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Chill out in Costa Rica

Photo Credits: Rolf Sommer; Angie Rozas


When to See the Olive Ridley Turtle 'Arribadas'


Want to feel like you are in the Wild, Wild West?  Come bump along dirt roads — past real cowboys, Brahma bulls, and machete-wielding trabajadoras — to some of the most pristine and secluded beaches in all of Costa Rica.  Las Playas de Nosara along the Pacific Coast in Guanacaste offers more than just bumpy roads.   Surf world-class waves, ride horseback along the shores, or slip into sunset with a cold cerveza.  Whatever you choose, it’s jungle living at its finest.

The Beaches of Nosara

A hidden gem in Guanacaste, Nosara is on the northernmost border of the Nicoya Peninsula and is home to some of the most secluded beaches and best surfing in Costa Rica.  Nosara is situated 55km southwest of Nicoya and 255 km west of the capital of San Jose on the road to Samara.  Until recently, unpaved roads made Nosara difficult to reach and therefore more off-the-beaten path. But even though now surfers and yogis abound, it is still a perfect place to kick back and relax in Costa Rica.


When visitors refer to “Nosara,” they are really talking about a series of beaches that includes Playa Nosara, Playa Pelada, Playa Guiones, Playa Garza, and even Playa Ostional.  Interestingly, Playa Nosara itself is inaccessible from the road and few tourists ever visit it.  A more accurate description would be “Las Playas de Nosara,” but for now, the bucket term ‘Playa Nosara’ seems to have stuck.


Visitors sometimes also get confused when visiting ‘Nosara,’ a misnomer referring to the small strip of shops, restaurants, and surfing establishments around Playa Guiones.  The real village of Nosara is inland about five km and surrounds the small airstrip of the Nosara Domestic Airport.  The village of Nosara offers good options for budget travelers with several budget accommodations as well as a few good inexpensive sodas, roadside eateries run by local Costa Ricans, or Ticos, as they call themselves.  


Nosara’s beaches hold unprecedented natural beauty. Flanked by dense, lush jungle, these beaches have with very little visible development.  In fact, for 15km from the northern tip of Ostional to the southern tip of Guiones, the first 200m inland is part of the Ostional Wildlife Refuge, and thus, protected beachfront.  Inside these jungles, wildlife abounds—howler monkeys, pizotes, iguanas, and exotic birds.  Those looking to get away from the crowds will appreciate these tranquil beaches.  It is not uncommon to find yourself completely alone on any of Nosara's beaches, especially during the week or in low tourist seasons.


Each of Nosara’s Famed Beaches Is Distinctively Different


Playa Ostional, farthest north, is home to the Ostional Wildlife Refuge, where thousands of Olive Ridley Turtles come ashore to nest on its protected black-sand shores.  These fascinating natural events, known as arribadas, happen four to ten times a year and are well worth a late-night or early-morning trip to see.


Playa Nosara, although usually deserted, can be accessed at low tide around Punta Nosara and is a great place to go if you are seeking seclusion.  The Rio Nosara also empties here, and there are several kayak and boat tours that will take you up the river to see the wildlife.


Playa Pelada, a small white-sand cove carved between Punta Nosara and Punta Guiones, is the most laid-back of Nosara’s beaches and popular with both Ticos (local Costa Ricans) and Gringos (local foreign residents and tourists).  Those wishing to stay near the beach will enjoy the many rental houses and condos tucked into the jungle just a few minutes walk away.


Playa Guiones, just south of Pelada, is the most touristy of Nosara’s beaches, offering world-class surfing and more than thirty restaurants and hotels set back into the jungle.


Playa Garza, just fifteen-minutes south of Guiones, is known as the fishermen's beach and offers the most local flavor.  Watch the fishermen bring in their catches, book a fishing tour, or eat comida tipica in one of the small sodas on the main road.  Blink twice and you will miss Garza completely.

Photo Credit Hotel Luna Azul, Ostional, Costa Rica

Turtle Tips:

Follow these tips to ensure you too can witness one of the greatest natural phenomena in the world – the ‘Arribadas’ of the Olive Ridley Turtle at Ostional beach.


For more than a hundred million years, before T-Rex and the extinction of dinosaurs, Olive Ridley Turtles have been descending on Ostional beach in the hundreds to thousands every month in what is known as arribadas, or mass nestings.  These arribadas are largely driven by lunar phases, which are predictable.  So why is predicting when the turtles will come ashore unpredictable?

  • The Pacific Coast’s Olive Ridley Turtles are scattered over millions of square kilometers of ocean and yet find their way to this small stretch of beach, called Playa Ostional.

  • Every month around the last quarter moon, hundreds to thousands of females gather offshore Ostional beach for days or weeks, awaiting a signal to come lay their eggs in the sand

  • It is unknown what actually triggers their decision to move ashore, but high winds and cloudy days seem to favor the migration.

  • Their highest concentration is at high tide and at night

  • Each month l’arribadas occur around the new moon, which is about six days past the last quarter moon

  • L’arribadas occur year-round on a lunar cycle of 28 days

  • The size and duration of arribadas vary between wet and dry seasons

  • The wet season (May to December) hosts the greatest number and longest duration, with approximately 300,000 turtles coming ashore over a ten-day period

  • The dry season (January to April) hosts a smaller number and duration, with approximately 5,000 turtles coming ashore over a four-day period

  • Nesting is at its highest in October and November, with approximately 200 turtles coming ashore per hour during an arribada

  • Optimal viewing is usually late at night, but day viewing is also possible, especially in October and November.

  • Females nest one to three times per season

  • Each female lays from 100 to 110 eggs per nesting

  • Egg incubation is 50 to 60 days

  • With a little help from your lunar calendar (and a little luck!), you should be able to experience females coming ashore and the latest batch of hatchlings heading out to sea.