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You can’t truly say you’ve been to Costa Rica – the self-styled ‘rich coast’ – without having explored at least some of its shoreline. And those that have been there would claim you can’t boast of having explored the Costa Rican coast if you haven’t visited Marino Ballena National Park. A nature lover's and activity seeker's wonderland, the park offers swimming, diving, and snorkeling, as well as a fantastic sense of the country’s natural beauty.
Marino Ballena is where rainforest sweeps down to long stretches of perfect white sand, and where the warm crystal clear waters are home to idyllic paradise islands and the largest coral reef system on Central America’s Pacific Ocean coast. Marine visitors arrive from far and wide, with humpback whales coming all the way from Hawaii and Alaska to join the dolphins that are sensible enough to remain resident throughout the year.
|Visitors per year:||140,000|
|Area:||55 sq km, of which just 1 sq km is on land|
|Entrance fee:||USD 12* per person for foreign nationals|
|Permits:||There is no camping or overnight stays permitted within the parks boundaries, but the town of Uvita is just 1 km away|
|Common animal sightings:||Whales, dolphins, howler monkey, sloths, toucans, pelicans, sea turtles, marine iguanas, tropical fish, corals|
|Best time to visit:||December to May is the dry season and the best time to visit. This is also the time for humpback spotting. Travel between June and November can be hampered by the wet season’s rain adversely affecting untarred roads and paths.|
- Take a boat trip to Ballena Island and Las Tres Hermanas, The Three Sisters islands
- Watch dolphins and whales from the soft sands of the park’s beaches
- Relax on perfect white sand beaches
- Swim and snorkel over Central America’s largest coral reef
- Spend the night just 1 km away in Uvita
- More popular than it once was, you’ll need to arrive early to have the beaches to yourself
- The whale tail sandbar is only accessible for walking on at low tide before it disappears beneath the waves
Whale and Dolphin Watching
Marino Ballena National Park is the best place in Costa Rica, and one of only a handful anywhere in the world, where it is possible to observe whales and dolphins without having to take to the water (though boat trips are easily organized for closer encounters). A number of species of dolphin, including the popular common and bottled-nosed varieties, can be spotted throughout the year. Humpback whales visit the park’s waters to calve from December to April (the dry season) and scientists believe that these waters could well be one of the few places humpbacks mate too. More occasional visitors include false orcas and pilot whales.
Visit the Park’s Islands
Whether you choose to visit sedately by motorboat or more adventurously by kayak (not for the faint hearted!) you shouldn’t miss the opportunity of exploring Ballena (in other words, Whale) Island or Las Tres Hermanas, The Three Sisters. Lying 3 km offshore, the islands are an important nesting site for boobies, pelicans and frigate birds. Beneath the waves the islands are a great place to try out snorkeling and witness the colorful underwater world of tropical fish and corals, while the island beaches are also known to be a nesting site for various species of sea turtle.
Walking along the national park’s beaches is another simple yet rewarding experience, especially when the water recedes far enough at low tide to allow you to walk out to Punta Uvita Tombolo, the Whale Tail, a sandbar that stretches out from the shore like a whale’s fluke and led in part to the national park’s name.
Check out this tour in Costa Rica with a stop at Uvita and opt for a walk through Marino Ballena National Park.
Swim and Snorkel
Even if you don’t make it out to the islands or onto a boat to explore further afield, the warm waters of the national park are also a great place to splash about with friends and cool off. The waters just off the beaches offer some fine diving opportunities, particularly at low tide. If you fancy this, make sure you speak to the park’s rangers about the safest places to take the plunge while avoiding the strongest currents and possible riptides.
Many believe Ballena Beach in Costa Rica to be one of the region’s finest. Thanks to their location within the boundaries of the park, the beaches of Marino Ballena are clean and rubbish-free. The lack of hunting means it’s possible to get up close and personal with their land-living residents too. Ballena Beach is one of four, and as good as any other to swim, take a stroll or even take to the saddle for a horseback ride. The others are Playa Uvita, Pineula and Colonia.
Turtle Nest Tours
Olive Ridley and Hawksbill turtles can be seen burying their eggs in the sand on night visits to the beaches between May and November, with the largest numbers usually arriving with the waning moon in September. It’s an amazing experience, especially when you find yourself alone on the beach as the turtles drag their heavy bodies ashore.
- The park is open every day from 8 am – 4 pm. Since there are no overnight facilities the majority of visitors stay in hotels in the Uvita area just north of the park boundary.
- The park is located on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, in the province of South Puntarenas, about 3 hours from San Jose by road.
- The park is home to 18 coral species, 85 marine species and a great many land species too, including howler monkeys and marine iguanas.
Whether you’re looking to escape for the day or for a few days, the landscapes and seascapes of Marino Ballena National Park, as well as the chance to catch sight of a calving humpback whale, makes a visit an unmissable experience for any adventure seeker or nature lover.
*Prices listed are as per June 2018