Here’s the bad news: if you’re reading this, you’ve missed the big event this year: The Arribada. The good news, you can still see Olive Ridley sea turtles in Ostional until November. If you don’t know about the Arribada, check it out: hundreds of thousands of sea turtles make landfall over the course of about a week. Every one of them is female, and the reason we know this is they come ashore for only one reason, to lay and bury about 100-eggs each.
The Ostional Ridley Sea Turtle Arribada is one of the most awesome sights you will ever witness, but there is a right time to see them, some interesting background info, and a few other details you should know before you plan your trip, like how to get there. We are going off the beaten path of Tamarindo, again.
The army of turtles always comes the same time of year, in the rainy season, in the weeks leading up to the new moon, and always on this beach. Accounts go back as far as the 30’s when the turtles first started coming to this beach, but most will tell you it’s been since the 50’s. Whenever they started, they certainly don’t show any signs of slowing down. The Ostional beach turtles are the second most important beach of nine worldwide locations where these turtles lay massive numbers of eggs.
A little background…
The original residents of Optional and others from around Costa Rica have traditionally raided the nest of the turtles for the eggs, which are considered a delicious treat for the discerning diner. At one time, raids on nests grew disproportionately out of control and threatened the security of future turtles. The locals joined forces with the Costa Rican government and conducted research to consider the long-term effect of taking eggs. It was determined that most of the eggs laid in the initial nests were destroyed by subsequent egg-layers, who would dig holes in the same spots. For this reason, the locals in Ostional have been allowed, since 1987, to harvest eggs during the first 36-hours of the Arribada. Locals may distribute and sell the eggs, along with collecting money for tours to help pay for the preservation of the nesting site.
The program comes under scrutiny as it is the only legal turtle harvesting site in Costa Rica. Objections argue that nobody could know the impact of raiding the nests. Those in favor lobby for the sustainability of the logic that went into the plan, arguing that the Ostional plan is growing the population. Whatever the case may be, there is no shortage of tourists interested in seeing the mass of turtles coming ashore. 2015 set a new record for the event: the most humans attending the Arribada, ever. Estimates were over 1,000.
Getting there from Tamarindo…
You will need clearance (not CIA or anything) but ground clearance on your vehicle. If there hasn’t been too much rain you may be able to cross the waterways with a car, but most seasons you’ll need some height to avoid getting stuck. Four-wheel-drive doesn’t hurt either. Take the road out of Tamarindo, to Villarreal, and take a right. Halfway to Santa Cruz, you will come to Ventesiete De Abril. Yup, it’s a town: April 27th, in English. Take a right, and follow the split away from town. The turn for Ostional will be a left onto a dirt road, and it will get hairier as you traverse. Follow the signs from there.
The best time to see the Arribada, outside the time of year, is the evening. If you go too late the tour guides won’t be there and you could be arrested for trespassing if you sneak onto the beach. The town takes their turtles very seriously as it is the main source of revenue for this little pueblo. Leave Tamarindo by 3:00 PM to get there early enough to park, find the tour guides, pay, and see the full monty. You will be allowed to stay on the beach for about 30-60 minutes, depending on how many people are there already.
Yes, you need a plan for this. Here’s what not to do: try to leave south towards Nosara to cut around the traffic. The route is much farther than you think, and you will likely get stuck trying to cross the Buena Vista River. During the rainy season, it’s impassable without a boat or helicopter lift. There is a route which cuts south and then runs up to Nicoya if you insist on leaving quickly, but there is a better way.
The traffic leaving town is going to be una locura, crazy. Forget about sitting in traffic, and find a nice restaurant or bar to hang out in until the chaos clears. You can even try a serving of turtle eggs, wash it down with Imperial, or chile-guaro shots, and pretend you’re a local. You’ll be part of a small percentage of people enjoying this rare food item, and you can rest assured that your decision is in balance with the laws of the land and the people. You are contributing to their livelihoods and the preservation of the reserve.
Horizon Pacific Management & Rentals is located in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. Horizon Pacific offers vacation rentals, property management, long-term rentals, as well as a complete concierge service. Providing you with a local contact during your stay, Horizon Pacific is a company you can trust, with the experience you need.