I thought I was done with babies, but then I met a baby sea turtle, and now I’m all googly eyes again. If you’re looking for a family-friendly activity in Cabo, don’t miss the chance to help release endangered baby sea turtles into the Sea of Cortez. There are a few tour companies that offer this experience, but after some research, we chose Cabo Outfitters. It exceeded our expectations and left every member of my family with a giant smile — and trust me, that’s not easy with my crew!
Sea Turtles in Mexico: An Education
While we gathered on the beach, our guide Casey gave us a brief rundown on sea turtles in general and the adorable olive ridleys we were about to meet.
There are eight species of sea turtle in the world, and five of them are found around the Baja Peninsula of Mexico: hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback, green, and olive ridley. The day we released hatchlings, they were olive ridley sea turtles.
Nesting season is dependent on location and the species of turtle. The olive ridleys we met had mothers that made their way slowly up the beach at night approximately 45 days ago and laid their clutches of 80-100 eggs two feet down in the sand. The temperature of the sand determines their sex; in colder weather, like ours in November, they’ll all be male.
After the eggs are laid and abandoned by the mother, life becomes pretty risky for these sea turtle babies. That’s where we came in.
About the Sea Turtle Rescue in Los Cabos
The olive ridley sea turtle colonies in this area of Mexico are considered endangered. An insanely low percentage of sea turtle babies will actually hatch out of their eggs and then make it back to the ocean alive, especially on busy beaches.
The sea turtle hatchery in Cabo was created to dramatically improve the survival rate of the hatchlings. It is supervised by a marine biologist, run by few employees and a lot of volunteers, and funded by tourism — 30% of the price of your tour goes to the program, which makes the high price for a family of five a little easier to swallow.
The “hatchery” is really just a fenced off section of sand on a beach that fronts San Jose del Cabo estuary. The protected nature reserve here means this beach won’t ever be developed. All season, summer through fall, volunteers go out and walk the beaches at night, looking for sea turtle nests.
When a nest is found, the eggs are carefully dug up and transported to the hatchery, where they are reburied in the sand. The nests are marked with sticks that label the species and number of eggs.
When it’s time, the babies emerge and are dug up, and the sea turtles released back into the ocean by a hatchery worker if there aren’t any paying tourists to do it — or in this case, by lucky us.
The Fun Part: Hand-releasing Baby Turtles
The excitement started when they handed us a giant box full of 280 wriggling baby sea turtles.
And I about died of cuteness.
I thought we would release one or two sea turtles, but the number is totally dependent on how many are ready the day you go, and we got 280!
We donned gloves, went crazy with excitement, gave the kids strict instructions on appropriate and gentle handling of tiny sea turtles, and lined up on the beach.
Then we got to work.
And if there’s anything more adorable than watching baby sea turtles take their first steps toward their home as the sun sets over the Sea of Cortez…well, save it for our next vacation.
About the Cabo Outfitters Tour
Cabo Outfitters will happily pick you up at your hotel, but we chose to drive our rental car, and met our guide at the San Jose del Cabo estuary, a protected nature reserve.
As a family, we are wary of large tours (partly because we can be somewhat spirited/loud, partly because some of us are not great at following directions) so I was happy to see our group only had seven in it. They deliberately keep these tours small.
At the end of the tour, they even gave us personalized adoption certificates so we could name and “adopt” a baby sea turtle.
Warning: This part may backfire with oversensitive kids who may or may not name their sea turtle, then worry excessively about it as soon as it reaches the ocean, then cry about it a little bit, and then feel an even greater sense of responsibility once they realize they’ve ADOPTED it.
Where to See Sea Turtles in Cabo…and How to Help Out out a Sea Turtle Baby
The only other sea turtle rescue program I could find around Cabo is Tortoguero Las Playitas, a research-based program located north of Cabo San Lucas. When we were there, they were allowing people to come watch them work, but not actually touch the sea turtles, and their season started in mid-December, so we were a little early for that.
If you are bound and determined to experience baby sea turtles, make sure to check on which program lines up with your travel dates.
I can recommend without reservation experiencing sea turtles with Cabo Outfitters. My husband kind of hates anything billed as a “tour”…and even he admits this was a highlight of our trip.
Disclaimer: We received a discount on our tour tickets from Cabo Outfitters in exchange for this review, but as always, all opinions are my own.