Playa Ostional

Approximately five miles north of Playa Nosara, Costa Rica is the small, quaint beach town of Playa Ostional. Although primarily a residential area, the tiny community is home to a renowned national wildlife refuge measuring two tenths of a mile wide, and approximately six miles long. The preserved land area consists of 550 unspoiled acres, as well as 950 acres of adjacent sea.The primary purpose of the Ostional Natural Wildlife Refuge is to provide a place for the Olive Ridley sea turtle, also known as the Loras turtle, to nest. The preserve is one of two places in Costa Rica where this species of turtle can nest in peace free from poachers and predators. The refuge is also home to other large groups of sea turtles, and during peak nesting season, which begins in July and ends in October, it is not unusual to see several thousand turtles in the protected area.

Playa Ostional, Guanacaste, Costa Rica Photo by ticinoinfotoThe turtles usually travel to the refuge in large groups, typically by the light of a full moon. Those who wish to view mature Loras turtles will find that the best time for this activity is during the rainy season, which begins in December and lasts until early May. According to wildlife experts, Ostional is the world’s number one nesting site for the Olive Ridley turtle.

Local residents once harvested both the turtles and their eggs indiscriminately, making a preserve necessary if the species were to survive in Costa Rica. Loras turtle eggs, and soup made from the mature turtles, are popular bar snacks in Playa Nosara and some of the other surrounding beaches. Therefore, it was essential for conservationists and local residents to reach a compromise so that those living in Ostional could continue to harvest eggs without endangering the species. Fortunately, most Loras turtles lay their eggs in multiple batches, with several weeks in between each laying. Often, the earlier batches are damaged or trampled by other turtles as the area becomes crowded. Typically, only the eggs that are laid at the end of the season survive. For this reason, locals have agreed to harvest and sell only the first egg batches, for which there is little chance of survival anyway.

The preserve’s northwest end features numerous tide pools that are rich with marine creatures such as fish, sea-urchins, sea horses, starfish, sea anemones and shellfish. On the shore, one can also view thousands of ghost crabs, which are almost transparent as their name implies.

In addition to turtles, the northwest section of the preserve is also home to howler monkeys, crabs, iguanas and a vast array of different birds. However, many of the area’s most colorful and unusual birds can be observed at the refuge’s southeast end, where several small mangrove swamps are located.

Although Ostional Beach is not swimmer-friendly, as rip tides and strong currents are common, it is a nice area to relax and enjoy the scenery after a visit to the refuge. Anyone who has even a mild interest in nature and wildlife will never forget a trip to Playa Ostional.