Costa Rica’s clean, healthy and warm waters are home to many marine wildlife, such as whales. Many whale species come here year round to mate, give birth and raise their young so if you’re interested in Costa Rica whale watching tours, you’re in luck!
In this guide you’ll read about the different whales, the best places and times to see them and the best whale watching tours in Costa Rica.
This post has been updated April 2019.
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What Whales in Costa Rica Can You See?
The most common whale to see in Costa Rica are the humpback whales as they pass by Costa Rica more than 6 months of the year. The other whales that pass by Costa Rica are deep ocean dwellers. Bryde’s Whales are also seen in Costa Rica.
Orcas are not that common in Costa Rica. They have been seen before but it is not often. I know they have been seen at the Catalinas Islands before.
Another whale you may see are pilot whales, which are actually the second largest oceanic dolphin!
Best Time to Go Humpback Whale Watching in Costa Rica
The best time to see humpback whales in Costa Rica is January, February, July, August and September. This is when they come to breed and raise their young so these months are the best time to go on a Costa Rica whale watching tour! You can see whales all along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica during those months.
The official humpback season in Costa Rica is December to March and July to December. Uvita, a small beach town in the South Pacific coast is the only place that has a great abundance of humpback whales during both times of the year. Uvita is the best place in Costa Rica to see humpback whales.
Humpback Whales in Costa Rica
Southern Hemisphere humpback whales travel from Antarctica to Costa Rica from late July through early November. This migration route is 11,500 miles (18507.5 kilometers).
Northern hemisphere whales head to Central America from Alaska from the months of December to March. These long routes make them one of the farthest migrating animals on Earth. Because of this, Costa Rica has the longest humpback whale season in the world!
Best Places to See Whales in Costa Rica
Here is a map of the best places.
Drake Bay and Golfito are two excellent places to see whales. There are also many dolphins in this area so you can see both at once!
Gulf of Papagayo (Guanacaste)
Humpback whales are commonly seen in the Gulf of Papagayo during the months of July – September. We saw a large male humpback whale while on a beach hopping tour in August.
We also saw a single juvenile male in July and mom and babies in February. It’s not as common to see humpback whales in this area December – March but they are around, especially in February. In mid February 2021, we saw a mom and baby on our way to Witch’s Rock in Santa Rosa National Park!
Although there aren’t dedicated Gulf of Papagayo/Guanacaste whale watching tours, you have a chance to see them on a sailing or boating trip.
You can also see humpback whales on a boat tour out of Tamarindo and Flamingo. Must boat out of the bays to see them. In August and September, many sailing tours will specifically try to boat around and look for whales
I saw a humpback whale breaching coming back from a scuba diving excursion at the Las Catalinas Islands in August. It was amazing!
The national park in Uvita, Marino Ballena National Park was created specifically to protect the waters as this is considered the best place in Costa Rica to see humpback whales. This area offers the best whale watching in Costa Rica and you have the best chances of seeing whales in Uvita in Costa Rica.
It’s common to see mom and baby whales together as this is the time where mothers nurse their young and teach them how to breach, dive and feed. The babies are very playful and sometimes when you see them they are splashing their fins around and eagerly jumping out to practice!
Gulf of Nicoya
Another good place to see whales are in the Gulf of Nicoya. If you take the Tortuga Island day cruise during the whale season, there’s a good chance you may see some in August and September!
Though not as good as Uvita, it is possible to see humpback whales from Manuel Antonio during July, August and September.
Costa Rica Whale Watching Tours
Whale Watching Tours Manuel Antonio: Visitors have a chance to see them during the season on a catamaran tour like Planet Dolphin or Ocean King. Some companies may also offer to take you to Uvita for whale watching if whales have not been seen in Manuel Antonio.
Whale Watching Tours Tamarindo: There are no specific whale watching tours out of Tamarindo but you can go on a catamaran or sailing tour. On these sailing tours, it is possible to see whales during the season, particularly July – October. Check Antares, Dream Chaser, Marlin del Rey for open sailing tours.
Whale Watching Tours Flamingo: There are several private boating companies in Flamingo that offer possibilities to see whales during July – September during their tours such as Life Is Better at Sea. You can also do a the open catamaran tour like Panache, Lazy Lizard or Serendipity in Potrero.
Whale Watching Tours Playas del Coco/Gulf of Papagayo: There aren’t any specific whale watching tours but if you go on a catamaran sailing tour or a private boating tour, you have a chance to see them in July – September, January and February.
A private boating tour is best because the boat captain usually has a radio to communicate with other captains and go look for the whales if spotted. This isn’t possible on an open tour.
Whale Watching Tours Uvita: There are several companies that operate specific whale watching tours almost all year round. We have gone twice and enjoyed it each time. Please contact us if you’d like to book the tour!
Whale Watching Tours Drake Bay:In Drake Bay, Divine Dolphin runs dolphin and whale watching tours during the seasons.
What to Know About Costa Rica Whale Watching Tours
Uvita and Drake Bay are two places in Costa Rica that runs tours during both seasons
Because of this, try to fit in a dedicated stay to Uvita in your itinerary if you really want to see humpback whales.
Additionally, if you visit in August, Uvita holds the Festival of Dolphins and Whales where they offer whale watching tours every day in the morning and afternoon for a discounted price.
Take anti-nausea medicine
When we went whale watching in Uvita, I got extremely seasick. I highly recommend taking anti-nausea medicine if you are prone to seasickness or if you are planning to take pictures because looking through a camera on a rocky boat is not fun.
Costa Rica doesn’t allow swimming with dolphins or whales
No touching or swimming close to them.
Know that nature is unpredictable
Nature will do what it will and even if it’s the season, you may not see whales. If seeing humpback whales are on your bucket list, try to go on a whale watching tour in Uvita or Drake Bay during August and September to maximize your chances.
Bring a good lens
If you are going out whale watching, make sure to have a full charged battery for your camera and that you have a good zoom lens.
Read more articles on wildlife in Costa Rica here!
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