Witnessing Turtle Nesting at the Arribada in Playa Ostional, Costa Rica

The arribada in Playa Ostional, Costa Rica is a natural phenomenon that occurs when hundreds and sometimes thousands of Olive Ridley sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. 

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It is an unforgettable sight to witness as these gentle giants crawl up onto land and leave their future baby turtles behind. Whether you’re from Costa Rica or are planning on visiting from abroad, this event offers a magnificent – and educational – an unmissable experience in Costa Rica!

Playa Ostional, Arribada
Turtles arrival during “Arribada” on Ostional Beach
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What is the Arribada?

Arribada means “arrival” in Spanish, and it refers to the mass nesting behaviour of these turtles. This event occurs during the nesting season between August – December.  

Every month during the nesting period, the coastline of the National Wildlife Refuge in Ostional is transformed as hundreds of female sea turtles arrive on the beach to lay their eggs. 

The egg-laying process can take several hours for each turtle. Once the turtle eggs are laid, the female turtle covers the nest with sand before returning to the ocean. A single female can lay up to 100 eggs in one nest. Also, multiple females can nest in the same area during an arribada.

Arribada in Ostional National Wildlife Refuge 

The arribada in Playa Ostional is one of the largest in the world. It has been a protected area since 1984. Local residents work with conservationists to protect the nesting turtles and their eggs from poachers and predators, and to ensure that visitors to the area do not disturb the turtles or their nests.

turtle laying eggs 
Turtle laying eggs on Playa Ostional during the Arribada

About Ostional Wildlife Refuge

Ostional Wildlife Refuge is a protected area located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, encompassing over 2,200 hectares (5,435 acres) of land and ocean. The refuge was established in 1984 to protect the nesting and breeding grounds of the Olive Ridley sea turtle, which is an endangered species.

The Ostional Wildlife Refuge is located near the town of Ostional and extends 15 km along the shoreline.

The primary purpose of the Ostional Wildlife Refuge is to protect the Olive Ridley sea turtle, which comes ashore in large numbers during its arribada (mass nesting) season.

Visitors to the Ostional Wildlife Refuge can witness the arribada of the Olive Ridley sea turtle during its nesting season, which typically runs from August to December. Guided tours are available, and visitors can learn about the ecology and conservation of the area from trained naturalist guides.

Playa Ostional, Guanacaste
Playa Ostional, Guanacaste

Witnessing the Arribada in Playa Ostional

Taking a tour of Arribada at Playa Ostional in Costa Rica truly is an experience like no other. And we’ve now been lucky enough to have experienced the phenomena twice!

Our first visit was back in 2016 before the Ostional Nacional Wildlife Refuge had established organized Ostional Turtle Tours. Back then, we roamed the beach, watching just a few turtles nest around us. A few hours later, the numbers rose, and we found ourselves witnessing hundreds of Olive Ridley sea turtles crawling ashore was like nothing we’d ever seen.

We returned to Playa Ostional again in 2021, but this time, as per the new regulations, we hired a certified guide for our experience

During the tour, our knowledgeable guide provided us with helpful background information on the Arribada. We learned why so many turtles lay eggs on Ostional Beach, what happens after the eggs are buried, and what challenges the sea turtle eggs face during their incubation period. 

We also learned about the conservation efforts undertaken by organizations across Costa Rica in an attempt to preserve and protect the Olive Ridley turtles.

It was an incredible experience and one we will return to witness again and again.

On Playa Ostional during Arribada in 2016
On Playa Ostional during Arribada in 2016

Tips for Planning a Trip to View the Arribada

If you’re looking to experience the unique phenomenon of the Olive Ridley sea turtles’ arribada during your time in Costa Rica, it’s important to plan ahead.

Here are some things to know about the Arribada:

  • This natural event occurs primarily between the months of August – December. However, in recent years, we’ve seen reports of Arribadas taking place in the dry season as well. The highest numbers of turtles are usually recorded during the rainy season from September to November.
  • Arribada typically occurs on the darkest nights, typically a few days before the new moon and at high tide, although the exact timing for each arrival varies monthly.
  • The best place to get information about the timing of Arribada is on the Facebook Page of the Asociacion de Guias Locales de Ostional. Take note of the last Arribada and know that the next Arribada will likely happen around in about a month’s time. This is rough timing only. Remember: the Arribada is a natural and unpredictable phenomenon.
  • Once the Arribada is announced on the Facebook Page, you may contact the Guides Association to book a tour. Tours usually take place in the early morning, around 5am and at sunset, around 5pm. To book, contact the guides on WhatsApp at +506 6252 7412 or +506 8447 0703.
  • As of November 2021, the prices for the tours were as follows
    • Costa Rica Nationals – Adults: 4,000 CRC
    • Costa Rica Nationals – Kids: 2,000 CRC
    • Foreigners – Adults: $20/person
    • Foreigners – Kids: $10/person
  • Arrive 30 mins ahead of your tour to give yourself time to park your car and find your guide.
  • During the tour, remain quiet and follow all park guidelines for safety and conservation. Remember, it takes only a few rogue tourists for these tours to be shut down completely. Please be considerate of the turtles and their environment. Take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints!
  • Bring a camera but know that you will not be able to use your flash. You will approach the turtles quite closely, so it’s pretty easy to take photos even with a smartphone.
  • Finally, bring some binoculars – if you are lucky, you’ll be able to see hundreds of turtles on shore and thousands more in the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
  • Be careful with your belongings! Believe it or not, we have lost our car keys in the sand while watching the Arribada. By the time we realized they were gone, it was dark and the keys were gone forever!
Turtle egg laying season, Playa Grande, Costa Rica
Hundreds of turtles approaching the shore during turtle egg-laying season

To Sum it Up: Frequently Asked Questions 

When can you see turtles in Ostional?

The best time to see sea turtles at Ostional is during the arribada between the months of September and December. The exact timing of the turtles coming ashore differs every month. It is best to check with the Ostional Guides Association for the most up-to-date information.

Can you see turtles in Ostional Costa Rica?

Yes, Playa Ostional is a popular destination for viewing sea turtles during the Arribada. During this time, thousands of Olive Ridley sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. This creates a spectacular natural phenomenon. It is not possible to see turtles on your own. So, be sure to organize a certified guide to accompany you. 

What month are turtles best in Costa Rica?

The best month to see sea turtles in Costa Rica depends on the species and location. For example, while the arribada of Olive Ridley sea turtles at Playa Ostional typically occurs from August to December, the Leatherback sea turtles nest at Playa Grande from March to July. It is best to research the specific species and location to determine the best time to plan your visit.

What month do sea turtles hatch in Costa Rica?

The timing of baby turtles’ hatchings in Costa Rica depends on the species and location. For Olive Ridley sea turtles at Ostional, the eggs hatch around 45-50 days after they are laid, typically between October and February.

Leatherback sea turtle hatchings in Playa Grande and on the Caribbean Coast in Tortuguero National Park typically occur from May to August.  

Baby turtles making their way to the ocean
Baby turtles making their way to the ocean

Protecting and Preserving the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Population

Turtle nesting in Costa Rica is an incredible phenomenon. However, overharvesting, poaching and other human activities threaten the sustainability of Olive Ridley and other turtles in Costa Rica.

There are several major threats to the Olive Ridley sea turtle population in Costa Rica, including:

  1. Poaching: Despite being illegal, poaching of sea turtles and their eggs still occurs in some areas. The eggs are often harvested for their perceived medicinal properties (the locals take them instead of Viagra).
  2. Habitat loss: Coastal development, pollution, and climate change can all contribute to the loss or degradation of sea turtle nesting habitats, which can negatively impact their ability to nest and reproduce.
  3. Bycatch: Olive Ridley sea turtles can become entangled in fishing nets or caught on hooks, leading to injury or death.
  4. Light pollution: Artificial lighting on beaches can disorient sea turtle hatchlings. This causes them to head away from the ocean and become vulnerable to predators or other hazards.

baby turtles, Playa Ostional

As responsible travelers, we encourage you to do your part to help protect Olive Ridley turtles by following responsible tourism practices. This includes not touching or disturbing the turtles or their nests, supporting conservation efforts through donations or volunteering, reducing waste and pollution, supporting sustainable fishing practices, and minimizing light pollution. By taking these steps, you will help ensure that you are doing your part to contribute to the conservation of this species so that future generations of sea turtles can grace the sandy shorelines with their presence for years to come.

2 thoughts on “Witnessing Turtle Nesting at the Arribada in Playa Ostional, Costa Rica”

  1. Hi guys! I really want to do something to help out – do you know of anywhere that I can volunteer to help the conservation of the turtles? I’ve heard there are a lot of ‘camps’ over there but some of them are only tourist attractions and not really there for true conservation.

  2. Clare, look into Pretoma (www.pretoma.org) It’s a marine conservation and research organization that works on some turtle conservation projects on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.

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