The 248-hectare Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Ostional begins at Punta India, about two kilometers south of San Juanillo, and extends along 15 kilometers of shoreline to Punta Guiones, eight kilometers south of the village of Nosara . It incorporates the beaches of Playa Ostional, Playa Nosara, and Playa Güiones.
The village of Ostional is midway along Playa Ostional, which has some of the tallest breaking waves in the country. The refuge, one of the world’s most important sea turtle hatcheries, was created to protect one of three vitally important nesting sites in Costa Rica for the lora, or olive (or Pacific) ridley turtle (the others are Playa Camaronal and Playa Nancite, in Santa Rosa National Park ).
A significant proportion of the world’s olive ridley turtle population nests at Ostional, invading the beach en masse for up to one week at a time July–December (peak season is August and September, starting with the last quarter of the full moon), and singly or in small groups at other times during the year. Synchronized mass nestings are known to occur at only a dozen or so beaches worldwide (in Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Suriname, Panamá, Orissa in India, and Costa Rica).
Time your arrival correctly and out beyond the breakers you may see a vast flotilla of turtles massed shoulder to shoulder, waiting their turn to swarm ashore, dig a hole in the sand, and drop in the seeds for tomorrow’s turtles. The legions pour out of the surf in endless waves. It’s a stupendous sight, this arribada (arrival). Of the world’s eight marine turtle species, only the females of the olive ridley and its Atlantic cousin, Kemp’s ridley, stage arribadas. Ostional is the most important of these.
So tightly packed is the horde that the turtles feverishly clamber over one another in their efforts to find an unoccupied nesting site. As they dig, sweeping their flippers back and forth, the females scatter sand over one another and the air is filled with the slapping of flippers on shells. By the time the arribada is over, more than 150,000 turtles may have stormed this prodigal place and 15 million eggs may lie buried in the sand.
Leatherback turtles also come ashore to nest in smaller numbers October–January.
You can walk the entire length of the beach’s 15-kilometer shoreline. Although turtles can handle the strong currents, humans have a harder time: swimming is not advised. Howler monkeys, coatimundis, and kinkajous frequent the forest inland from the beach. The mangrove swamp at the mouth of the Río Nosara is a nesting site for many of the 190 bird species hereabouts.
The Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Ostional (Ostional Integral Development Association, ADIO, tel./fax 506/2682-0470, adiotort [at] racsa [dot] co [dot] cr, www.ostionalvolunteer.com ), which oversees turtle welfare, seeks volunteers to assist with turtle programs.
You must check in with ADIO before exploring the beach; their office is beside the road on the northwest corner of the soccer field. A guide from the Asociación de Guías Locales (tel. 506/2682-0428) is compulsory durring arribadas; an entry fee ($10) is payable at the ADIO puesto (ranger station, tel. 506/2682-0400) at the southern end of the village. You will watch a video before entering the beach as a group
All vehicles arriving at night are requested to turn off their headlights when approaching the beach. Flashlights and flash photography are also forbidden. Personal contact with turtles is prohibited, as is disturbance of markers placed on the beach.
Camping ($4) is allowed at Soda La Plaza, which has a portable toilet.
The Doug Robinson Marine Research Laboratory (tel. 506/2682-0812), at the main beach entrance by the ADIO ranger station, has a clean modern dorm for volunteers, with a two-week minimum stay.
Pacha Mama (tel. 506/2289-7081, in the U.S. tel. 646/863-9474, www.pachamama.com ) is a “spiritual-ecological village,” or alternative lifestyle commune, on a hilltop near Limonal at the north end of Ostional, about three kilometers inland. Alas, this community has a long history of offending local sensibilities.
Cabinas Ostional (tel. 506/2682-0428, $15 pp), 50 meters south of the soccer field, has six clean, pleasing rooms sleeping three people, with fans and private baths with cold water. Two newer cabins have lofty thatched ceilings.
About 100 meters south, the Bar y Restaurante Las Guacamayas (tel. 506/2682-0430, $12 pp) has four small but clean rooms with two single beds, fans, and shared bathroom with cold water only.
Albergue Ecoturístico Arribada (tel. 506/2682-0470, adiotort [at] racsa [dot] co [dot] cr), on the south side of the soccer field, is run by ADIO and has simple rooms.
My vote for best budget option goes to Ostional Turtle Lodge (tel. 506/2682-0131, www.surfingostional.com , $15 pp, $20 pp with WiFi) for its heart-of-the-village setting and clean albeit simply appointed digs with air-conditioning or fans, plus hot-water showers.
The dirt road between Ostional and Nosara requires you to ford (vanar in Spanish) the Río Montaña (about 5 km south of Ostional), which can be impassable during wet season; sometimes a tractor will be there to pull you through for a fee. About one kilometer farther south the road divides: The fork to the left (east) fords the Río Nosara just before entering the village of Nosara and is impassable in all but the most favorable conditions; that to the right crosses the Río Nosara via a bridge and the community of Santa Marta.