Surfing & Sea Turtle Conservation in Costa Rica

One of my favourite travel experiences didn’t involve  splashing out somewhere luxurious, in fact, it was somewhere the complete opposite.  I stayed on a beach in a shelter with no walls and no electricity, yet I feel so lucky to have been able to experience it!  This was my first experience of Central America and my first real solo trip!

Costa Rica Turtle Conversation

So where was I?  In Costa Rica!  Just outside Samara on the west coast at Campamento Carey Asvo on Playa Buena Vista.

How did I get to stay in a place like this? I signed up to a week long ‘Surf and Sea Turtle Conservation’ project with i-to-i .  i-to-i doesn’t offer volunteer projects like this one anymore, they just focus on TEFL courses and placements now.  A lot of the other people I was on the placement with hadn’t travelled through i-to-i, I’m pretty sure most of them were just backpackers that kept deciding to extend their stay!

Turtle Conservation Costa Rica

Mornings on the conservation project were spent doing camp maintenance, which in all honesty sucked.  We had to water coconut trees and machete weeds from beach walkways.  It was back-breaking work in the boiling hot sun and I’m pretty sure I didn’t drink as much as I should have.

Afternoons were free time.  My one week trip included 2, one to one, hour long surf lessons and there were boards to use whenever I wish.  By the end of the lesson they even had me standing up!  The instructors were very flexible, if one technique didn’t work, they would try something else!

Surfing Costa Rica

Surfing at Playa Buena Vista & Samara Beach

We only really went off site once during the week and got to spend the day in Samara town.  We basically went from a proper meal, wandered around the little market stalls and then sat in the beach bars.

As my trip was in March, considered turtle ‘low’ season, the hours we had to ‘work’ weren’t as long.  So we only really had to do turtle conservation chores during the evenings and all through the night.  Between 6pm and 6am we were put into pairs and given a 3hr shift where we’d have to check on the turtle hatchery almost constantly.  One pair would also walk the beach with a guide so see if any turtles were coming up to nest. If a nest was found, these eggs would then be transferred to the fenced in hatchery where a closer eye could be kept on them.

Turtle Conservation Hatchery Costa Rica

If there was any movement from hatching turtles, these would be collected up and taken down to sea to be released.  I was too early for any hatchings, it was predicted that they’d start within 4 – 5 weeks of me being there.  We mainly had to watch the hatchery for crabs as they would try to eat the eggs.  The main type of turtle that they saw on Playa Buena Vista was the Olive Ridleys.  These tend to be quite a small turtle.

Sea turtles are actually pretty amazing.  They are born with like a natural geo tag.  When they reach maturity, they’ll return to the same beach that they were born on to nest themselves.  Baby turtles are a target for many different predators (including humans), so it’s important to try and give as many as possible, the best chance at surviving.

The accommodation was on an almost private beach where the only way of reaching it was wading though a river…so pack lightly! The river gets deep and you need to be able to hold your luggage above your head!  The beach wasn’t white sand, but the waves were HUGE and the water was as warm as a bath.

The hut was very basic, it had no walls!  The downstairs had a kitchen, a dining table, a toilet (that you filled up yourself to be able to flush it) and a shower (with rain water so you were asked to keep it to an absolute minimum!)

Playa Buena Vista Costa Rica

1. Playa Buena Vista 2. The river crossing! 3. The hut accommodation 4. The view from my bed! 5. The kitchen area

The upstairs was home to bunk beds and a balcony!  My bed was possibly the best bed in the whole world, I fell asleep to the sound of the sea and a gentle breeze on my face and in the morning could wake up, hear Monkeys in the distance, open my eyes and see the beach.  Ok, so maybe in rainy season this probably wouldn’t be the best set up, but when I went in March, it was perfect.  I also had to get over my fear of sharing a room with creatures…lizards live on the roof beams!

All meals were prepared by a cook.  Although it was rice and beans, 3 times a day and if you were lucky you got a dessert of…you guessed it…rice pudding!  It did feel a little like rations on ‘I’m A Celebrity’.  Sometimes they had extras thrown in like weird little fish that were FULL fish just chucked in, I usually donated my fish to anyone else that was hungry.

Turtle tracks on the beach Costa Rica

Turtle tracks on the beach

As mentioned, there was no electricity, therefore no light bulbs in the evening, just candle light!  A head torch was the best item I packed (very helpful for night time toilet trips!)  Plus, Never under-estimate the power of a bug net!  Although there isn’t any risk of Malaria on the West Coast, it doesn’t mean there aren’t any mosquitos that’ll have a munch on you!  I fell asleep on the beach on my final night and then decided to ditch the bug net (as it had been annoying me all week…take a box net, not a pyramid one that only covers the top half of the bed) and I got eaten alive!  There was phone signal, but obviously no way of charging phones  (although the guy that runs the camp has a phone that he charges somehow and will helpfully ring cabs for you!).  Sometimes it’s nice to be away from technology and just enjoy your surroundings.

I had flown into San Jose, but first stayed in Alajuela.  I took a coach from Alajuela to Nicoya which took like 5 hours and then a local bus onto Samara (around an hour).  I did find that in Nicoya no-one at the bus station spoke any sort of English but I knew enough Spanish to get me by, maybe it’s a little different now!  Everywhere else had a fairly good understanding of English, or enough to actually be able to communicate!

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Sea Turtle Conservation in Costa Rica ASVO Samara Playa Buena Vista

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