Sea turtle

Juan Venado Island: Nicaragua's Sea Turtle Haven

Sea turtle

Juan Venado Island (located near Las Penitas, Nicaragua) is a very special place. Here, you’re more likely to find sea turtles relaxing on the beaches than the sun-seeking tourists seen on almost every other strip of sand in the region. In fact, the beach – known locally as Playa Tamarindo – is considered one of the most important sea turtle nesting sites found anywhere on the Pacific Coast.

From a traveler’s perspective, it's a great place to watch nature take form and evolve. From an ecological perspective, it's a beacon of hope for a broad variety of flora and fauna, including (but not limited to) the sea turtles that nest here.
About Juan Venado Island Nature Reserve

Juan Venado Island Nature Reserve is situated 21km west of the city of León. The island is uninhabited by humans, but visitors can enter via the nearby coastal village of Las Penitas. The nature reserve is protected as a part of the Nicaraguan National Parks system, but an NGO has been brought in to oversee the care of this delicate piece of land.

Juan Venado Island is a sliver of land, measuring around 22 km long, but with an average width of just 0.5 km. On the eastern side, an estuary carves through a large swath of mangrove forest, while the Pacific side of the island is highlighted by a long strip of pristine beach. However, the nature reserve also extends farther into the mainland and includes a protected marine reserve as well.

The island is home to a number of wildlife species.  The swampy mangrove ecosystem provides sanctuary for a broad variety of birds, including pelicans, egrets, herons and terns. In the waters, there are cayman and the occasional crocodile.  But it's the sea turtles that have made Juan Venado Island the top tourist attraction in Las Penitas.
The Sea Turtles of Juan Venado Island

Juan Venado Island Nature Reserve is one of the most important turtle sanctuaries anywhere along the Pacific Ocean, with four types of turtles coming here to nest. 

The most commonly sighted sea turtle on Juan Venado is the Olive Ridley, which can grow up to 75cm long and weigh as much as 50kg. Both Hawksbill and Leatherback turtles – each of which are designated as critically endangered species – also come to these beaches to nest. Green Sea Turtles occasionally find their way to the beach as well, but they’re the most rarely seen of the four species.

Typically, nesting season starts in August and ends in December, with the busiest months being in September and October. The eggs are buried by their mother and take approximately two months to hatch. 

Once the babies crack through the shell, they're not done: They’ll have up to 50cm of sand to dig out of before they reach the surface, which can take 4-5 days.  One of the things that makes Juan Venado Island so special is that you can actually be there to witness the young turtles’ first steps on the beach, and watch it scamper into the confines of the sea.

Threats to the Sea Turtles of Juan Venado Reserve

Of course, one of the biggest reasons for the dwindling population of sea turtles in the world is human-related. It's hard enough for a baby sea turtle to survive in the ocean without human interference (only an estimated 1 in 500 baby sea turtles live to adulthood). Not only do sea turtles have to contend with people descending on nearly every beach in the Las Penitas region, but they are also often captured and sold as pets. Moreover, in Nicaragua, turtle eggs are still harvested for food. 

When visiting the sea turtles of Juan Venado Island, please give them the respect and privacy they deserve to help ensure the survival of these beautiful animals.
Tips for Observing Nesting Sea Turtles Responsibly

If you're out on Playa Tamarindo viewing the eggs being laid or babies hatching, it's extremely important to remember that you are a spectator in the phenomenon, and not a participant. There are some guidelines that should be followed to protect the animals from becoming distressed and allow nature to take place… well, naturally.


  • Keep your distance from the animals. Always give them a personal space of at least 3 or 4 meters.
  • Never, under any circumstances, should you touch the animals.
  • Stay as quiet as possible. It gives the animal peace and keeps them from seeing you as a threat. 
  • It's understandable that you may want to capture the moment. But using flash photography or even a flashlight is a big no-no, as it can cause distress.
  • Finally, never get in between the nesting mother and the water.

Discover NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELER'S Nicaragua Tour of a Lifetime

Ready to explore Nicaragua and Juan Venado? Come see why National Geographic Traveler named International Expeditions' Nicaragua tour one of the world's best escorted tours.