Looking to do turtle watching in Costa Rica? We are going to talk about one of the best places to see turtles not only because here happens a very unique phenomenon of thousands of nesting sea turtles laying eggs.

Also, Ostional Wildlife Refuge represents for us, a second home because Ligia´s father worked there as the biologist of the community association for over 16 years.

A lot of memories from my childhood are here, my passion for nature was developed here in each time that I see my parents investing their time in turtle conservation.

So let’s cover the main facts to have a successful visit to this turtle sanctuary in Costa Rica. This guide will cover the best time to go there, how to do the turtle watching tours, how to get there and more.

Ostional Wildlife Refuge beach at 5am

A little of the history of Ostional Wildlife Refuge.

A small rural town in the Pacific coast,  until one night of 1959 according to an elder in the town, he remembers November 22nd, the first massive turtle nesting happened and change the relationship between the humans and turtles in this community.

Tortuga Lora” or Olive Ridley Sea turtle (Lepidochelys Olivacea) is the main species that arrive at this beach, also has been seeing Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) and the Pacific green turtle (Chelonia mydas agassizii) at this beach.

The phenomenon was heard by the biologist Dr. Douglas Robinson Clark and he built in 1971, the first biological station with the University of Costa Rica.

Of course, the challenges came and the community of Ostional started to experience problems with the poachers who sell the eggs and some neighbours started to demand the government some regulations.

Why Ostional beach is important and unique in Costa Rica?

Also, high rates of rotten eggs became also another issue. This beach reported 93% of the percentage of mortality of the eggs. Not too bad compared with Nancite another turtle nesting beach in the Pacific of Costa Rica where according to the biologist Gerardo Chávez (Cachi), the percentage of mortality is 98%.

In 1983 was created Ostional wildlife refuge to protect the turtles and they can lay eggs and hatch babies in peace without poachers.

1987 with scientific-based started the project of extraction and the community sell the eggs with all the permissions. They have the right to harvest eggs and sell them in the country.

SO WAIT! They eat the turtle’s eggs and it’s legal? Yes, because those eggs will be destroyed anyway by other turtles that will lay eggs in the same beach during “arribadas”.

Sunrise at Ostional Wildlife Refuge

The phenomenon of “arribada”:

What is “arribada”?

Meaning “Arrivals” in Spanish. The “Arribada” or “Flotas” as locals called it last around 3 – 5 days.

Around 20,000 to 60,000 turtles nest per month during the dry season and 90,000 up to 180,000 of female turtles lay their eggs at the beach during the rainy season. (Richard & Hughes 1972; Ballestero et al 1998)

So you can see turtles during daytime … you will see turtles laying eggs even some of them on top of the others and leaving you small space to walk at the beach.

Ostional turtle calendar:

In Ostional this phenomenon happens every month.

Turtles in Ostional come all year around but the “arribadas” are the best time. The biggest “arribadas” are from August to December and according to locals, October is the busiest month with turtles and baby turtles hatching.

September and October are when get the biggest gathering of turtles. –  Gilbert Rojas,  Ex-president, ADIO

Usually, the locals calculate when is going to happen to check the moon calendar, they come from the ocean to lay their eggs usually right before a new moon when it is the darkest.

Ostional town doesn’t have lights poles only in the houses to avoid light contamination for the turtles.

However, every night all year round in Ostional, there are high possibilities you can see solo-turtles and luckily baby turtles.

Turtle Arriba at Ostional Wildlife Refuge
Turtle laying eggs at Ostional Wildlife Refuge beach

How does turtle “arribadas” benefit the community?

Ostional Wildlife Refuge was created and together with the University of Costa Rica in an alliance of the local Association Ostional Development Association (ADIO). They developed a model where nature and humans created this symbiotic relationship.

So during the 36 first hours after “arribada” is declared every month by the biologist. The community members can collect eggs that will be sell in San José to different providers from all over the country and this generates a monthly income for all the members of the association.

Around $100 is the amount approximately that each member gets monthly.

The money will be distributed to all members even if they are family. Also, elders members will get like a little “pension”.

The community only collects 1% of the total of eggs lay on the beach. This will guarantee newborn to hatch and go to the ocean and hopefully one day will be back to Ostional.

8 tips for your responsible visit to Ostional

  • Plan ahead:

Remember nature can be unpredictable locals have a better knowledge when is the best time to visit. You can check the moon calendar and plan your visit or remember to contact the local association of local guides or where you are staying to get an estimate dates when “arribadas” might happen.

  • Hire a local guide:

Always the best way to explore Ostional will be with a local tour guide. They know how to find the turtles and the best schedule to go to the beach.

Also, you are providing job opportunities for them. Always government prefer you visit the beach with a tour guide for security.

You can hire them in two ways:

  1. Independent Tour Guides (Gilbert and Maria Socorro): In front of the plaza their house also works as a parking and camping space where they sell nightly tours. They are very well-known villagers and independent tour guides who have a passion for turtle protection. They have their official documentation. Contact: 6123-9003/6123-9012
  2. ADIO: All the tour guides need to have their official documentation. Contact: 2682-1229
  3. Local Guides Association: Their office is in the town next to Cabinas Ostional, you can go and hire a turtle watching tour. Contact: 2682-0428, Asociación de Guías Locales de Ostional.

You can check their Facebook pages linked before and contact them directly. The Rangers might stop you if they see you without a tour guide.

  • Don’t touch the turtles, give them space:

Even though when you want to take pictures, you might be with the temptation to touch them and some people try to stand in the front of the turtle.

The best practice is that you observe them from the back and take videos from there. Because they are very sensitive and might be left the beach and don’t lay the eggs if they feel in danger.

Lonely turtle getting back to the ocean
  • Wear black clothes:

If you are doing the tour at night turtles are very sensitive to light and colours.  So make sure to wear black.

  • No Flash on cameras:  

Also, this can affect the turtles and jeopardize the process make sure you bring the red light flashlight.

Turtle nesting during the night
  • If you want to buy eggs:

Well if you want a try the eggs this is a great opportunity. At the supermarket that is in the main street of the town, you can buy the eggs.

Just remember to ask for stamped receipts, as a proof that you are doing a legal purchase before any authority.

In Costa Rica, the illegal purchase of eggs is penalized with a fine of around ¢ 400,000 ($750 USD) and even with a prison sentence of one to three years.

  • Stay in Ostional:

We highly encourage this because is another way to support the local economy of this little town and promote the locals’ participation in tourism.

Ostional is a spot that a lot of surfers like!!!!

  • Volunteering: 

There are several organizations that you can do volunteer work. The beach always needs to be clean from all the troncs and trash, so turtles can lay the eggs properly.

Also, a lot of research has been done by volunteer work contributing to conservation.

Group of students from Australia doing some volunteer work in the community and beach

Useful information for visit this Sea Turtle Sanctuary Costa Rica

How to get there?

From San José: 

Driving time:  Around 4 – 5 hours driving from San José by car.

Ostional is located around  264 kilometres from San Jose (165 miles).

-Take Route 27 towards Puntarenas.

-Take a left to the Puente de la Amistad and go towards Nicoya.

-After about 18 miles on this road, head towards Nosara turning right.

-When you see the sign for Nosara, don’t turn. Keep going on the main road and Ostional is not too far ahead.

This will be a bumpy dirty route with many potholes.

Also, you can access Ostional through Santa Cruz

From Liberia: 

Driving time:

-Get on the main road and turn right towards Santa Cruz

– You’ll turn left onto a bumpy road (Route 160) towards Playa Marbella, Playa San Juanillo and Nosara.

By Bus:

From San Jose departs early a bus to Santa Cruz, from there take the bus leaving at noon to Ostional which returns at 5 PM only one bus a day.

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.

Where to stay: Camping areas, Hotels or Cabins

There are not many hotels in Ostional but the cabins are ideal to spend the night there. Some people stay in Nosara or San Juanillo and travel to Ostional just to see the turtles.

Camping area:

In front of the Soccer Plaza of Ostional is the property of a local couple (they are also tour guides) where they have camping space in their yard. They also have some sort of dorm you can use the showers, toilet, use the common area where you can cook your food.

Price: To stay camping around 7000 colones ($15 USD) per person. 

Private cabin with AC:

There are families that rent rooms that have AC and independent entrance. So this is another option available in the area. You can ask in the supermarket located in the main street.

Cabins:

There are several cabins with private bathroom and they are convenient for a short time stay. The prices vary between $20 – $40 per room. Here are some names that you can search and book online.

San Juanillo lodging (Upper-class lodging):

If you are looking something more like a hotel these 2 options are 10 minutes away from Ostional.

  • Luna Azul Hotel
  • Buddha Hotel

Where to eat?

Not many options in this small town, however, there are two Sodas and one Pizza place where you can buy food.

Also if you stay in the camping place you can cook your own food.

How much will cost the tour guide (or Tours)?

The tour guide rates should be standard if you buy in ADIO or independent tour guides:

  • Locals: 2500 colones ($5 USD) per person
  • Residents: 3000 colones ($6 USD) per person
  • Foreigners: $10 usually paid in $ and $5 for kids per person

Other things that you can do in the area

  • Visit San Juanillo Beach:

Ostional is not the only place that you can see sea turtles also in the Caribbean side of Costa Rica but over there, there are more chances than other places for sure.

We can help you planning your visit to Ostional, Costa Rica. Just click on “Start Planning Your Trip” and we will make sure to help you to go and witness one of the beauties and wonder less understood of nature.

Sunset at San Juanillo beach

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