If you are visiting Costa Rica during mid-July to late October (rainy season) don’t pass the opportunity to go on a whale watching tour in Uvita and see these beauties up close.
Uvita can be considered a whale sanctuary.
“Whales Festival” is celebrated every year since 2008 in the south of our country where Marino Ballena National Park is located.
How did everything start?
This festival started 10 years ago with the purpose of attracting tourists to the area. The tradition started with a group of fisherman that took some tourists to see whales.
For years, the economy in the area was based for years on the fishing activity. There was even a processing plant in Uvita and about 30 families benefit from it … until the national park service start to worry about whales.
The fisherman had to reinvent themselves when the National Park banned the fishing to protect the environment.
At first, the fishermen saw the National Park as their enemy. After some conflicts that even resulted in residents burning the home of a park ranger., the government decided to negotiated and support the fishermen with small tour operations business in the park.
Now the community has built an economic system based in ecotourism.
To check dates: Whale’s festival & Association of Marine Tour operators
What kind of whales? Humpback Whales!!!!
According to the book “Mammals of Costa Rica” these whales are the order of Cetacea (from Greek Ketos, which means “sea monster”). In Costa Rica 25 species (between dolphins and whales) occur or are expected to occur in our waters.
The humpback whales visit our coasts traveling around 8047 kilometres (5000 miles). They do seasonal migrations, leaving cold northern and cold south to tropical waters to give birth and breeding.
The Humpback whales visit the waters of Costa Rica between mid-July to late October (Southern Humpback Whales). Then again in mid-December through late February (Northern Humpback Whales).
- Name in spanish: “Ballena Jorobada”
- Scientific name: Megaptera novaeangliae
- Length: Female: 15 – 16 m (Adult), Male: 13 – 14 m (Adult)
- Weight: 30,000 kg (Adult) (Encyclopedia of life)
- Average life: 45 – 50 years
- Period of gestation: 11 months (Encyclopedia of life)
The Bottlenose Dolphins and Pacific spotted Dolphins are regularly seeing all year round in the waters of the Ballena Marine Park.
How to get there?
Uvita beach is located around 16 kilometres (10 miles) south of Dominical Beach in the southern Puntarenas province near the Osa Peninsula. If you are coming from the Panama border will be around 135 kilometres (84 miles).
There are two ways to access this area from San José:
Route 27: Take the newly paved Costanera Sur that passes through Jaco, Quepos and then Dominical to Uvita. Approximately duration: 3 hours
Cerro de la Muerte: Take the Inter-American highway to San Isidro de General (this route is through the mountains) and drive to Dominical. From Dominical take the paved Costanera Sur highway to reach Uvita. Approximately duration: 4 hours
Whale Watching Tour
The tours begin in the operation center of the tour company that was recommended to us.
We did the tour with Bahia Aventuras CR. They have been recognized as the tour operators in the area who operate under the best practices to respect marine wildlife.
They did a brief orientation about the activity that we were going just to start. This part is really important because you will understand the best practices to do Whale Watching.
We drove to the main entrance of the National Park and parked there. We paid 2,000 colones ($4) to a private parking lot.
From there, we walked to the beach where a second explanation about the boat rules was given.
With our life jackets and sunscreen on, we jumped into the boat, excited to watch whales.
The tour guide explained the importance of not only looking for whales but also appreciating all kinds of marine wildlife. We saw 2 Hawksbill sea turtles!!!
The ride took us to see the beaches around the marine national park that are beautiful with the green mountains in the back and the palm trees. They look like the ideal beaches to do like a film … well maybe Mel Gibson already did.
Our Whale Watching Experience in Costa Rica
Unlike Dory from Finding Nemo, we didn’t speak “whale,” but our captain obtained the coordinates through his “chat group” on Whatsapp … you know, who needs radars if we have phones!
So, slowly he turned off the motor of the boat and we saw on a shadow on the surface of the water.
Then there were two shadows moving slowly and two creatures rose to the surface—it was a humpback whale mother and baby.
We saw how when they breathed, steam came out with a audible sighs before they submerged again.
From there, the fun started. The baby was playing, jumping like a little child unaware of the world that surrounds. The baby whale was enjoying playing and for a moment, the mom just observed before she started following her baby.
During the months with no whales this tour includes Dolphin encounter, snorkeling, bird watching, visit to the sea caves and one stop to a beautiful beach for relaxing and exploring.”
It was a beautiful experience that pictures cannot describe. We spent 30 minutes enjoying this beautiful moment with creatures that are far from being sea monsters.
What is “El paso de Moises”?
Nature has decided to make clear that this beach is a whale sanctuary—the locals said that God designed the area with the unmistakable shape of a whale´s tail that is revealed during the low tide with a jutting arm of sand.
That’s why it is called Moses’s path because when the waves pull back from the beach you literally walk in the middle of the waters.
What does the tour include?
- Bilingual naturalist guide
- Bottled water
- Entrance fee to Marino Ballena National Park
- Snorkelling equipment*
*We didn’t snorkel that day because the weather conditions, but they let us jump into the water and do some swimming.
What to bring
- Shorts (dry-fit even better)
- Bathing suit
- Small bags to safeguard personal belongings
- Sandals or flip flops
- During the rainy months (June to November) we recommend bringing a raincoat or poncho
There is a range between $60 up to $90 depending the season and extra activities that you might include.
Whale-friendly Wildlife Watching
In the area there is a NGO called Keto who are in charge of promoting sustainable practices to whale watch in Costa Rica. They created a program that tour companies are including in their practices.
Sea Star System is a voluntary program that gives between 1 to 3 stars depending on how many of the 64 practices the tour operators accomplish in their tours. Learn more about it: Keto Foundation
Here are some international best practices to take into consideration when you are doing whale watching (source: bewhalewise.org) :
- The boat shouldn’t approach or position the vessel closer than 200 meters (200 yards) to any whale.
- The boat should slow down and reduce speed to less than 7 knots when within 365 meters (400 yards) of the nearest marine mammal to reduce your engine’s noise and vessel’s wake.
- Be Courteous and Quiet when around areas of known or suspected marine wildlife activity.
- Always the boat should approach and depart from the side, moving parallel to the animal’s direction of travel. If the animal(s) are approaching you, cautiously move out of the way and avoid abrupt course changes. Never should be approach from the front or from behind.
- Pay Attention and move away, slowly and cautiously, at the first sign of disturbance of agitation.
- Limit your viewing time to 30 minutes or less. This will reduce the cumulative impact of all vessels and give consideration to other viewers.
- Do Not swim with, move, feed or touch any marine wildlife. In Costa Rica swimming with whales is not allowed. At least is a special permits for scientifics purposes.
- Look in all directions so you will see more wildlife.
The importance of all these rules is to enjoy the whales while caring for the animals’ health. As the marine biologist David Palacios said for the Tico Times Newspaper:
“If tour operators consistently stress the whales, then they will change their migration habitats,” said David Palacios, a biologist with the Keto Foundation, a marine conservation NGO closely associated with the national park. “If the whales stop coming back, that harms the area’s tourism businesses as much as anyone else.”
What else do you recommend around?
There are a lot of things that you can do in the area. We highly recommend spending at least a night there.
You can take a one-day tour to Nauyaca Waterfalls or visit other waterfalls that are around, like Pavones in Punta Mala. (To get here follow the Interamericana highway after Uvita, and after passing Ojochal entrance to the right you will see a sign in Punta Mala called: Pavones Restaurant)
From there, also you can plan a visit to the famous Corcovado National Park. Read more about it.
If you want to stay in an eco-lodge that has been contributing a lot to wildlife conservation also, you can check out Hacienda Baru.
After this experience, we recharged our batteries and we are glad not only to learn about whales, but also to see how our country is trying to develop tourism in harmony with nature and the local communities.
So if you decide to visit the area, don’t hesitate to contact us. Here’s us wishing you luck that the ocean will show you whales!