Only an hour from Liberia’s Daniel Oduber Quiros International airport is Las Baulas National Marine Park, a safe haven for leatherback sea turtles. It is located outside of the popular tourist town of Tamarindo on the Pacific Coast in the northern province of Guanacaste.
Nature at Las Baulas
This nature lovers park is comprised of over 1,000 acres and two mangrove estuaries, Estero de San Francisco and Estero de Tamarindo having been declared as a Ramsar site, signifying it as a wetland of international importance.
A great way to immerse yourself in the mangrove swamp is to explore on kayak or canoe and glide through the waterways. There are many tour operators and local guides that also offer boat safaris and tours that will take you into the narrow canals and mangrove forests with the expertise to understand the spectacular flora and fauna inside.
Just within the mangrove forests, there are five different types of mangroves and the guides have the knowledge of the rich ecosystem to help you understand how it all interacts. The tours often stop to allow you to walk into the park giving you a chance to see more of the oasis within.
With countless water birds, pelicans, white ibis, and cattle egrets, you will find yourself birdwatching even if you aren’t an avid watcher as it is an important site for migratory birds. You may even have the chance to see the endangered roseate spoonbill or hear the yellow fronted parrots when exploring the park.
Crocodiles can also be spotted within the mangrove swamps or listen for the distinct deep howls of the howler monkeys as they keep an eye on you from above. Raccoons, squirrels, coatis, porcupines, armadillos, opossums, and iguanas all call this park home.
The Beaches at Las Baulas National Park
Las Baulas National Park consists of four beaches, Playa Langosta, Playa Ventanas, Playa Carbon, and Playa Grande. Playa Langosta is a beautiful white sand beach to relax in the soft sand and enjoy a day with your family. When the water levels are right the tidepools fill up and you can have your own private swimming pool to sit back and relax under the sun in.
Playa Ventanas is just off the popular beach of Playa Grande also with stunning tidepools, crystal clear waters, and a crescent-shaped soft sand shore. Playa Carbon has a different feel from its neighboring beaches with its darker sand and a more secluded feeling, hearing the sounds of the water, animals, and nature.
Playa Grande is a popular surf spot for its great waves and is often called one of the most beautiful beaches in the country because of the stunning blue crystal waters.
Turtles at Las Baulas
However, many are drawn to the park in hopes of having a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the world’s largest sea turtle, the endangered leatherback turtle. Las Baulas National Marine Park’s name comes from these beautiful creatures, las baulas, meaning, the leatherbacks and founded to protect these gentle giants. These larger-than-life turtles make the return journey to lay their eggs on the shore of Playa Grande one of the largest nesting sites in the world.
The spawning season begins in October and lasts until the middle of February and the park gives you the chance to see this natural phenomenon with evening tours. These nighttime guided tours require a reservation but can allow you the chance to see these threatened turtles in a safe and protected way.
The massive leatherback turtles make their way up out of the water to the soft sand shore digging a deep nest with their powerful flippers laying their eggs. If you are lucky enough to witness them in action, there is no photography permitted or flashlights however, your guide will have a red filter light to minimize any disturbance to the turtles.
Many of these turtles were once hatched right here, imprinted on Playa Grande, and continue to return to their birthplace to continue their legacy. After laying her eggs, she covers up her nest, compressing the sand to protect them during their incubation cycle, leaving them to return to the sea.
Las Baulas National Marine Park is open from 6 am to 6 pm every day of the year however, the ranger station is open from 8 am until 4 pm with a brief closure over the lunch hour. From October to February one can only be on the beach until 5 pm due to turtle season. During this significant turtle season, the park does have some extra regulations from October 20 until February 15.
There is a limited capacity number permitted per group of only 15 and a tour promotor or local guide must be accompanying the group. There is also a limited capacity number of how many can enter at each booth (60) with a total of 120 permitted entries. There are two entrances to the beach that are official, one is at the MINAE office and the second is at the shore of the Tamarindo estuary.
It is important to remember that the premise behind the park is to protect and preserve the wildlife and nature within. If you do come across any turtles, never touch or disturb them, keep your distance and limit any noise as they are very sensitive to vibrations. Do not pick any flowers or plants and ensure you leave any shells you see at home in the sand and ensure you never leave anything on the beach when you leave.
When to Visit
The best time to visit depends on what you are hoping for from your time here at Las Baulas National Marine Park. If you are wanting a beautiful day away at the beach to enjoy the sunshine and water then during the dry season is a perfect time, from December to May.
If seeking a moving experience of watching the majestic leatherback turtles make their way up onto the shores, October to February is the prime time to witness this. Regardless of what day of the year it is, time spent at a Costa Rican National Park is always a well enjoyed memorable day out.