The leatherback turtle Dermochelys coriacea, the only extant species in its family, is categorized as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The protection of nesting beaches and the associated conservation efforts along the Western Atlantic coast of Central America have improved the population trends of some of the most important rookeries. Here we report the life history, ecology and population trends of leatherback turtles over 18 years (1994–2012, excluding 1998) of effective protection in the Pacuare Nature Reserve, on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. A mean density of 142 nests per km, probably the highest in Central America, indicates the importance of this rookery within the Caribbean region. Long-term conservation efforts at the Reserve have significantly reduced poaching and contributed to maintaining a high level of hatchling production. Long-term monitoring has also facilitated estimation of relevant demographic parameters of the population, such as nesting success (mean 69.8 ± SD 7.3%), clutch size (which is positively correlated with female size), hatching success (mean 55.2 ± SD 6.0%), remigration interval (2.5 years), and growth rate of remigrant females (mean 0.3 ± SD 1.0 cm per year), which is slightly faster than growth rates reported for Pacific leatherback turtles. Overall, efforts at Pacuare have been successful in protecting leatherback turtles and understanding their life history, highlighting the importance of long-term conservation projects for maintaining threatened leatherback populations.