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Leatherbacks of Las Baulas National Marine Park

Often described as one of Guanacaste’s best-kept secrets, Las Baulas National Marine Park harbors the main nesting site of Pacific leatherback sea turtles (known as baulas in Spanish). Situated just north of Tamarindo, the park encompasses more than 1,100 marine and land acres of Playa Grande – one of the region’s most coveted surfing beaches. By day, this beautiful shoreline is occupied by die-hard surfers, but at night the beach belongs to the turtles.

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Leatherback turtles in Las Bualas MArine NAtional Park
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Leatherback turtle nesting season

The planet’s largest marine turtle, leatherbacks can grow to be more than seven feet long and weigh nearly 2,000 pounds. After mating at sea, females return to their natal beach where they carve out nests with their flippers before depositing the next generation of turtles into its sandy depths. On Playa Grande, this remarkable event happens from October through March every year. While the leatherback numbers are declining worldwide and they remain highly endangered, it is estimated that between 600 and 800 females come to the shores of Playa Grande annually.

Evening turtle tour – a once in a lifetime event!

Among Tamarindo’s more popular eco-excursions, a turtle nesting tour in Las Baulas ranks among the most thrilling. Watching a 1,500 pound reptile lumbering out of the sea under the cover of night is truly an amazing experience. To do so, visitors must make reservations with the park rangers at least 8 days in advance and hope that a guide spots a female on their designated night. No guarantees are made, but plenty of vacationers have been treated to multiple leatherback sightings in a single evening. The entire process of digging out the nest, laying eggs and returning to the ocean’s waters takes a female turtle up to two full hours.

Las Bualas Marine Park beach
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Other activities on Playa Grande

For those who are staying in Tamarindo, Playa Grande is an easy 25-minute jaunt by car, shuttle or bus. The broad, empty beach is a stark contrast to its more crowded neighbor and is ideal for boogie boarding, swimming, watching surfers, or just taking in the incredible sunsets. Another highlight is birding and wildlife watching in the mangrove estuaries, which host kingfishers, herons, roseate spoonbills, and crocodiles.  Kayak, canoe or motorized pontoon boat tours can be arranged both in Tamarindo and Playa Grande.

Those who are eager to book a turtle nesting tour in Las Baulas should heed the following tips:

  • Always book your tickets with an official ranger at the park
  • Be prepared for a long wait, as most sightings occur shortly before midnight
  • Wear dark clothing and remember that flash lights and flash photography are not allowed
  • Reserve early, as spaces are filled up 8 days in advance