The Arribada in Ostional is the ‘great arrival’ of nesting Olive Ridley sea Turtles in Ostional. It is an incredible phenomenon to see and lasts 3-7 days. In a big Arribada up to 500,000 turtles will nest on the beach in Ostional. On a 5 day Arribada, 10 million turtle eggs will be laid. If you are lucky enough to be in Costa Rica during an Arribada this is not one to miss.
I saw the Arribada in November 2022 and it was my favourite experience in Costa Rica. I heard about the possibility of an Arribada starting the next day as a result of increased laying activity and changed all of my plans at the last minute to go to Ostional. It actually ended up starting 2 days later so I stayed in Ostional for 3 days.
Ostional Wildlife Refuge
The beach at Ostional is not a National Park but it is a wildlife refuge that covers 15km of the shoreline. The protected area also extends 3km into the water. This is because the turtles will group in the water for up to weeks at a time. During an arribada, you can see hundreds of turtle heads popping up out of the water for air.
When a female turtle lays her eggs, she lays 80-100 eggs at a time. The process of egg laying is the female will exit the sea, find a place high up the beach, make a hole for the eggs, lay her eggs and then cover it up with sand before returning back to the sea. When she is laying her eggs, the enters a trance-like state so you can approach her in this time without disturbing her.
The young turtles will enter the sea and if they survive the predators that like to eat them, they will spend 10-15 years maturing before being ready to lay eggs themselves. The turtles will then return to the same beach to lay their eggs when they are ready.
How Often Does the Arribada Happen?
The Arribada happens on average 1 time a month. In the rainy season, September to October, the arribada’s are the biggest. Usually, the arribada happens 1 week before the new moon. Although this is mother nature, so nothing is guaranteed. For example, when I visited Ostional, the October Arribada didn’t happen and so it ended up happening in the first week in November on the full moon, this is not common.
How to know if an Arribada is happening
You cannot predict exactly the day that the turtles will arrive. The night before an official Arribada, there will be an increase in turtle nesting activity. This will be shared by the official local guides on Facebook and most tour guide in the region will know about it.
To keep the most informed about turtle activity, follow ‘Asociacion de Guias Locales de Ostional (AGLO) Costa Rica’ (Association of local Guides in Ostional) on Facebook. As well as posting all information about the Arribada they also share information about the state of the local roads which is very useful if you are driving yourself. On this page, the guides share the tours available during the Arribada and the WhatsApp numbers to contact them by.
When I heard there was a possibility an Arribada would happen soon, did I obsessively check this Facebook page? Yes. Yes I did. And it was completely worth it.
How to visit the Arribada in Ostional
On the days of the Arribada, beach is closed to all visitors except with an official local guide. This is because of over tourism in 2015 so the local government implemented strict rules about tourists visiting during the Arribada.
I highly recommend booking the tour with a guide in advance. (In as much as advance as you can once you know an arribada is definitely happening). The tours usually sell out and the numbers of people they can take is limited. The cost of the tour is $20USD and lasts about 1.5 hours. You cannot stay more than 1 hour on the beach to limit the amount of tourists, I could’ve stayed for hours!!
What time is best to take a Tour for the Arribada in Ostional
The tours are either very early morning (from 5am) and in the afternoon/evening. This is because the majority of the turtles arrive between 8pm and 4am. Personally, I did both an early morning one and an evening. I did the tour at 4pm and this was definitely my favourite time. The tour at 4pm meant we were able to see the turtles in daylight and with a backdrop of a sunset which was really special.
How to visit Arribada in Ostional responsibly
When visiting the Arribada, you want to make sure that you respect the turtles as much as possible. Turtles are really disrupted by light to avoid flash photography at all times. You will notice in Ostional that there are no streetlights to prevent disrupting turtles.
Do not block the path to a nesting turtle leaving the sea or going back to the sea. This can disturb them enough that they might not choose to lay their eggs. There is always a chance to that there will be hatchlings on the beach, so be very careful to not stand on any baby turtles making their way to the sea for the first time.
Visiting Ostional on a Non-Arribada Day
During nesting season, (August to November), a few turtles lay their eggs on the beach in Ostional each day. If you are in the region, if you go to the beach at sunrise or sunset you have a chance to see either hatchlings or nesting mother turtles. When an Arribada is not happening, you are able to walk along the beach without a guide so do not need to pay for it either. Make sure to look out for baby turtles under foot.
The first day I arrived in Ostional I was 2 days early for the official Arribada, I went for a walk on the beach just to stretch my legs not expecting to see much. Actually, I found many hatchlings making their way to the sea, a first for me which was brilliant to see. As well as this, I saw local volunteers cleaning the beach of plastic and driftwood to make it nicer for the turtles to nest. I helped out with this and I also helped out protecting the baby turtles from predators on the beach such as vultures or stray dogs.
As I visited in November, there were daily hatchings that had been laid earlier in the season as well as a couple of solo adults nesting too. Even if you are not there for an Arribada, a visit to Ostional beach is still a great option to see turtles during the rainy season.
Staying in Ostional
I stayed in Ostional, there are few options of where to stay as it is quite small. Most accommodations are quite basic but have everything you need.
Eating in Ostional
There are not too many options of places to eat in Ostional as it is quite a small town. There is a small supermarket if you stay in a place with a kitchen to cook. My favourite spots to eat was the Pizzeria on the outskirts of town and Soda Casa de Doña Marta.
Half Day trips from Neighbouring regions
During an Arribada, tour agencies from neighbouring towns in the region will offer a half day tour including transport as well as a local guide. These are offered from Nosara, Samara and even Tamarindo. This is a very easy way to see the Arribada if you happen to be in the region. If you go for the early morning hatching, be prepared for a very early wake up call.
Can you see hatchlings at the Arribada in Ostional?
The turtle eggs hatch about 45-54 days after they are laid. Watching a tiny turtle making its way from the nest to the sea for the first time is a very emotive experience. It is so impressive to see the effort needed just to make it to the sea.
If 10 million eggs are laid during an Arribada, you can imagine the amount of hatchings that happen at any one time. Tourists are actively discouraged from visiting during mass hatchings because the beach becomes so full with baby turtles that it is hard to not step on them as they make their journey to the sea.
The hatchlings usually hatch out of sync with an Arribada happening as the Arribada happens monthly and the eggs take 1.5 months to hatch. However, when I was there, because the Arribada was so late both hatchings and egg laying were happening at the same time. This meant that rangers in the area were collecting the freshly hatched turtles and releasing them closer to the sea to prevent them being trampled by the adults.
Do not be tempted to pick up the turtles and put them directly in the sea. The run from the nest to the sea helps them develop their lungs and is a critical process. If you are not trained on how to help the babies it is better to just leave them alone, you may be doing more harm than good.
How to get to the Arribada in Ostional
As the best Arribadas happen during the rainy season, the roads are prone to flooding. There are rivers that run off across the road and can make it impassable even in a 4×4. Mostly it is the road from Nosara to Ostional that is the highest risk. The local guide Facebook page that I mentioned earlier posts frequent updates about the road. If you are driving yourself, make sure to check in advance.
There are public buses that go from Santa Cruz to Nosara and are a lot cheaper than hiring a private taxi to get to Ostional. Personally, I got the bus from Tamarindo to Ostional. I changed bus at Ventesiete De Avril. There are no official bus stops so the bus can stop anywhere which means the buses do take a while as many people are getting on and off. The roads are quite bumpy and bendy so it is not the most comfortable ride.
Eating turtle eggs
Bear with me here, when I say that there are some legal turtle eggs for sale in Ostional. During the arribadas, it has been found that the eggs laid on the first day or 2 have very little chance of survival as they are dug up over the subsequent days. Therefore, the local population are legally allowed to harvest the early turtle eggs. In exchange for this, the local population clean the beach, protect the eggs from predators and are able to benefit financially from this brilliant event.
Personally, I didn’t eat a turtle egg as I am not so sure on the practice. But if you want to eat one in Ostional, it is completely legal.
Predators at the Arribada in Ostional
When visiting Arribada in Ostional, you will notice a lot of Vultures hanging around on the beach. They love to munch on the eggs as well as freshly hatched turtles. There are also lots of stray dogs in the area that each the eggs too. You will notice locals protecting the nests from these predators. If you see a nest or babies that look like they are about to be eaten, try to scare the predator away by making noise or standing tall near the nest.
The end of this guide to The Arribada in Ostional
I hope you enjoyed this guide to the Arribada in Ostional! Let me know in the comments if you were lucky enough to see it, I would love to hear your stories.