When & Where to See Sea Turtles in Costa Rica on Your Vacation

“From the day we arrive on the planet | And, blinking, step into the sun | There’s more to see than can ever be seen.” ~ The Circle of Life from The Lion King.

When you see sea turtles in Costa Rica, from momma turtles laying their eggs to the babies hatching, you have witnessed the “Circle of Life” in Costa Rica, which is something you will never forget.

Seeing the turtles lay their eggs to the turtles hatching to face the unknown is a beautiful experience for everyone, and we want to share with you some of the best places to do so.

Costa Rica Sea Turtle
Seeing sea turtles in Costa RIca is one of travelers’ favorite attractions

What Kind of Sea Turtles are in Costa Rica?

Do you know how many types of sea turtles there are? There are seven types of species of Sea Turtles in the world. You may have heard different “names” for a sea turtle. For example, Tortuga if you are familiar with the island Tortuga from “Pirates of the Caribbean,” or if you are in Hawaii, you may have heard the name Honu, or another famous character from another movie, Crush, if you saw “Finding Nemo.”

In Costa Rica, though, the sea turtles seen are Leatherback turtles, Olive Ridley turtles, Green Sea turtles, and Loggerhead turtles.

Leatherback Sea Turtle in Costa Rica
Leatherback sea turtle is the largest of all sea turtles in Costa Rica

Let’s break it down from largest to smallest:

  • The Leatherback turtle is the largest of the sea turtles.
  • The Loggerhead turtles are more petite than Leatherback but more significant than the Green Sea turtle.
  • The Green Sea turtle is an endangered species but not as giant as the Loggerhead.
  • The Olive Ridley turtles are the second smallest of the turtle family.

Do you know what type of turtle “Crush” was? He was a Green Sea Turtle.

Green sea turtle in Costa Rica
Green sea turtle swimming in ocean waters

Where Do You See Sea Turtles In Costa Rica?

Since there are over 800 miles of coastline in Costa Rica, there are some specific places where you can see sea turtles. Let’s break it down with the Pacific Coast and Caribbean Coast.

The Pacific Coast

Head over to the Guanacaste area; you will most likely hear about the Ostonial Wildlife Refuge, where the Olive Ridley turtles are seen. Then, go north of Ostional, closer to Nicaragua; Santa Rosa National Park declared a research site for the turtle breeding grounds. Where you can see Olive Ridley turtles at Playa Nancite.

You can also head back down the Pacific Coast to Camaronal National Wildlife Refuge, where you may be able to see Olive Ridley turtles as well.

The Caribbean Coast

You can find Loggerhead sea turtles in the region of Tortuguero, but since their population is small and these turtles are considered vulnerable, you may not be able to see them as much. However, you will still see other turtles like the Green Sea turtle and the Leatherback turtles.

Loggerhead sea turtle in Costa Rica
Loggerhead sea turtle swimming in Costa Rican waters

If you are looking for other places to see turtles, check out Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, closer to the Panama border.

Where Do Sea Turtles Nest?

Sea Turtles will come to shore to start laying their eggs. Some people have suspected that the turtles will lay their eggs right before a new moon or during a full moon, but no scientific evidence supports that. Instead, turtles will lay their eggs at all moon times.

Many of the refuge in Costa Rica are protected so that the turtles can lay their eggs in peace.

When Is The Best Time To See Sea Turtles Lay Their Eggs In Costa Rica?

It may be easier to break it down based on the turtles themselves.

The Leatherback turtle can be spotted from September to March on the Pacific side, but you will want to look between February to June if you are on the Caribbean side.

You can find the Olive Riley Sea turtles from May to November but at their peak during September and October, which will be more on the Pacific side.

Loggerhead Sea turtles can be found in the region of Tortuguero from May to August but remember these turtles are vulnerable, so it is a little harder to spot them.

The Green Sea Turtles will appear within the Tortuguero National Park from mid-July to October.

And if you check out the Osa Peninsula, you can spot at least 4 species of turtles, such as Leatherback, Hawksbill, Green, and Olive Ridley Turtles. From March to December, you should be able to see one of these turtles in the Osa Peninsula.

When Do Sea Turtles Hatch In Costa Rica?

When the adult turtles come to land to lay their eggs, it usually will take six weeks to 2 months for the little ones to hatch. After that, many little ones will return to their original birthplace to lay their eggs.

Olive Ridley sea turtle hatch in Costa Rica
A glorious Olive Ridley sea turtle hatch on the beach in Costa Rica

The best months to see the little ones hatch are from May to October, but it depends significantly on the turtle type and when they come to shore to lay their eggs.

We suggest that if you want to see a specific turtle, contact the National Park as they will have more information for you on when the turtles laid their eggs during the year.

Can You Swim With Sea Turtles In Costa Rica?

No, it is not recommended that you should swim with sea turtles. But there are times that you may be snorkeling or scuba diving, and you can see the sea turtles from afar.

While we understand that wanting to be close to a sea turtle in the ocean would be incredible, we also want you to respect their territories as they try to find their way back home.

How Can You Volunteer With Sea Turtles In Costa Rica?

There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer with the sea turtles around Costa Rica, but something that you will notice is that it is not as easy as you would think.

If you jump online, you will see opportunities that you will pay to be a volunteer. The pay is to cover the cost of boarding and food while volunteering your time to help with the turtles.

A significant requirement is that you volunteer for at least two weeks and are fluent in English. You will work hard, get up early to see the turtles, go to bed late, or be on the beach during the middle of the night.

We suggest that you figure out if you want to do this, as it will be more of a commitment versus a one-day opportunity. You will see a lot of volunteer places that provide food and accommodations but you will be paying them for this opportunity.

Plan a Trip to See Sea Turtles in Costa Rica!

Seeing “The Circle of Life” is an experience that you and the family must-see in Costa Rica. If you’re interested in seeing sea turtles, we can provide an itinerary that will include some of the refuge around Costa Rica from the Pacific Coast to the Caribbean; there is something for everyone. You can take unique tours and learn about the turtles and their journey from the locals, which would be an excellent option for the family. Please contact us below to inquire about planning your trip to Costa Rica. Pura Vida!

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