Sea Turtles: The Best Viewing Spots in Mexico

Discover the Majestic Mexican Turtles: Best Viewing Spots Across Mexico

sea turtle
Olive Ridley sea turtle swimming off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Mexico stands as a sanctuary for sea turtles, boasting a remarkable presence of seven out of eight species of these majestic Mexican turtles. Every year, these sea creatures undertake an extraordinary journey to Mexico’s beaches to lay their eggs, with females exhibiting an astonishing fidelity to the birthplace where they themselves hatched, returning to the same location to lay their own eggs. This remarkable cycle, however, faces threats from human activities, as poachers target these vulnerable creatures, stealing eggs and young turtles for profit, thus necessitating urgent conservation efforts across the country.

Responding to this crisis, Mexico has initiated various conservation programs aimed at protecting these endangered species. These efforts are not only crucial for the survival of Mexican turtles but also play a significant role in maintaining the ecological balance. Opportunities to witness these sea turtles in their natural habitats, from the vibrant shores of Puerto Vallarta to secluded beaches across Mexico, are both a privilege and a testament to the effectiveness of ongoing conservation strategies. This article aims to guide enthusiasts and conservationists alike through the best viewing spots across Mexico, emphasizing the importance of engaging with sea turtles responsibly to ensure their survival for generations to come.

The Different Species of Sea Turtles in Mexico

Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea)

  • Description: Olive-green colored, heart-shaped carapace (top shell).
  • Size: 2-2.5 feet (0.6-0.7 meters) in length, weighing 80-110 pounds (36-49 kg).
  • Habitat: Tropical and warm waters worldwide, including the, Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans with a concentration in Puerto Vallarta.
  • Diet: Mainly carnivorous, feeding on fish, crustaceans, and jellyfish.
  • Behavior: Known for mass nesting events called “arribadas,” where thousands gather to lay eggs.
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable, facing threats like bycatch in fishing gear and egg harvesting.

Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas)

  • Description: Known as the White Turtle, it features an oval-shaped, flattened shell with a greenish body fat.
  • Size1-1.5 meters (3-5 feet) in length and weighs between 68-190 kg (150-420 pounds).
  • Habitat: Found in tropical and subtropical waters worldwide, including the Caribbean Sea.
  • Diet: Herbivorous, primarily consuming seagrasses and algae.
  • Behavior and Nesting: Known for slow, graceful movements and migratory behavior. They return to their birth beach to lay around 100 eggs per nest.
  • Conservation Status: Listed as endangered, protected under Mexican law with several conservation programs in place.

Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)

  • Description: Recognizable by its heart-shaped shell in juveniles and serrated edge in adults.
  • Size: Approximately 90 cm (35 inches) long and weighs between 45-90 kg (100-200 pounds).
  • Habitat: Prefers coral reef environments.
  • Diet: Feeds mainly on invertebrates like sponges, jellyfish, and sea anemones.
  • Behavior and Nesting: Tends to be solitary, adept at navigating tight coral spaces. Lays about 100-140 eggs per clutch.
  • Conservation Status: Critically endangered, with threats from habitat loss and shell hunting.

Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta)

  • Description: Largest among the hard-shelled sea turtles, noted for its large head and heart-shaped shell.
  • Size: Up to 3 feet in length, weighing over 200 pounds.
  • Habitat: Inhabits oceans globally, preferring warm, shallow waters.
  • Diet: Diet consists of spiny lobsters, crabs, and other invertebrates.
  • Behavior and Nesting: Known for strong, determined swimming abilities, capable of diving up to 1,000 feet. Returns to birthplace to lay several clutches per season.
  • Conservation Status: Considered a threatened species with active conservation efforts.

Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)

  • Description: The largest living sea turtle, identified by its smooth, dark shell and distinctive dorsal and ventral ridges.
  • Size: 1-1.5 meters (3-5 feet) long, weighing between 68-190 kg (150-420 pounds).
  • Habitat: Prefers tropical and subtropical waters globally, including the Caribbean Sea.
  • Diet: Carnivorous, primarily consuming jellyfish.
  • Behavior and Nesting: Exhibits strong, fast swimming skills; mostly solitary, spending significant time in the open sea. Returns to the birth beach to lay approximately 100 eggs per nest.
  • Conservation StatusClassified as vulnerable, legally protected in Mexico with numerous conservation programs.

Key Habitats for Sea Turtles in Mexico

Mexico offers a plethora of habitats significant for the conservation and observation of sea turtles. Among these, notable regions include Mazatlan, Costalegre, and the vibrant shores of Puerto Vallarta, which are crucial for turtle nesting and have active conservation projects. Akumal Bay, particularly, stands out as a prime location for swimming with various types of sea turtles, earning its name “place of the turtle” in Mayan due to its population of green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles.

Further enriching Mexico’s coastline, Isla Mujeres offers a unique experience with its nesting grounds for endangered species, where visitors might witness turtles laying eggs or hatchlings making their first journey to the sea. Similarly, Playa Viva and Puerto Morelos engage tourists and conservationists alike with their eco-friendly turtle watching tours and protection programs, focusing on the hatching and safe release of baby sea turtles.

Additionally, Colola Beach in Michoacan is renowned as “The black sea turtle capital of the world,” highlighting its global significance in sea turtle conservation. Research and conservation efforts are particularly concentrated in regions like Baja California Sur, Tamaulipas, and Oaxaca, which host a wealth of marine biology research institutions and community-based conservation groups, contributing over six decades of research and protection for these majestic creatures.

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The Role of Sanctuary Programs in Sea Turtle Conservation

Certified Sea Turtle Friendly™ Program Impact

  1. Protection of Habitats: Certified enterprises are obligated to protect sea turtle habitats and report any evidence of poaching.
  2. Commercial Restrictions: These entities must refrain from using, selling, or offering any sea turtle parts such as meat, eggs, shells, or byproducts.
  3. Light Pollution Reduction: It is mandatory for certified enterprises to minimize light pollution, ensuring that no lights are visible from the nesting beaches during the nesting and hatching seasons.

Sanctuary Initiatives and Their Achievements

  • Playa Viva’s Turtle Sanctuary: Established in 2010, this sanctuary in Juluchuca, Mexico, focuses on protecting endangered species like Olive Ridley, Green, and Leatherback turtles from predators and poachers. Since its inception, over 450,000 baby sea turtles have been safely released into the ocean.
  • Wildcoast’s Oaxaca Project: Supported by a $20,000 grant from the ATCF in 2018, this project aims to conserve approximately 65 miles of the Oaxaca coastline, protecting it from overexploitation and preserving its unique natural and cultural resources.

Research and Conservation Efforts

  • Research Prioritization: Significant research efforts have been dedicated to sustainable marine management and public awareness, focusing on high-priority strategies like ecosystem and habitat management and climate change mitigation.
  • Experimental Programs: An experimental program at Playa Cuixmala in Jalisco demonstrated that intensive beach management could significantly enhance nest survival and hatchling release, even with limited financial and human resources.

Challenges in Meeting Conservation Goals

Despite these efforts, Mexico faces challenges in fully achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, with ongoing issues such as illegal take of sea turtles and eggs, environmental degradation, bycatch, pollution, invasive species, and adverse effects from climate change.

Engaging with Sea Turtles Responsibly

Understanding the Threats and Responsible Encounters

Sea turtles face numerous threats that can be mitigated through responsible tourism practices. Direct threats include poaching, harvesting, and boat strikes, while indirect threats involve accidental mortality such as incidental catch, entanglement, and plastic ingestion. Additionally, poorly planned development, climate change, and weak law enforcement exacerbate the risks to these vulnerable species.

Visitors should never touch eggs, chase, catch, or ride hatchlings or adult turtles. It is vital that tourists are provided with relevant information about the behaviors and needs of sea turtles to prevent unintentional harm. Visitors looking to view sea turtles should ensure they are booked with an experienced guide like PV Yachts.

Supporting Local Communities and Conservation Efforts

Choosing tour operators that support local communities and adhere to strict conservation guidelines plays a crucial role in the success of turtle conservation initiatives. These operators should engage in non-exploitative tourism practices that respect the autonomy of wildlife and minimize impact on ecosystems.

Volunteer and Participation Opportunities

Volunteering is a powerful way to contribute to sea turtle conservation. Programs typically involve protecting endangered turtle species, moving nests to safer locations, and releasing hatchlings into the ocean. Participants often receive accommodation, food, transportation, training, and support during their stay, making it a comprehensive conservation experience.

In Puerto Vallarta, visitors can engage in sea turtle release programs. These programs offer a hands-on experience in conservation efforts, with options for guided tours or independent participation through local conservation camps. Engaging in these activities not only supports conservation but also provides a unique opportunity to witness the remarkable life cycle of sea turtles.

The Role of Hatcheries and Responsible Tourism

While hatcheries play a role in protecting vulnerable hatchlings, interactions with these young turtles should be handled with care to avoid trauma and the spread of disease. Experiences that allow wild hatching are generally preferred over hatchery visits to ensure the natural behavior of hatchlings is least disturbed.

Responsible tourism practices are essential for ensuring that the interaction with wildlife is ethical and sustainable. Tour operators must prioritize the well-being of sea turtles over commercial interests, thereby supporting broader conservation goals and contributing to the sustainability of marine ecosystems.

sea turtles

Spotlight on Successful Conservation Efforts

Project Highlights and Impacts

  1. Projects Abroad in Cuyutlan, Mexico
    Focused on the protection of endangered species, Projects Abroad has made significant strides in preserving the ecological well-being of sea turtles, conducting scientific research, and raising awareness among local communities.
  2. GVI in Puerto Morelos, Mexico
    GVI’s efforts are centered on reducing external stressors for nesting turtles, protecting nearshore habitats, and enhancing overall ocean health. They also emphasize environmental education to foster a deeper understanding of sea turtles.
  3. Campeche Turtle Project by Blue Communities Initiative
    Located in Seybaplaya and San Francisco de Campeche, this project protects the critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtles. Initiatives include plastic reduction, beach cleanups, and educational programs for both youth and adults, integrating arts and culture to broaden impact.
  4. Community-Based Conservation in Baja, Mexico
    This project engages local fishing communities in conservation efforts, involving them in data collection and sharing research findings publicly to enhance community involvement and support.
  5. Estrella del Mar (EDM) Turtle Reserve in Mazatlan, Mexico
    In 2021 alone, the reserve protected and returned to the sea baby turtles from 1,326 nests, which contained a total of 125,263 eggs, showcasing a direct impact on the survival rates of new hatchlings.
  6. Frank Smith’s Conservation Movement in San Pancho, Nayarit
    This movement has successfully released over one million olive ridley hatchlings and played a crucial role in decreasing poaching rates in the area.
  7. Global Crossroad’s Conservation Efforts in Cabo Corrientes, Jalisco
    Annually protecting and restoring around 4,000 sea turtle nests, Global Crossroad’s initiatives are vital for the continued survival and increase of sea turtle populations in the region.

Volunteer Contributions and Collaborative Efforts

  • Palmarito Sea Turtle Rescue (PSTR)
    PSTR offers opportunities for volunteers with backgrounds in veterinary medicine and nursing to aid in the protection of baby turtles and manage rural dog populations through safe spay/neuter programs, enhancing the overall health of the ecosystem.
  • Collaborative Conservation Efforts
    Conservation in Mexico benefits from the collaboration between federal and local police, diverse conservation groups, and dedicated local volunteers, creating a strong network of support for these initiatives.

How You Can Help

Volunteer Opportunities in Sea Turtle Conservation

1. Oaxaca, Mexico
Volunteers can immerse themselves in sea turtle conservation efforts, from preparing sand for nurseries to engaging in night patrols and monitoring nests. Additional activities include beach cleaning, releasing hatchlings, and conducting environmental education. This program welcomes volunteers from the second week of June until the end of February, requiring participants to be of legal age and in good physical condition. Basic accommodation in bunk beds with breakfast included ensures a comfortable stay while contributing to conservation.

2. Nationwide Opportunities with IFRE
IFRE offers a hands-on experience in sea turtle conservation across Mexico. Volunteers can participate in beach patrols, monitor incubation processes, and assist in hatchling releases. The program also includes working on camp facilities and engaging in scientific research activities. Fees range from $420 for one week to $3675 for twelve weeks, making it accessible for various durations of commitment.

3. La Cumbre, Jalisco State, Mexico with Global Crossroad
In Jalisco, volunteers can help with night patrols, transferring turtle eggs to hatcheries, and releasing hatchlings into the ocean. The program also involves camp maintenance, gardening, and beach cleanups. Workshops are available to enhance the educational aspect of the volunteer experience. The participation fee starts at $420 for one week, with an additional application fee of $299, providing options for short-term or extended stays.


Through exploring the myriad habitats and conservation efforts in Mexico, this article has underscored the pivotal role that respectful interaction and proactive engagement play in safeguarding the majestic sea turtles that grace Mexico’s shores. From participating in local conservation programs to adhering to responsible tourism practices, individuals have the power to contribute significantly to the survival and thriving of these ancient mariners. The collective efforts detailed here, from grassroots initiatives to comprehensive sanctuary programs, illustrate a hopeful path forward, blending scientific research with community action to ensure these creatures continue to be a part of our world’s natural heritage.

As we reflect on the importance of each action taken towards conservation, it becomes clear that experiencing these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat offers a unique and transformative perspective on the beauty and fragility of life. For those looking to intimately connect with the splendor of Mexico’s marine life, consider enhancing your journey by booking a yacht tour, an opportunity to witness these extraordinary animals in a respectful and memorable way. Let us carry forward the message of preservation and respect for nature, ensuring that future generations will also be able to encounter the beauty of Mexican sea turtles in the wild.

Sea Turtle in Puerto Vallarta FAQ

  1. Where can I see sea turtles in Puerto Vallarta?
  2. When is the best time to witness turtle releases?
  3. What happens during a turtle release tour?
    • Wildlife Connection offers a Turtle Tour in Puerto Vallarta. Here’s what you can expect:
      • Visit the official Turtle Camp in Nuevo Vallarta, where you’ll learn about the protection program and its importance.
      • Patrol the beach to search for female turtles laying eggs (though specific timing and location are not guaranteed).
      • Participate in releasing baby turtles into the ocean. Wildlife Connection guarantees that there will be baby turtles every night during the tour.
      • The guides are biologists with expertise in marine ecology and wildlife photography.
  4. What time does the turtle tour take place?


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