South Caribbean: Gandoca, Manzanillo and Cahuita

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A baby leatherback turtle making its way to the sea

A baby leatherback turtle making its way to the sea. Photo by Kristel Segeren

Have you come to see the turtles? Here's what you need to know and when to come.

On the Southern Caribbean Coast, four species of sea turtles come to Gandoca Beach within Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge for nesting: green, hawksbill, loggerhead, and leatherback. The most numerous are the leatherback sea turtle.

Nesting season runs April through October depending on the species:

Leatherbacks: The largest sea turtle in the world weighing over 1,200 lbs. and averaging almost 8 ft. in length, nest on the Caribbean from March to July.

Greens: Nest from June to October especially along the North Caribbean.

Hawksbills: Nest along the Caribbean coast in September & October. Cahuita National Park is a great spot to watch them.

Loggerheads: This endangered species is the largest sea turtle in the world with a hard shell. They nest from July through October.

Gandoca beach is the most likely place you'll see them in the South Caribbean. But remember that they generally come ashore to dig their nest and lay the eggs at night. So we recommend you take a guided tour to see them. The guides know the best times and places to see them. It is also important to not disturb the turtles and spook them away from their preferred nesting sites so you should wear dark clothing, not use flashlights or camera flashes and not approach them.

Watching turtles hatch and dash their way to the sea is a magical experience but for this one you'll really need to be lucky, as it is rather difficult to predict where and when this might happen. The baby turtles will hatch 6 weeks to 2 months after the eggs are laid.

A green turtle in Tortuguero

A green turtle in Tortuguero. Photo Costa Rica Tourism Board.


Tortuguero National Park is one of the most important nesting sites in the world for green turtles, making these 300-350-pound endangered giants Costa Rica’s most famous sea turtle. About 22,500 females nest in Tortuguero every year, and prime nesting season runs July-October; July and August, which see the highest nesting activity, are the best months for turtle tours.

Small populations of loggerhead Sea Turtles appear in Tortuguero around July-October. The world’s largest hard-shelled turtle, these marine reptiles can reach up to 440 pounds and over three feet long.

The critically endangered Hawksbill turtle, named for its hooked beak (similar to a hawk), is more difficult to spot due to its endangered status. If you’re lucky, you may see these magnificent animals on the shores of Tortuguero between March and October.

Leatherback turtles are one of the world’s most impressive creatures, often reaching a massive 6 feet in length and 500 kg. In Tortuguero, leatherbacks are seen nesting from April-November.

You can find information on packages to Tortuguero including transportation from Puerto Viejo, Cahuita or San Jose, accomodation and tours here:

packages to Tortuguero

For independent travel to Tortuguero, our traveling to Tortuguero page has all the details on how to get there and where to stay.

Additional comments from our visitors about Turtles on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica

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