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Costa Rica Travel >>natural areas>>Marino las Baulas

Marino las Baulas National Park
Leatherback Turtle Marine Park at Playa Grande

Ballena National Park Costa Rica
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Marino las Baulas de Guanacaste Tamarindo/Playa Grande National Park has a history nearly as schizophrenic as its name. For thousands of years leatherback sea turtles that hatched at Playa Grande have returned to lay their eggs. They're returning in ever smaller numbers as a result first of settlers who used their meat and eggs to supplement their diet, then poachers who sold eggs, first as an aphrodisiac and later for cookie dough at a factory, and finally exportation to Asia as a delicacy. The numbers continue to decline despite tourists who have provided the impetus to protect these impressive creatures.

Leatherback sea turtle hatchlings (photo © C. De Witt)

Credit for the birth of leatherback turtle conservation on Playa Grande is given variously to Louis Wilson and Marianel Pastor who began nesting tours from their Hotel las Tortugas training poachers as guides (after tours they used to return to collect the eggs), and Maria Koberg who was a one woman crusade to bring friends, school classes, and boy scout troops to the beach so they could gain an appreciation for the turtles and the need for protection. Whoever the parents of the movement were it resulted in the declaration of a National Park in 1990, and continuously improving protection for the turtles ever since.

Turtle Nesting The park's namesake leatherback turtles (baulas) are the largest marine reptiles and one of the most endangered. The advent of turtle nesting tourism has been a double edged sword. The money that tourists bring when they come to see the turtles encourages conservation, but the presence of people, and especially lights on shore confuse and disorient the turtles. All nighttime tours are preceded by a brief educational presentation, and led by rangers who will help you minimize your impact.
MuseumA small museum and interpretive center at the main entrance of the park focuses on the natural history of leatherbacks, and audio tours are available in several languages.

Please respect the turtles. Marino las Baulas is not as closely monitored or regulated outside the peak viewing season, and you may find yourself alone on the beach. Please do not use unshielded flashlights or camera flashes, don't walk on the sand above the high tide mark, make loud noises, or approach too closely. And of course never buy turtle eggs or products made from turtles.

Sea KayakingThe mangrove swamps and estuaries protected by Tamarindo National Wildlife Refuge adjacent to Marino Las Baulas are a perfect spot to spend an afternoon exploring in a sea kayak. During daylight hours, hiking is allowed on Playa Grande and the northern shore of the estero palo seco but there are no marked trails. Please be careful to avoid the dry sand above the high tide mark, as this is where the turtles lay their eggs.
The frigate birds, brown footed boobies, pelicans, and other waterbirds are the main attraction, and monkeys are common, but as conservation takes hold, it is becoming easier to spot ocelots, crocodiles, and anteaters.

In the region
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The region

SurfingSnorkelSea KayakingSailingNature CruiseDeep Sea Fishing
Playa Tamarindo offers some of the best and most diverse surfing in Costa Rica. Also available through the excellent community web site of Tamarindo are Snorkeling, sailing, ATV tours, fishing, and nature cruises.

Artisans & SouvenirsIn Guaitíl across highway 21, east of Santa Cruz, traditional artisans hand throw Chorotega pottery while you watch.

National ParkFurther east are the caverns of Barra Honda and incredible birdlife of Palo Verde National Parks.

GolfHacienda Pinilla is a resort and gated community developed around a world class golf course.

When to visit Costa Rica

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When to Visit

Night-time visits to the beach to observe turtle nesting are only allowed from October to February.

The region has some of the nicest beach weather in Costa Rica. Even during the rainy season it is likely that the sun will be out most of the time, and the precipitation will fall as brief afternoon or overnight showers. See the Costa Rica weather maps for more details.

Books and other resources
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Toucan Ratings Explained | Lowest Available Price
Why Buy from Us?

Archie Carr won the O. Henry Award for fiction in 1956 for his short story, "The Black Beach," which was first published in Mademoiselle magazine. Ironically this is a nonfiction essay set on one of the beaches now protected by Tortuguero National Park, and an evocative picture of a day in the life of the father of turtle conservation (Carr). You can find this story in The Windward Road by Archie Carr (from $US 11.87) or reprinted in an excellent collection edited by Daniel Katz and Miles Chapin called,
Tales From The Jungle : A Rainforest ReaderTales From The Jungle : A Rainforest Reader
by Daniel R. Katz, Paperback, 398 pages, Publisher: Three Rivers Press, (1995), ISBN: 0517881608

Collection of environmental/ecological essays and short stories (late 1800's to present) that give a sense of the rainforest. Sue says it's great to get you in the mood. A good read, especially while one is traveling because the 2-30 page segments stand on their own. Not particularly Costa Rica specific but a good feel for the forests.
rated four and a half out of five toucans by
Out of print but often available from Amazon

Information on the web
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Information on the Web
The community of Tamarindo beach maintains an maintains an excellent web site and active bulletin board.

More information on the conservation efforts in the park, and on leatherback turtles is available from

You can track the travels of several sea turtles around the globe and get more information on turtles at the Caribbean Conservation Corporation web site.

Kids pages on Sea turtles. The main index is realistic, but depressing because we are killing the worlds turtles. There are more upbeat pages including, The Remarkable Journey of Adelita, Project Paola, student art, and how to build a turtle ice cream sundae.

Sea turtle conservation information and images of sea turtles that are free to use with acknowledgement.


Map showing the location of Marino las Baulas National Park in Costa Rica
Location 10° 19' 0" N, 85° 49' 30" W, (DMS) on the northern Pacific Coast of the Nicoya peninsula. Nearest town Tamarindo.

Getting There—Driving directions, and information on transportation by bus, and air will open in another window

Entrance fees:

$US 7 plus $US 7 for a guide if you want to visit at night.


Camping: Camping is not allowed
Hiking Trails: During daylight hours, hiking is allowed on Playa Grande and the northern shore of the estero palo seco but there are no marked trails.
Lodging: The community of Tamarindo maintains an excellent web site where independent hoteliers are listed, including the highly recommended Captain Suizo.

Quick Facts

feet ( mm) of rainfall annually with an average temperature of °F (°C).


1,100 acres (445 hectares) of beach and coast, and 54,400 maritime acres (22,000 hectares). The land portion is a little bigger than central park, NYC.


Sea level


Marino Las Baulas was established by presidential decree in 1990 and protected by legislation in 1995.


Beach, coral reef, and mangrove.

green marine iguanas, bottle nosed and common dolphins, leatherback sea turtles, sponges, anemones, lobsters, trunkfish, frigate birds, brown footed boobies, pelicans

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