by Richard Garrigues
Several of Guanacaste’s coastal national parks protect critical sea turtle nesting beaches. Santa Rosa National Park, the oldest in the region, is home to two of these beaches, Naranjo and Nancite but both are difficult to get to because of poor road conditions. The seven-mile dirt road from the park’s administrative buildings to Naranjo Beach is normally passable only in the dry season with a four-wheel drive vehicle (check with the park service before attempting this drive). Nancite Beach is restricted because of turtle nesting research programs, and advance permission is required to visit this beach, which involves a difficult hike from Playa Naranjo.
However, Guanacaste’s other two protected beaches have relatively easy access.
A newcomer to the list of Costa Rican national parks, Las Baulas Marine National Park was created to protect two important nesting beaches for the Giant Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), as well as conserve offshore areas where these large marine reptiles spend their days during the breeding season. Leatherbacks, known as baulas in Costa Rica, are the largest of the world’s seven species of sea turtles, averaging 350 kg. (772 lbs.) and measuring more than 1.5 m. (about 5 ft.) in length. Watching one of these great ancient beasts come ashore at night to continue the age-old tradition of nesting in tropical sands is a very moving experience for most people, although others find the two-hour process a bit more than their patience and interest can tolerate.
In Costa Rica, this species can be found nesting at a number of beaches on both coasts, however, two of the more heavily used beaches are Playa Grande (Big Beach) and Playa Langosta (Lobster Beach), to the north and south, respectively, of Tamarindo Beach. Together, the aforementioned two beaches make up Las Baulas Marine National Park.