Hello, there, Mr. Sea Turtle. (Photo: Getty Images)
Sea turtles are pretty amazing animals. They act chill. Their prehistoric bodies are, well, fascinating. And there is just something so majestic about watching them swim in the sea and shuffle along the sand. Sadly, “Six out of the seven species are either threatened or endangered due to egg poaching, getting caught in fishing gear, global warming and uncontrolled tourism development on nesting beaches,” says Brad Nahill, director and co-founder of SeeTurtles.org.
The good news is that conservation programs are cropping up around the globe to protect sea turtles and help increase their numbers. This movement has spilled over into the travel industry. Today, ecotour companies and hotels offer interactive turtle-themed vacations that let travelers participate in the recovery of nests, watch hatchlings, and help return the babies back to the sea. “These tours help save turtles by generating income for conservation and research efforts, by hiring former poachers to lead trips or help with the research, and by providing a presence on beaches where poaching is an issue,” says Nahill.
A win-win experience, if you ask us. Wanna catch some sea turtles in action? Here are the best spots around the world to do it.
The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
A green sea turtle on shore leave in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador (Photo: Getty Images)
When Charles Darwin arrived in the Galapagos in 1831, he was instantly fascinated with the Galapagos giant tortoise, for which the area was named. (The Spanish word for tortoise is galápago). And with good reason: This turtle, which can weigh up to 500 pounds and live to be well over 100, looks as if it may have roamed with the dinosaurs. Today, there are only 15,000 of these turtles, an endangered species. That alone is worth a trip to see them. Even better? There are so many other species of turtles in the Galapagos, you can see baby sea turtles hatching all year round.
Try these trips:
Country Walkers offers a 5-day/4-night Galapagos adventure where travelers can take in the sights, sea turtles, sublime sunsets, and beautiful beaches for $2,998 per person based on double occupancy.
Butterfield & Robinson offers Ecuador & Galapagos Family Private Tour, where you can see turtles galore during the activities. The 11-day/10-night tour runs $8,995 per person.
Monterrico and Hawaii, Guatemala
Baby turtles head for the safety of the ocean. (Photo: Thomas CC/ Flickr)
Nestled between majestic mountains and active volcanoes of Guatemala’s Pacific Coast lie the black-sand beaches of Hawaii and Monterrico. In these off-the-beaten-path beach towns, sea turtles come to lay their eggs. The most common of the breeds, the olive ridley, hatches during the rainy season, June through October, with the peak in September. Green turtles and leatherbacks can be seen straight through December. While the world’s turtle population is steadily in decline, Guatemala’s chelonians have been hit particularly hard by poachers, dogs, crabs, and vehicles that roam the beaches. Many locals report that just 15 years ago, you could expect to see two or three nests per night during the nesting season. Today, that’s down to two to four nests per year. Now, conservation groups are relocating the eggs to protected hatcheries where the turtles are born and then are released back into the ocean. To make it a fun activity, baby turtles are released every night at 5:30 with tourists participating in the action.
Try these trips:
Old Town Outfitters offers single-day and overnight paddling adventures to check out turtles on their own turf. Kayak through the undeveloped mangroves in the Biotopo Reserva Monterrico-Hawaii, rich in waterfowl and exotic animals, and visit a turtle conservancy project. Price varies based on dates and length of stay. Tours include all meals, hotels, private transport, and all necessary equipment and entrance fees.
If you have more time, a cool way to experience sea turtles is through Go Eco’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Education ecotour. For $1,600, travelers can help collect and harvest eggs and release baby turtles into the sea. Volunteers need to apply, and those chosen must stay a minimum of four weeks.
A group of hatchling turtles on Golden Sea Beach at Oracabessa Bay, Jamaica. (Photo: David Wehrs/Flickr)
For many tourists, a Jamaican vacation usually includes reggae music, beautiful beaches, rum and, well, weed. But Jamaica is quickly becoming known for something else: turtle season! Early autumn is an especially exciting time of year as thousands of baby hawksbill turtles hatch from September through October at Golden Sea Beach at Oracabessa Bay. When the turtle program began in 2005, there were only 250 hatchlings. This year, more than 20,000 baby turtles are expected to be born. A short drive away at Gibraltar Beach, more than 10,000 turtles hatch almost year round — upping the odds for travelers to witness and participate in the hatching and release of the babies.
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The luxury resort GoldenEye (where Ian Fleming created James Bond) includes a special turtle excursion as part of its five-night License to Chill package. The excursion includes observing turtles nesting and hatching in their natural habitat, and being educated by a sea turtle expert who has been studying the local turtle population for nearly a decade. Rates at GoldenEye start at $620 per night.
Also on the island is Golden Clouds, the legendary villa and former home of the late U.S. Ambassador Ruth Owen. The 11-bedroom oceanfront estate has been turned into an exclusive rental property that includes butler service, an on-site chef, housekeepers, and — you got it — private turtle tours at Gibraltar Beach with a leading conservationist. Rates range from $8,000 to $22,000, depending on the seasonal weekly rate.
Melbourne Beach, Florida
A sea-turtle egg rolls on the sand of the Archie Carr Sea Turtle Refuge on the Atlantic coast of Florida. (Photo: Wolfram Burner/Fllickr)
Just like most vacationers, turtles love Florida. Ninety percent of the turtles in North America nest along Florida’s coast. Specifically, the beaches in Brevard and Indian River counties attract more nesting green turtles, an endangered species, than any other place in the continental U.S. Even the endangered mammoth leatherback turtle occasionally climbs up on the sand to deposit its eggs.
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Just an hour from Disney World is the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, a 20.5-mile stretch of beach between Melbourne and Wabasso, along Florida’s east-central coast. The refuge attracts more threatened loggerhead turtles than virtually anyplace else on earth. It also has programs, events, and guided sea-turtle walks.
The Sea Turtle Conservancy is the world’s oldest turtle research and conservation group. Reservations for 2015’s guided turtle walks at the Barrier Island Sanctuary begin on May 1.
Tortuguero, Costa Rica
A little turtle finds its way into the water on Playa de Tortuguero, Costa Rica. (Photo: Isidro Lopez-Arcos/Flickr)
While Costa Rica is known for its lush landscapes and wildlife, the small village of Tortuguero (which translates to “region of turtles”) has become an epicenter for sea turtle conservation. After the green turtle population became perilously close to extinction because of the popularity of turtle soup, Tortuguero National Park, located on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, was created in 1975 to protect the endangered sea turtles. Today, five of the seven species of turtles — olive ridley, loggerheads, hawksbill, leatherbacks and green — find sand, saltwater, and safety in the “Amazon of Costa Rica.” But thanks to Costa Rica’s rich rain forests, warm weather and sandy beaches, sea turtles are nesting all along the coastline — and conservationists are following them.
Try these trips:
Classic Journeys offers a four-day/three-night sea turtle extension to Tortuguero in conjunction with its Costa Rica walking and nature tour. The extension costs $699 per person based on double occupancy.
Want more of a hands-on turtle experience? Seeturtles.org offers a supercool Costa Rica Leatherback Turtle Volunteer Vacation. The seven-day/six-night trip allows volunteers to work with giant leatherbacks (which average up to 6 feet long and 800 pounds!) at the remote Pacuare Nature Reserve, located between the Caribbean coast and the Tortuguero canal. Activities include helping to measure the turtles, moving the eggs to hatcheries, and releasing the hatchlings. The trip can cost up to $1,500 per person and has specific departure dates.
A sea turtle swims among the coral of Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. (Photo: Matthew Fuentes/Flickr)
Located 800 miles north of Perth in western Australia is one of the largest fringe systems on the globe and a World Heritage site, Ningaloo Reef. While it is home to some magnificent creatures, including coral, fish, invertebrates, dugongs, whale sharks, and humpbacks — it has won awards for its turtle program. Here, three species of turtles — loggerheads, hawksbill and green — come to nest. And it’s quite a sight to see, especially during hatching season in January.
Try these trips:
The Ningaloo Turtle Program set up the Jurabi Turtle Centre to give guided tours that won’t bother the animals when they lay eggs in the middle of the night from November to March.
Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef is a coastal eco-retreat hidden right among the dunes. Guides are available for snorkeling and kayaking expeditions where you can see sea turtles and other ocean life, including reef sharks. Prices vary.
WATCH: See Baby Sea Turtles Hatching On Camera