The Best Places To See Turtles In The Wild
I’ve always had a love for turtles and tortoises. There’s just something so sweet about them. If you’ve ever been up close to one, you’ll understand what I mean when I say they look at you like they contain all the world’s wisdom. And given the life expectancy of some species, maybe they do!
Turtle watching can be tricky. There’s a lot to consider when being up close and personal with any wildlife, especially turtles and especially during hatching season. So please do bear in mind as you read this article how important it is to find ethical tour providers and to make sure you’re not supporting dodgy turtle farms or other “initiatives”. I’ve popped some extra tips at the end of the article.
Anyway, let’s get to it – the best places in the world to see turtles!
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
There are six species of turtle found in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, of which the Green Turtle is the most common. The Loggerhead turtle, on the critically endangered list, can be seen here too if you’re lucky enough.
The Great Barrier Reef stretches along Queensland’s coast from Fraser Island in the South, right up to the border with Papua New Guinea. It’s a huge tourist destination, especially further north from the Whitsunday Coast upwards. Many of my best memories have been made around the Great Barrier Reef – it’s absolutely glorious.
Turtles can be found on the reef all year round, and if you’re spending time there at any point during the year you’re likely to encounter a few. But the breeding season is October – February so during those times you might be lucky enough to see some very busy turtles around the place, perhaps even laying some eggs! Hatchlings can emerge anytime from December to May.
Heron Island and Raine Island are two of the most important spots for turtle nesting, but you can book turtle tours all along the coast and on the islands (Hamilton Island has several offerings).
There are five species of sea turtle that make their home in Hawai’i and, although their numbers were once in steep decline, they have significantly recovered under government protection. However pollution, and development along Hawaii’s coastline, still pose a threat. The less built-up environment and laid-back vibe of Maui provides a nice change from the big life on Oahu… and is a great place to enjoy surfing, paddle boarding and a myriad of other sea sports. It’s also a wonderful place to get your nature on and spot turtles.
Hawaiian Paddle Sports runs tours all year round.
Ras Al Jinz, Oman
Between July and October every year, tens of thousands of sea turtles make their way to the coasts of Oman to lay their eggs. The Ras Al Hadd Turtle Reserve is the only place in Oman open to the public to watch this spectacle.
The Ras Al Jinz Turtle Centre is an ecotourism initiative set up to monitor the turtles and manage man-made threats to them. It also provides some fascination education and insight into the plight of the turtle. You can stay overnight in the reserve as it’s quite out of the way; it’s a once in a lifetime experience.
Find out more here.
Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Tortuguero National Park is a fantastic spot to watch turtles – the name actually means “turtle area”.
Costa Rica is a thin country that runs North to South, with a coastline on both sides. The Pacific Coast has two hatching seasons: July to November and October to February. The Caribbean Coast’s seasons are March to May and July to October.
If you’re a nature lover, Costa Rica won’t disappoint, and not only because of the turtles. Jungles, volcanoes, unique birds, sloths, you name it – you’ll find it all here.
Sea turtles have held protected status in Mozambique for the last half-century.
Overall, March is the best time to see laying turtles while May to June is hatching season. However, it does depend a bit on where you’re staying. The further North you are, the earlier in the year breeding season starts, getting later in the year as you head further South. Because it can vary from year to year, check with your hotels and tour providers when booking to avoid disappointment.
Nesting and hatching aside, Mozambique has some beautiful dive sites which provide great opportunities for seeing turtles in their home environment.
Palau Tioman, Malaysia
Palau Tioman is an island easily accessed from Singapore of Johor Bahru in Malaysia. On Tioman, head to the secluded Juara beach where the Juara Turtle Project is underway. This project carries out conservation efforts on the island to rehabilitate the sea turtle population and protect them from man-made threats. Turtle season starts in March but June to September is when you have the best chance of seeing mums come in to lay their eggs, while little baby turtle season is August to November.
For more information, check out the Juara Turtle Project blog here.
Turtle Spotting Tips
As I mentioned before, there are a few things you really need to keep in mind when turtle spotting. These are wild creatures in their natural habitat and they have it tough enough thanks to the damage we’ve caused (climate change and pollution, just to name a couple of examples!) so it’s really important to give them the respect they deserve.
Keep your distance! If you spot a female coming ashore to lay her eggs, stay completely silent and turn off all lights. Laying turtles are easily distracted, and they have an important job to do! Never touch turtles in the wild, try to feed them, or disturb a resting turtle. Always make sure a nearby turtle has an escape route if it needs to get away.
When booking a tour, make sure your guide is a qualified conservationist and that your group sizes will be small. This applies to both land and sea-based tours. The last thing a turtle needs is to have hundreds of loud humans surrounding it. Animals get stressed just like us.
If you adhere to these tips and book tours with reputable conservation-based guides, you’ll be able to enjoy the experience fully. And you’ll help efforts to keep these beautiful animals safe!
If environmental travel is your thing, you might like this endangered species list or this post on traveling responsibly.
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Beautiful turtles. Thanks for the information.
A terrific story!
They all sound like beautiful places in their own right, let alone to visit turtles. We went on a trip when we were in Maui but it was an off day so we saw more whales and fish. Not much to do about that!
Very true Shannon! And yes an off day, but seeing whales instead sounds very special!
There is a turtle rescue hospital in Topsail Beach, NC. It is a little north of where I loved in NC. Each year they did a big release party and all the locals joined in to see the previously injured turtles released back to the wild. They also did a great job a keeping track of sea turtle nests, and kept them safe.
Oh my goodness Cherie that sounds so beautiful
I adore turtles but I always worry that I will do something like accidentally disturb hatching turts (what I call baby turtles in my head)!! They are fascinating creatures, especially on the biological side and how long they can live. I have watched MANY a YouTube video on turtles!
I agree! I worry about this too. I guess that’s why there are so many guidelines in place for tourists around nesting sites.
I had the honour of seeing my first ever Turtle in Oahu on the morning after my wedding and it was just amazing. I came over from #SocialSaturday and thoroughly enjoyed the visit.
Oh Ellen! I got married in Fiji and in Fiji, turtles are a so coal symbol of good luck. I think that turtle was sending you a special message!
Awesome! I’d love to see a sea turtle in person, they’re such interesting creatures. I’m gonna have to put one (or two, or three…) of these places on my bucket list.
Lovely post Amelia. Very informative and considered. Fabulous images too. The world is a remarkable place when one takes time to look. Something overlooked by far too many people these days.
So, so true thanks Gary!
I just realized I have never seen a turtle despite my extensive traveling ?. Time to change that. I hope to see one in the future. And Great Barrier Reef is on top of my list.
I hope you get to the Reef soon to see one Carmen!
I have yet to see a sea turtle. We vacation in Florida a lot and they protect the areas where sea turtles lay their eggs. Maybe we’ll need to look for a conservation excursion the next time.
I don’t know anything about seeing turtles in Florida which is why I didn’t put on my list. I know they’re there but haven’t heard of any conservation-friendly tours. I hope you can find something though and if you do I’d love to hear all about t!
Haven’t been to any of these places, but I saw some nests in Crete. They were protected and it was great. love the post btw
Thanks so much AJ! How lovely – Greece certainly isn’t the first place one thinks of when wanting to see turtles!
We travel up north in Michigan and one of the things that delighted my boys was the turtles laying eggs in the yard during the spring and then seeing them hatch. Those little turtles struggle to make it to the water and it’s amazing to watch. Sadly, many of the eggs don’t hatch because they’re eaten by predators, but the ones that do, it’s amazing to watch. You want to cheer those little guys on!
Wow! Yes the whole process amazes me. It really is survival of the fittest – not many make it but the ones who do go on to live longer than us humans can dream of! I often wonder what really old turtles have seen in their lifetimes.
I adore these creatures. How much you would like to know what they are thinking!
Yes! I was just saying that in another comment: the really old ones, I’d love to hear their stories. A bit like sitting down with your grandparents
Nicely done! This was a terrific post! I want to visit ALL these places.
Just beautiful creatures. I remember my kids swimming in the ocean in Maui and there was a huge turtle swimming not far from them at all. A great experience. 🙂
I think the most amazing thing is when they just surprise you. So special.
I’m having major wanderlust vibes right now – damn it, Amelia! xD I think it’s beautiful how you shared places where we can see turtles. I definitely want to see the Great Barrier Reef in person one of these days. I do remember reading an article about how some species have become endangered in the reef, and that really broke my heart.
☼ cabin twenty-four
Hey Eena! Yes please do come to see the Reef, and do it soon. There are a lot of efforts to save it but climate change is wreaking havoc. But there are several populations of turtles ?
How beautiful! I think I said this I another comment but Crete isn’t the number one place you’d think of to spot turtles, but there they are!
Beautiful post and images… Really want to go and visit some…
Thanks a lot for this article! I have been trying to see sea turtles in the wild for ages but have never been successful. I just keep seeing beautiful pictures on Instagram and meeting lots of travellers who said that one swam past them when they went snorkelling.
I actually went to Tortuguero in Costa Rica about a month ago and I can highly recommend it. It wasn’t the season to see turtles (I guess that’s why I never see them – maybe I should come in the right season next time) but it was a beautiful place. It’s a tiny town, with no cars and very few roads, and there’s lots more wildlife to see besides turtles. I imagine it to be even more amazing during nesting season.
Anyway, thank you so much for this article! I am sure I will come back to it next time I plan my holidays.
Thanks Ilona! Shame it was the wrong season in Tortuguero. I know what that’s like – I was in Fiji in one of the best places in the world to see Manta Rays but at the wrong time of year. Such a shame!
I love your site by the way!
I could not pass up the turtles. Great information on a lovely site.
Hehe thanks Ellen. They’re truly magnificent creatures. So glad you liked the new site!