Exploring the Juan Venado Natural Preserve

Isla Juan Venado is a sandy barrier island located right next to Las Penitas Bay. It is an important nesting ground for sea turtles, and this natural preserve is also home to crocodiles, caimans, birds, crabs, and much more. A mangrove forest grows between the island and the mainland, functioning as a nursery for may species of sea fish and other marine creatures.

What is an barrier island?

A barrier island is a relatively narrow strip of sand that lays parallel to the mainland coast.

The length and width of barrier islands is affected by a long row of factors, including sediment supply, tidal range, sea-level trends and wave energy.

Chains of barrier island are found along less than 15 percent of the world’s coastlines and exactly how they are formed remains unknown. What we do know is that they play an incredibly important role in mitigating ocean swells and storm waves, forming uniquely sheltered water systems between the barrier island and the mainland coast. If the barrier island is destroyed, the entire wetland system is lost as the brackish and sheltered environment is engulfed by the ocean.

Exploring the Juan Venado Natural Preserve by boat

The Juan Venado Natural Preserve starts at Las Penitas Bay, so it is possible to go kayaking straight from the bay. Kayaking is recommended if you wish to see wildlife since birds and other shy creatures are scared away by the sound of motor boats. Kayaks can be rented from several hostels. Sunrise and sunset are best for seeing birds, and there are plenty of small and narrow waterways that you can navigate through in your kayak.

If you don’t want to go kayaking, you can pay a local fisherman or guide to take you into the preserve in his motor boat. Tours can also be arranged through the hostels and the internet café in the bay.

Leaving the boat and entering the barrier island is permitted, provided that you thread carefully and respect the local laws. During the turtle egg laying season in August – December, night tours and night camping can be arranged

Guidelines for Observing Nesting and Hatching Turtles

Sea turtles are very alert to what is going on around them and any disturbance can cause a sea turtle to abandon its nesting attempt. Disturbance can also cause problems for hatching sea turtles as they try to navigate their way to the water. Use your common sense – just because something isn’t outright forbidden doesn’t mean that it is beneficial for the sea turtles.


  • Keep your distance

  • Remain quiet and do not talk loud or make fast movements

  • Do not use flash photography. The flash from a camera can make the turtle disoriented and cause it to abandon its nesting attempt.

  • In the case of hatchlings, never use flash photography or any other type of light source since light can disorient the young turtles. They may start walking in the wrong direction and may get tired or eaten instead of reaching the water.

  • Never block the path of the sea turtle, regardless of whether its a nesting female or newly hatch youngster.

  • Never get between a sea turtle and the ocean, even if it is a female sea turtle making her way up the beach to nest.

  • Never “help” the sea turtle by carrying it from or to the water. It’s normal for the turtle to move slow on land and take breaks now and then. This is true for both young and adult sea turtles.

  • Do not stand close to the water line when hatchlings are around. It is common for hatchlings to be washed back by the surf and you may accidentally step on a baby turtle without knowing it.