It’s true to say that witnessing huge humpback whales breach the waves is the kind of awe-inspiring experience you won’t forget in a hurry. And in good news if you’re planning to visit Costa Rica, the village of Uvita presents world-class opportunities to see these majestic beasts during their annual migratory voyage. Want to make the most of this extraordinary experience? Read on for the ten best tips for whale watching in Uvita.
1. Where to go whale watching in Uvita
Straddling the Río Uvita around 20km south of Dominical, Uvita is part of the aptly named “Costa Bellena” (Whale Coast).
The best place to see whales in the Uvita area is within Marino Ballena National Park (Parque Nacional Marino Ballena).
Created in 1989, this protects a large area of ocean and coastline south of Uvita. This protected status was granted as a result of it containing one of the largest masses of coral reef that remains on the Pacific coast.
Perhaps more famously, Marino Ballena National Park is also the habitat of humpback whales, who come here to breed.
On land, the beaches fronting the ocean are also protected, as is Punta Uvita. This former island is connected to the mainland by a sandbar that’s shaped like a whale fin (yes, really!)
Travel tip: when the tide is low, you can walk over the sand to the rocks, tide pools and reefs.
2. Marino Ballena National Park
While you’ll want to book your whale-watching tip with a reputable operator (more on that below), given that you can also explore parts of Marino Ballena National Park on land, this essential visitor information should stand you in good stead.
The park has four beach entrances and designated sectors to match. From north to south, these are playas Uvita, Colonia, Ballena and Piñuelas.
All the ranger stations — there's one at each entrance — provide information about the park and nearby picnic areas.
With the exception of the Uvita entrance, the stations also provide basic shower and toilet facilities. Note that the stations aren’t always staffed, though.
The park is open daily from 7am–4pm. The US$12 entry fee is valid at all four entrances for a day.
It’s also possible to camp at Colonia, Ballena and Piñuelas, but only at spots well away from the high-tide line, and after checking with a ranger. This costs US$20 per person.
Travel tip: planning a trip to Costa Rica? Let our local experts in Costa Rica help you!
3. When to go whale watching in Uvita
Costa Rica actually has two seasons that see whales migrating through the country’s waters.
Firstly, from late December through to late March, a population swims from the Oregon Coast towards Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast.
While you’re pretty much guaranteed to see a whale in the peak months of this season (January and February), be aware that this migration is smaller than that of the second season.
During the second season — from late July to late October — sighting whales in Uvita is all the more likely, and all the more mighty an experience.
And the reason? The population is far bigger during this second season.
In addition, this period also offers opportunities to see whale calves. Uvita’s calm waters make it the perfect place for whale toddlers to find their fins, so to speak.
Travel tip: find out more about when to go to Costa Rica.
4. How to go whale-watching in Uvita
Your best bet is to choose a reputable operator based in Uvita, and to book your trip well in advance.
This is because the tours tend to be on small boats, and are — understandably — very popular.
- Bahía Aventuras: this friendly and professional tour operator leads everything from whale-watching and snorkelling half-day trips, to sea-kayaking in the national park.
- Uvita 360: offers a top whale-watching trip, plus surfing lessons, stand-up paddle-boarding tours, and rentals of surfboards, kayaks and SUP boards.
- Uvita Information Center: the helpful staff can book a wide assortment of tours, on both water and land.
Best whale-watching tour companies in Uvita
Travel tip: to enjoy all Uvita has to offer, check out our customisable Costa Rica's Wild South trip. It includes Uvita, along with unforgettable hikes and nature experiences around the region.
5. What does it cost to watch whales in Uvita?
Most whale-watching trips tend to cost around US $80-100.
These tours also typically include some time for snorkelling, with gear provided — if snorkelling is on your Uvita wish-list, check with your operator to be sure.
Travel advice: for more practical intel, read our travel tips for Costa Rica.
6. What should I expect from a tour?
Whale watching tours out of Uvita are usually done on smaller boats that hold 15-25 passengers.
Trips tend to last around three hours, with a professional guide on hand to give you the lowdown on the national park and its extraordinary marine life.
Travel tip: love the great outdoors? Read up on the best national parks in Costa Rica.
7. What will I see?
Stating the obvious here, but if you come at the right time of year, you'll most likely see whales!
Tours are firmly fixed on humpback whales, with Bryde's whales also pretty common.
Though reaching up to 50 feet long, their acrobatic agility is nothing but astounding, as you’ll discover if you’re lucky enough to see one leaping from the water.
Get even luckier, and you might also see whale calves kidding around close to their mums.
While whales are the focus, you’re also likely to spot an array of dolphins. Bottlenose dolphins, spotted dolphins, common dolphins, spinners and rough toothed dolphins are all found in these waters.
You’ll also want to keep your eyes out for turtles and rays.
Travel tip: if our best tips for whale watching in Uvita have left you hankering for adventurous wildlife-watching experiences, you’ll love our Costa Rica Eco Adventure itinerary.
8. What should I bring?
To make your whale watching trip all the more rewarding — and comfortable — here’s a rundown of what to take on your trip.
- Binoculars: all the better to spot whales and dolphins before anyone else, and for getting a closer look at these undeniably majestic beasts.
- Sun screen: while being on the open water can feel cooler than, say, trekking in the steamy jungle, you'll be exposed to the sun. So, be sure to bring sun screen.
- Swimwear: given that many whale-watching trips include a snorkelling stop-off, you’ll want come prepared with swimwear. And while operators may provide it, you could bring own snorkelling gear.
- Waterproof camera: while you don’t need a waterproof camera to take top shots of whales breaching the water, it will come in handy if you opt to go snorkelling. The reef and rich marine life in Marino Ballena National Park is quite something.
9. What else can I do in Uvita?
In addition to having two whale-watching seasons, May-October sees olive ridley and hawksbill turtles come ashore to nest along this coastline
Other popular water-based activities around Uvita include snorkelling, kayaking and paddle-boarding.
Beyond the water, you could hike and horse-ride in Rancho La Merced National Wildlife Refuge, watch birds in Reserva Biológica Oro Verde, and explore one of the best waterfalls in Costa Rica. Namely, Nauyaca Waterfalls.
To find out what else the area has to offer, read our Uvita guide.
10. How can I visit Uvita to watch whales?
If you're not hiring a car, Uvita can be reached by bus from several destinations around Costa Rica.
Our Costa Rica travel tips will also help you plan your trip.