How Can You See At 99% Sure The Leatherback Turtles

Leatherback turtles

Do you know these giant dinosaurs who came back from the past to kill us all? They are four, and they are eating pizza? Hahaha nope, I’m kidding, the leatherback turtles are total pacifists even with their 2 meters and almost 1 tonne.

Funny fact, every year the leatherback turtle is coming back to the beach where she is born to nest. 

Laying eggs in broad daylight at Sodwana – South Africa


When can we observe them? Where to go? Was it worth it?

I went to 2 of this places and I;m going to do my best to give you all the information you need.

Leatherback turtles mission from San Francisco

Yes, of course, I can bring you to see the turtles! The agency is not open yet, but I have my small boat! – Cesar, San Francisco, 5/04/2017

Cesar didn’t think about it twice before he accepted our proposition. We have discovered San Francisco because of his brother in Capurgana. Hm, I should be more specific. Because of one of his seven brothers. 

Cesar is a cool dude; I guess he had to learn to live modestly when all his family surrounded him. 20 years ago, he decided to leave Medellin and came to live in San Francisco. His house and hostel are built around one massive Mango tree.

We are leaving at 5 pm on his small boat direction playa Playona. It’s the biggest beach around, near 17 km after Acandi…

On the way to the beach

20 min to arrive just before the famous beach. We can’t go on Playona with the boat because of the waves. We have to walk now. And we have to walk for a looooooong time. The beach is full of trash and dead woods. Makes me sad.

First quick stop before the sunset. A family is waiting for us with yuka and salty dry fish. Yuka is great, and the dog seems to appreciate half of my salty dry fish.

After another hour and a checkpoint with a paramilitary, we are now walking only with the light of the moon. Be almost alone there, with the noise of the waves is something I like. We are between an immense ocean and the jungle of the Darien gap by night. Nature can be so impressive and powerful. I’m feeling tiny.

Suddenly, I drop my bag on the sand and run into the ocean. Waves are high, but it isn’t exactly deep. Take off my swimming short and decide to do my first skinnydipping aqua poop. It seems that the salty dry fish wants to go back to the sea. Ciao salty dry fish, I didn’t like you anyway.

My legs start to be a little tired, but here we are. Another family is waiting for us, without dry, salty fish (of). We set up our hammocks on the beach to avoid the mosquitos and sandflies. Nap.

Wake up at 1h30. Cesar let us go alone along the beach. We are looking everywhere, and we finally found one after 20 min. We are not taking pictures because of the flash. It’s a monster, a beautiful monster. The head has the size of a basketball ball, and she is giving all her energy to move on the sand. Looks like me when I try to walk after a run. Eggs in the sand, she is going slowly back to the dark blue in front of us.

Now, it’s time to go back to San Francisco, exhausted but happy.

Information on the leatherback turtles around San Francisco

Price: 60 000 COP

Extra price:  Tips for the family who cooks the breakfast

Contact: Cesar- Hostel cabanas al Viento- tel: 321 640 31 56-  Spanish tour

Time: From 5 pm to 9 am.

Backpacker Profile: Adventure Backpacker


Leatherback turtles mission from Armila 

No, you can’t pass. The paramilitaries decided to do a blockade in all the Choco to show to the government they are still here. No boat allowed today, and you have to stay one night more in Panama.  SBA manager, Puerto Obaldia, 27/03/2016

It’s my first trip as a volunteer with San Blas Adventures, for my guide too (Yidaaaaaaa!). We decide to sleep in the closest Kuna village on the coast: Armila. I didn’t know yet that this night, I will be able to see for the first time a Leatherback turtles…

We arrive in the village on the coast. Waves are smashing on the sands. In Armila, you need to push the boat through a river to avoid it to be broken. The San Blas group is big, 27. So it’s not too hard with all these arms.

We are looking for a place to stay. The Kunas here are used to receive visitors because the border is near.

Hammock style tonight. The village is nice. Most of the Kunas are living on islands, so they don’t have a lot of much space usually. But here, you can walk between plantains, chicken, yuka and coconut tree.

Kids are running everywhere, exciting of our arrival. I let them play with my fake airline cap (Yes, couldn’t find a captain hat in Panama city…. I think I’m the first pilot on a speed boat…)

Kunas are happy people. They fought for their independence from Panama in the 1920’s, and the revolution was made in less than one week (with the help of the United States). Every village is managed by 2 to 7 sailas. They are usually the oldest and wisest. They do the maximum to continue to live with their culture and tradition. And as you need to be a Kuna to have an island, there is not hotel resort in all San Blas!!!

Suddenly, the highlight of the day arrives.

Hey Yida, do you know it’s the period for the turtles? We all can go together tonight around 10 pm if you want.

OMG, everyone says yes in 15.22s.

Dinner time, prominent speakers in front of our hostel (Yes, Kunas love giant speakers). Dance with the kids. Time to go to bed for the kids. Kids come back a third time before they go to sleep. Hop, it’s time for the turtles !!!!

We walk around 1 hour before we found the first one. I never imagine the turtles could be huge. More impressive the energy it’s giving to crawl on the sand. We met another one on our way back. Now, it’s time to go to bed for us too

Information on the leatherback turtles in Armila

Price:  210 000 COP

You can book a tour from Capurgana. It’s included the Kuna tax, accommodation, transport, and food. The lady in charge is the owner of La Bohemia. It’s one of the sweetest people you can meet. It’s also possible to do it by yourself. But if you’re alone, you will pay more than alone, because of the fuel.

Extra Price: none

Time: 2 days

You will sleep one night in Armila.

Contact: Victoria- Hostel la Bohemia. Tel: 3186333994- English or Spanish tour

Backpacker Profile: City Backpacker

It’s not hard, but you need to wait at the border and take 2-speed boats. It’s a cute adventure 😉

Conclusion about the Leatherback Turtles in the Darien Gap

Both of this activities are worth it. The leatherback turtles are the biggest in the world and to be near to this giants is impressive.

Going from San Francisco will ask you more effort as you need to walk a long time to the beach (around 8 Kms one way). The beach is filthy, so the walk is not fun. However, the price is cheap. It could be a good option for the people travelling with a tight budget. 

If I have to choose, I will go from Capurgana as it’s also a chance to sleep in a Kuna village. Their culture is so different from ours! And Victoria is taking care of you very well.

In any case, be ready to walk on the beach at night to find the turtles!!

More Information about Capurgana? Read our Awesome Guide to know everything about it.

More information about the leatherback turtles on the national geographic.

Period to observe the Leatherback turtles: From April to June. Be careful, June is the period for the eclosion of the eggs.

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