As I took off my flip flops walking towards the boat, I re-checked my camera to make sure I had the right settings. Right before I hopped on, I made a little wish to the whale gurus to give us a day to remember. Excitedly plopping down on a seat in the back, I looked around at the other eager faces in front of me who were also ready fulfill a bucket list adventure like us.
Whale watching in Costa Rica is definitely an activity to cross off the bucket list as Costa Rica is known to have the longest humpback whale watching season in the world. This is due to the migration patterns of the northern and southern humpback whales as they both journey the Costa Rican Pacific coast throughout the year.
We picked an excellent time to go as September is one of the best months because this is when both northern and southern whales overlap, increasing our chances of seeing one.
We went humpback whale watching twice out of Marino Ballena National Park in Uvita and though we didn’t see any breaching whales, it was still a fantastic experience. If you want to go humpback whale watching in Costa Rica, here is all you need to know.
Humpback Whale Watching in Costa Rica
First, Some Whale Facts
Humpback whales are the most commonly seen whales in Costa Rica due to the migration patterns as I mentioned earlier. Though they travel up and down the Pacific coast, there are certain spots they are seen often. These are Drake Bay, Uvita and the Gulf of Papagayo but they have been seen in other parts of the coast. Uvita is particularly famous for having the best humpback whale watching in Costa Rica and this is where the annual Festival de Ballenas is held.
Additionally, Marino Ballena National Park, created to protect the wildlife particularly the whales has a rock formation in the shape of a whale’s tail during low tide. How perfect is nature?
Whale Watching Tours in Uvita
Uvita, Drake Bay and Manuel Antonio offer specific whale watching tour whereas if you go up north to Papagayo Gulf, they don’t. You may see whales in the Gulf of Papagayo but since they aren’t as frequent as down in the South Pacific, tour companies don’t offer specific whale watching tours. So if you want to go on an actual whale watching tour, you must go down to the Costa Ballena area.
The agenda for a whale watching tour out of Uvita typically goes like this: boat around for about 1-1.5 hours to see whales and dolphins, boat to Whale Island and Ventanas Cave, if time permits swim a little and have fruit on the way back. The tour is a little over half a day, starting at 8 AM and ending around 1 PM. They provide water, a bilingual tour guide and fresh pineapple and watermelon.
The tour departs out of Marino Ballena National Park which you will walk to from the tour company’s office. We went with two companies: Ballena Aventura and Ballena Infocenter and both tours were pretty much the same.
The Festival of Whales and Dolphins
The Festival de Ballenas y Delfines is held in Uvita the first two weekends of September where tours cost around $40 per person. There is a parade, live music, food booths and art displays to celebrate the majestic creatures. For whale lovers, this is a must!
You don’t need to purchase a ticket or sign up, just go to Uvita during the festival days and you can join in on the festivities. For $40 a person, that’s an awesome price! (50% off).
Whale Watching Photos
Here are some photos from our whale watching tour. The guide teaches you about humpback whales (and other animals you see) and it is also possible to see dolphins, turtles and other whales such as pilot whales.
It is common to see mom and babies and if you’re lucky you’ll see them playing and jumping in the water!
Oh and we made an aerial video of a mom and baby. Check it out!
Tips for Whale Watching in Costa Rica
- I strongly recommend taking anti-nausea medicine, especially if you’re taking photos. I got quite dizzy while taking photos and the choppy waters did not help. (September is one of the rainiest months).
- You don’t necessarily need to wear a swimsuit, if time allows the tour guide lets you swim around Whale Island but it’s not guaranteed.
- They provide water.
- Use a telephoto lens, we used our 100-400 mm lens and our Phantom 3 drone. If you bring a drone, the guide will tell you how far away you need to be and if you get too close.
- Bring a waterproof backpack. It is a wet departure and landing so you need to protect your electronics if you’re bringing any.
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