Dolphin and whale-watching in Marino Ballena National Park, Costa Rica
Travelling in Costa Rica almost certainly means a stop at a beautiful beach to catch a tour to spot the magnificent whales that roam these warm waters. We recently spent a weekend whale watching in Marino Ballena National Park, on the Pacific Coast. Noted for its iconic whale tail formation carved naturally into the sand, visitors from across the world flock to this beautiful national park located near the town of Uvita. Generally, locals consider any time from August to October to be the best for witnessing the magnificent mammals.
We started the tour in the community of Playa Hermosa, just north of Uvita, where we were welcomed by our gracious hosts Don Rafael and his wife Doña Nelfa. We stayed at their cabins which had incredible views to the ocean, just a 20-minute ride form Marino Ballena National Park. Doña Nelfa was a great cook who prepared delicious local food like Costa Rica’s national dish gallo pinto, which is a breakfast of rice and beans, usually served with fried or scrambled eggs.
Upon arrival, Don Rafael took us on a morning hike through the lush Playa Hermosa Nature Reserve, which is an area protected by law to ensure that the environment doesn’t get ruined by outside interests. Protected areas like this one are common in Costa Rica, which has guaranteed the protection of an impressive 25 percent of its total land through nature reserves. This immunity not only allows for Costa Rica’s unique ecosystems to remain intact but it also positively contributes to local economies by providing bountiful opportunities for sustainable tourism.
Inside the Playa Hermosa Nature Reserve, we took a two-hour hike through abundant vegetation in which hikers get the chance to see colourful birds, playful monkeys, sloths and, if one is really lucky, the normally elusive tapirs might show its face. Before the hike, Doña Nelfa had prepared lunch for us and wrapped it in banana leaves. We ate at a lookout point, where we enjoyed the total tranquility while toucan spotting, amidst a beautiful setting that made for the perfect place to eat. Afterwards, we took a quick dip in the ocean to cool off, and then went to a cacao tour where we learnt to harvest the fruit as well as to roast and ground the beans. For dinner, we enjoyed fried fish that was caught that day, and a refreshing natural fruit juice.
The next morning we woke up early to catch the small boat which would take us to spot breath-taking glimpses of whales and lots of mighty dolphins. The humpback whale is the most common whale to be found in these waters but there is also a possibility you get to see pilot whales, common dolphins, and rough-toothed dolphins. The challenging part of these tours is to always be alert and have your camera ready, as a whale or dolphin could pop up from the sea’s surface at any time.
We arrived at Punta Ballena (“Whale’s Tip”), which gets its name for the shape the beach gets on low tide. While on the beach preparing for departure, our boat captain had heard of a few humpback whales roaming around. We quickly boarded the ship and sped off in search of these glorious creatures.
There are always other tour boats on the water trying to find the whales at the same time, so captains communicate with each other to make it more likely that everyone gets to see whales or dolphins on a given day. We were able to spot a few whales and calves as well as dolphins swimming around, and even had the chance to see that unforgettable moment when a whale jumped out of the water. Most importantly regarding the tours, a whale watching code of conduct was always followed: No more than three boats around a whale, the boats get no closer than 50 meters, and they never get in the whale’s trajectory (always from the sides or behind).
Whales come here to give birth as well, so it was cute to see the mothers swimming along with their whale calves. After this great experience whale watching in Marino Ballena National Park, we drove back north along the Pacific coast to Costa Rica’s capital city San José, where our tour finished. I can’t stop thinking about my trip to the country, where we were able to share amazing moments with some of the most generous people I’ve ever met.
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