On the Río Matapalo estuary between Conchal and Tamarindo, PARQUE NACIONAL MARINO LAS BAULAS is less a national park than a reserve, created in 1995 to protect the nesting grounds of the critically endangered leatherback turtles, which come ashore here to nest from November to February. Leatherbacks have probably laid their eggs at Playa Grande for millions of years, and it’s now one of the few remaining such nesting sites in the world. The beach itself offers a beautiful sweep of light-coloured sand, and outside laying season you can surf and splash around in the waves, though swimming is rough, plagued by crashing waves and riptides. Despite its proximity to an officially protected area, developers have been given carte blanche to build at Playa Grande: the Rancho Las Colinas Golf and Country Club, which includes an eighteen-hole golf course and over two hundred separate villas, is symptomatic of the lack of planning, the short-termism and the plain daftness (the golf course is located in an area with a long, hot dry season and a history of water shortages) that characterizes so much recent tourist development in Costa Rica. What effect the development will have on the ancient nesting ground of the turtles remains to be seen.

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