Costa Rica’s waters are blessed with good health, temperature and location so marine life is incredibly rich. One of the marine mammals that pass through Costa Rica are the whales. Many whale species come here year round to mate, give birth and raise their young so if you’re coming to Costa Rica hoping to see some whales, 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 and are rarely seen.
Another whale you may see are pilot whales, which are actually the second largest oceanic dolphin. We were lucky to see some hunting while we were out boating in the Gulf of Papagayo one day. It was a big pod of them just swimming alongside our boat!
Best Time to Go Humpback Whale Watching in Costa Rica
The best time to see humpback whales in Costa Rica is August and September. This is when they come to breed and raise their young and is 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. However, Uvita, a small beach town in the South Pacific coast is the only place that has an abundance of humpback whales during both times of the year.
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 on one tour!
Gulf of Papagayo (Guanacaste)
Humpback whales are commonly seen in the Gulf of Papagayo in July – October. We saw this mother and baby humpback whale while on a beach hopping tour in August. We also saw a single juvenile male in July!
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.
Santa Rosa National Park also has humpback whales so if you go surfing at Witch’s Rock in August or September, you may see them there.
You can also see humpback whales in Tamarindo, Conchal and Flamingo during July – November. More chances out of Flamingo/Conchal than Tamarindo from what I have heard though!
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.
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 – December.
Costa Rica Whale Watching Tours
Whale Watching Tours Manuel Antonio: Visitors have a chance to see them during the season on a catamaran tour. Check Tucanes Tours.
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.
Whale Watching Tours Flamingo: There are several private boating companies in Flamingo that offer possibilities to see whales during July – October such as Life Is Better at Sea. You can also do an open catamaran tour like Panache in Brasilito/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 – October. Whales have also been seen in this area during December- February but not as often.
Whale Watching Tours Uvita: Uvita has several companies that operate specific whale watching tours almost all year round. We went with Ballena InfoCenter and had a great 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.
Tips for Whale Watching in Costa Rica
Uvita and Drake Bay are two places in Costa Rica that runs tours during both seasons
Keep that in mind if you really want to see whales.
If you visit in August and September, Uvita holds the Festival of Dolphins and Whales where they offer whale watching tours every day for a discounted price.
There aren’t many specific whale watching tours in other places
As that area isn’t guaranteed to always have whales, even during seasons, there aren’t really dedicated whale watching tours in Guanacaste.
The times we have seen whales in Gulf of Papagayo were completely random. We were on a snorkeling/beach hopping tour and just happened to come across the whales. We saw them in August and July, once near Playa Matapalo by the RIU and one a little outside the Papagayo Marina.
It is best to go on a boating or sailing tour out of Flamingo, Tamarindo or Playas del Coco during July – October and hopefully you will see them!
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
If you want to jump in the water with the whale, don’t! It’s against the law.
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 come during the peak season months of 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 if you have a DSLR. There are so many other animals out there in the ocean that you’ll want to have it handy to catch it on film.
Read more articles on wildlife in Costa Rica here!
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