Playa Tortuga: Costa Rica’s Secret Beach
The walk across the mile long empty stretch of sand seemed the perfect setting for a deserted island fantasy. We were heading towards the large caves visible at opposite end of the beach. Mangrove trees abutted the edge of the tideline on our right and waves crashing across the lagoon on our left. Towering palm-clad mountains enclosed the scene. If I was looking to film Treasure Island or Peter Pan, I would come to this place. However, I doubt any Hollywood producer has ever heard of Playa Tortuga.
Set along the Costa Ballena, Playa Tortuga (aka Playa Ojochal) isn’t far from many popular stretches of beachfront real estate. However, this beach seems world apart.
On a recent afternoon we walked the 20 minutes from the village of Ojochal to Tortuga Beach. Crossing Route 34 we followed signs down a dirt road to the beach. While walking down the road we kept an eye to the trees for macaws, sloths, and monkeys. As we passed an inlet to the lagoon we peered into the murky waters looking for crocodiles. No such luck. The road dead-ends at the far end of the beach and there we were.
It is best to get to Playa Tortuga about an hour or two before low tide. At low tide the beach is enormous. There is lots of room to run, toss a frisbee, or wander. A number of tidepools can be found along with the little sea critters that get trapped there until the tide returns.
To enjoy the full majesty of Playa Tortuga walk its full length to the right. Low tide exposes several large and impressive caves at the far end of the beach. Several caves go straight into the cliff wall while others are open on both sides allowing you to walk straight through.
As the name would suggest, sea turtles regularly come here to lay eggs and hatch their babies. Reserva Playa Tortuga, a local non-profit project, is located here with the mission of protecting and studying the local wildlife and ecology. If you’re coming to the area, check for updates on their Facebook page. We were lucky enough one day to join them as they released 93 newly hatched turtles into the sea. Watching these tiny newborns crawl undaunted across the sand into the waves is a truly special experience.
On Sundays, Playa Tortuga is a little less deserted as locals and expats alike gather near the beach entrance to play volleyball. Get there in the morning and you can join in on one of the teams. Competition is friendly and this is a great way to meet others while having some fun in the sun.
A couple notes of caution for visiting Playa Tortuga: Check the tide charts. You don’t want to get stuck there at high tide or you will find yourself walking through the woods and across rivers to get back. Also, don’t swim in the lagoon to the left of the beach entrance. Crocodiles have been known to hang out there.
To get to Playa Tortuga: Take Route 34, the coastal highway, south just past the entrance to the village of Ojochal. Look for signs to the beach and take your first right after you cross over the bridge. Continue down the dirt road until it ends at the beach. Parking is free.
I recommend heading right on the beach towards the caves at the far end. This will include walking across several shallow rivers, but the views and solitude are worth it.