Tortuguero is one of the most concentrated nesting sites on earth with thousands of green sea turtles heading to Costa Rica from July to October. A healthy turtle will lay up to 700 eggs over the course of seven sessions which take place every couple of weeks during the nesting season. Eggs hatch up to two to three months later with numerous predators and ill-thinking humans standing in the way of survival.

Volunteering to be part of a patrol at this time of year is the best way to watch turtles responsibly and protect eggs from being eaten and prevent the onslaught of selfie seeking tourists. Leatherbacks are happy to nest on either coast from October to March with Las Baulas and Ostional on the Pacific and Gandoca-Manzanillo and Tortuguero on the Caribbean, well-known locations to watch egg-laying. Finally, olive ridley turtles prefer to nest in Ostional from June to Dec, Corcovado from Aug to Oct, and the beach resort of Playa Grande, also from August to October, alongside the leatherbacks.


There are around 25 different species of whales and dolphins to be found off Costa Rica’s coastlines with the majority, including bottlenose, Risso’s, spinner and striped dolphins, tending to prefer the Pacific alongside orcas, short-finned pilot and humpback whales. Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula is considered one of the best places on the planet to spot humpback whales who make the 18,500km journey from Antarctica to breed in warmer waters from Aug to Oct. Arctic-dwelling whales, on the other hand, head south to Costa Rica during Dec to April so there’s every chance of seeing whales in the Pacific pretty much all-year-round.

Dolphins are also year round residents with the Nicoya Peninsula, Gulf of Papagayo and Manuel Antonio National Park on the central west Pacific coast, some of the best places to catch sight of a passing pod. Rays, such as the spotted eagle ray, and white-tipped reef sharks also favour Costa Rica’s Pacific coast and enjoy the relatively shallow waters around the beaches of the northwest, with Playa del Coco and the islands of Cano and Cocos, well-known dive spots for swimming with rays and curious reef-sharks.
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Costa Rica’s inland waterways, mangroves, swamps and marshes provide essential habitat for several types of water-dwelling mammals including Neotropical river otters that are pretty rare to see although have been known to live within the river banks of Tortuguero National Park alongside spectacled caimans and the occasional American crocodiles – although the bridge over the Rio Tarcoles is definitely Costa Rica’s most popular place for croc watching.

Other inland water inhabitants include the seriously sleek tayra, an excellent swimmer and fantastic tree climber which spends much of its time pilfering honey from stingless bees or bounding from branch to branch in search of sweet and sticky fruit. Baird’s tapirs can provide quite a shock for unsuspecting travellers due to their size and usually because they’re coated in marsh mud and swamp vegetation with Corcovado National Park inviting a once in a lifetime glimpse of tapirs appearing from the sludge.

Finally, just after sunset is the best time to spot endangered West Indian manatees in Costa Rica’s waterways, with the inland canals of Tortuguero National Park offering a rare treat for wildlife lovers. For many years local hunters would track and kill manatees for food and subsequent generations have learned to avoid humans above all else. Seeing one in the wild is nigh on impossible and although the manatee has been touted as Costa Rica’s national marine mammal, the mystery that surrounds this slow moving, yet nimble, beast is symbolic of its will to remain undetected and, in so doing, survive.
Photo credits: [Top box: Kyle Greenberg] [Sea turtles: Frontierofficial] [Cetaceans, sharks and rays: Amila Tennako] [Inland water dwellers: David Amsler]
Written by Chris Owen
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