Marino Ballena National Park: Costa Rica’s Whale Tail

Marino Bellena National Park is located in the Pacific coast beach town of Uvita in Costa Rica. This national park is also often referred to as the Whale’s Tail Park due to the way the beach juts during low tide to resemble the tail of a whale. Coincidentally, this also happens to be one of the best places to go whale watching for Humpback Whales in Costa Rica.

Uvita is one of our favorite beach towns in Costa Rica, so we visit Marino Ballena National Park often. We think it is a great place for a long beach walk, a whale-watching tour, and other fun water activities. 

The park consists of over 9 miles of coastline and over 13,000 acres of ocean, so there is plenty to explore! We created this guide to help you plan the perfect visit to this natural coastal gem. 

Let’s get planning!

Important Info About Marino Ballena National Park

marino ballena national park

Here is the background info you need to plan your visit. 

Directions

The national park is located in the town of Uvita which is just south of Dominical and just north of Ojochal. From the San Jose International Airport, it will take a little over four hours to drive here.

There are two entrances to the park. 

The main entrance is located in the downtown area of Uvita. To get here you can input “Marino Ballena National Park” or “Parque Nacional Marino Ballena” into your GPS unit.

To get to the second entrance it is best to input “Campground Poncho” into your GPS. The campground is located directly next to the park entrance.

If you would like to visit the whale tail it is easier to enter at the main entrance (less walking in the sun). The second entrance is the best place for spending a day at the beach because there are more places to set up your stuff in the shade.

I marked both entrances on this map for you

Parking

There is a parking lot on the right side of the road just before the national park entrance. Parking costs 2,000 colones per vehicle for the day.

Marino Ballena National Park: Costa Rica's Whale Tail

There is a parking attendant, but please do not leave anything in your vehicle. You never know how well they actually watch the cars.

If you opt to enter at the second entrance there is a dirt parking lot. Typically, there is not someone collecting money for parking, but during high season I wouldn’t be surprised if you happen to run into a parking attendant.

Admission Fee

There is a $6 entrance fee for everyone over 11 years of age. If you are a Costa Rican resident the entry fee is 1,000 colones. You can pay this at the main ranger station. 

This admission fee is good for one day and also gives you access to Playa Arco, Playa Ballena, and Playa Piñuelas which are all just south of Uvita (you will need to drive to them). 

Just note: All Costa Rican national parks are in the process of going cashless. You will need to pay with credit card. 

It is very possible to enter the beach from the dirt parking lot and skip paying the entrance fee. However, if you are going to explore the beach and surrounding area, it is best to just stop by the ranger station and pay the admission fee. I have never seen anyone checking if people had paid, but it is still probably best to pay.

Your admission goes towards helping support the national parks in the country. 

Opening Hours

Technically the opening hours of the national park are from 7 am to 4 pm. However, as far as we know you are still allowed to access the beach at night. 

We have been on the beach in the evenings and there were plenty of other people out there as well. I think it is just that they actually collect admission from 7 am until 4 pm. 

Facilities

There is a bathroom located next to the main entrance, however, it’s definitely not the nicest bathroom you’ve ever experienced. 

There is no potable water here. So, bring all the water you will want to drink. 

To Bring

Sunscreen: SPF 50 or higher is best. The sun is powerful here.

Bug Spray: During the day you likely won’t have a problem, but once the sun goes down the mosquitos come out.

A Full Bottle of Water: There isn’t any place to fill your water here and you will likely find yourself getting dehydrated quickly due to the sun and heat. We like LifeStraw bottles for protection against bacteria.

A Beach Towel: I suggest a microfiber towel. They fold up small and dry quickly. 

Waterproof Bag: We bought this waterproof backpack a few years ago and I don’t know why we didn’t buy one earlier. A waterproof day back is perfect here for hiking during the rainy season or any activity in which your stuff needs to be protected from the water (boat trips, beach days etc.)

Snacks: If you leave the park there are a few mini-markets and restaurants near the beach in Uvita, but there is no place to buy food directly on the beach. 

Check out our Full Costa Rica National Park Packing List on Amazon for everything you need!

To Wear

Swimsuit, UV protecting shirt, fast drying shorts, flip flops or waterproof shoes if you plan to do a lot of walking

Best Time to Visit

There is actually no bad time to visit this park.

See, December through early May is the dry season here. You will have dry and hot weather all day. However, it is also the most popular time to visit so the beaches get busy.

May through early August is the start of the rainy season. You can expect warm and dry mornings followed by rain storms that last an hour or two in the afternoon. These typically roll in around 2pm. 

August through November is when you can expect more consistent rain with some washout days. However, September is the best time to see Humpback Whale migration, so it is still a good time to visit.

No matter when you visit, we suggest coming here during low tide to get the full effect of the whale’s tail.

Also, the sunsets here are always really nice, so you can always come back in the evening. 

In the early mornings the wildlife is at its most active, if you would like to see animals. 

The Marino Ballena National Park Beaches

playa uvita

The National Park consists of five beaches. These are called; Playa Uvita, Playa Colonia, Playa Arco, Playa Ballena, and Playa Piñuela. The area is often referred to as Bahía Bellena. This means “whale bay.”

I think it is a good idea to take advantage of your visit and see all the beaches if you have time.

Playa Uvita

Playa Uvita is the main beach at the Marino Ballena National Park. This beach is characterized by its clean, golden sands and clear waters, surrounded by lush tropical forests. It’s a great place for swimming, sunbathing, and enjoying the serene natural environment. 

Playa Colonia

This beach is just south of Playa Uvita. You can easily walk between the two of them. This is a popular beach with locals because there is a lot of shade and the waters are generally calm.

Playa Arco

The beach gets its name (“Arco” means “arch” in Spanish) from the stunning natural stone arch that is a prominent feature on the beach. This arch, formed by erosion, is not only a beautiful natural structure but also a popular spot for photography.

This beach is remote and only accessible by hiking in.

Recently, there has been a major uptick of theft here. If you would like to visit, I suggest parking your car at La Cusinga Lodge and walking to the beach from their path. They will charge you to park here, but it is the safest option so that your car is protected. 

Playa Ballena

This is a long beach just south of Playa Arco. It’s a wide beach and the water is generally calm. It is a popular place for families and is usually somewhat crowded.

Playa Piñuela

Playa Piñuela is another beautiful beach located in the Uvita area of Costa Rica. The beach is known for being more tranquil and less crowded compared to some other popular beaches in the region.

I’ve marked all the beaches on this Marino Ballena map.

Whale Watching at Marino Ballena

uvita whale watching on boat

One of the best things to do at Marino Ballena National Park is to go a on a whale watching tour. 

There are two primary migration seasons for humpback whales in Costa Rica. The first is from December to April, when whales from the northern hemisphere head south. 

The second is from July to November. These Humpback Whales mostly come from Antarctica. They make their way north to Costa Rica as their breeding ground. 

Although it is possible to see whales during both migrations, the very best time of the year for a whale-watching tour is typically in mid-September.

Taking a whale-watching tour off the coast of Marino Ballena National Park is a fun activity, but I suggest keeping your expectations somewhat realistic. There is a chance you might not see any whales at all.

However, the guides of this tour are great and will try to ensure you still have a great time.

🐋 Book Your Whale Watching Tour in Uvita 🐳

We’ve done this tour twice, both times were in September. Once we saw almost no whales and once we saw a lot of whales.

Because it was September, the weather was kind of miserable and we didn’t get to enjoy the other aspects that go along with taking a boat tour. To be honest, we were kind of freezing both times.

No matter what, on the tour, you will get to see some unique rock formations and learn a lot about the history and nature in the area.

You might even see other marine species such as turtles and different types of dolphins.

Plus, if the weather is decent you will have the opportunity to go snorkeling off of the boat as well.

Basically, I think you need to look at it as a fun boat tour with the possibility of seeing whales. 

We suggest booking your tour with Ballena Tour Costa Rica.

This tour lasts for approximately three hours and includes snacks of water and fruit.

The tour is conducted by an experienced guide who will point out things along the way and will be happy to answer any questions. 

🐋 Book Your Whale Watching Tour in Uvita 🐳

Seeing the Whale’s Tail

whales tail uvita

The whale’s tail is the name for the jutted-out piece of land that goes out from the beach in Uvita into the Pacific Ocean. It is also referred to as Punta Uvita. 

During low tide, this area resembles the tail of a whale from above. During high tide, this area is not accessible because it is underwater.

It is fun to walk our on to the very tip of the whales tail and have ocean on either side of you. 

A few things to note:

  • Make sure you go just before low tide and leave before the tide starts coming back in. It is easy to get stranded out here. You can keep up with the tide schedule here.
  • From the picture, it looks like a short walk, but it will take about 10 minutes or so to walk out to the tip.
  • Wear solid-soled shoes. It is very rocky at the tip and with soft flip flops it can be uncomfortable on your feet.
  • In the past, you could fly a drone here (that is how we got our cool pictures from above). However, Costa Rica has cracked down on drone laws. Since this is a national park close to a domestic airport, you can no longer fly your drone here.

Other Things to Do at Marino Ballena National Park

sunset uvita

There are so many fun things to do in the national park. Let’s go through all your options!

Watch the Sunset

The sunset in Uvita is almost always amazing. We like to grab a few drinks from the grocery store and sit on the Uvita beach during the sunset.

Take a Private Guided Surf Lesson

If you have always wanted to try surfing, Uvita is the perfect place to try it out because the waters are generally calm. 

We suggest booking your two-hour surf lesson with Uvita Surf and Tour. This is a private surf experience that lasts for two hours and is perfect for beginners to intermediate levels.

🏄🏽 Arrange Your Uvita Surf Lesson 🏄🏽

Spend a Day at the Beach

The best spot (in our opinion) to spend the day at this beach is at Playa Colonia. You can park your car at the second entrance (which we mention in the Directions section above).

From here you can walk towards the south and find plenty of shady places to set ip your stuff. 

Go Snorkeling

There are coral reefs located at the tip of the whales tail. During low tide, you can bring your snorkel gear out here and go for a swim among the reefs and marine life. Just be careful because the tide changes quickly.

If you want a more intense experience, there are several tour companies in Uvita which offer snorkel tours in the waters surrounding the whales tail.

Look for Sea Turtles

We have not seen them here, but apparently, Olive Ridley Turtles can sometimes be seen laying their eggs on the beach between May and November.

This is so cool to experience!

Just don’t get too close to them or shine any lights on them. It will scare them off from laying their eggs. 

Cautions for Visiting

Marino Ballena National Park: Costa Rica's Whale Tail

– There are some little streams located next to the ocean. Do not swim or walk in these streams. Crocodiles are living here. 

– Don’t forget that this is a national park. You are not allowed to fish here, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or fly a drone without a license. These rules are not heavily enforced (we have definitely had a beer on the beach while watching the sunset), but just be aware.

– The sun can be super strong here. Even if it is a bit cloudy it is best to wear strong sunscreen. The walk out onto the whale’s tail is not long, but it is long enough to get sunburned (we know from experience).

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– Be careful about rip currents if you plan on swimming or snorkeling. It is always best to ask about the rip current situation when you buy your tickets for admission. The park employees should be able to tell you the current water conditions.

Where to Stay Nearby

rancho pacifico

Here are our favorite nearby hotels at all price points.

Hotel Suggestions

$$$
Rancho Pacifico

$$
Natures Edge Cabinas
Hotel Marino Ballena

$
Flutterby House
Osa de Rio

Nearby Restaurants

Restaurant Los Laurales

Sabor Espanol

Indómitos Café

Soda Ranchito Dona Maria

What to do After

Here are some of our other favorite things to do nearby. 

Slide down the Uvita Waterfall

uvita waterfall

That picture above is Thomas living out a dream of sliding down a waterfall.

Uvita Waterfall is about a ten-minute drive from Marino Ballena National Park. Just put in “Uvita Waterfall” into your GPS and you should have no trouble finding it.

The waterfall costs about $4 per person to enter. You then need to walk for about five minutes to come to the falls.

From there you can swim in the water below or if you are feeling really adventurous you can climb to the top to slide down the waterfall.

Take a Private Waterfalls and Jungle Safari Tour

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars on Viator | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  4 to 5 hours | ✅ Book it!

Another option is to take a private waterfall and jungle tour with a guide.

This tour gives you the chance to see tons of wildlife, explore some completely off-the-beaten-path waterfalls, and eat a delicious traditional Costa Rican lunch.

Get all the details and book your private waterfall tour

Go On a Corcovado National Park Day Tour

corcovado

⭐️ RATING: 4.5/5 Stars on Viator | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  11 hours | ✅ Book it!

Corcovado National Park is one of the most biologically diverse places in the world.

Typically we wouldn’t suggest visiting this park as a day trip from Uvita because the drive is a bit long.

However, as a day tour with transportation, it is much more doable. You can sit back and enjoy the ride in a comfortable air-conditioned van while someone else worries about the driving. 

This day tour includes; 

  • Tickets to the park
  • Bilingual guide (Spanish-English)
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Water and Fruits

You will enjoy a fun 3.5 hour hike with an experienced guide who will point out wildlife and unique plants along the way. You might get lucky and even see a jaguar!

🌴 Get More Info and Arrange Your Corcovado Tour 🐆

Take a Day Trip to Manuel Antonio National Park

manuel antonio national park

Manuel Antonio National Park is located north of Uvita. This is the most popular national park in the country.

It is possible to visit on your own or you can take a guided tour with transportation from Uvita.

This tour includes transportation, an experienced guide, park admission fee, and snacks.

Book Your Guided Day Tour to Manuel Antonio National Park

Go Hiking at Nuyaca Waterfall

nauyaca waterfall

Nauyaca Waterfall is located in the jungle just north of Uvita in Dominical.

The hike to the waterfalls is somewhat intense, but worth it. You will be rewarded with two beautiful cascading falls and you can swim under the lower fall. 

If hiking isn’t your thing, you can also take a horseback riding tour to the falls. 

For more ideas of fun things to do, the best hotels in the area, great restaurants, and more; check out our complete guide to Uvita

Conclusion: Marino Ballena National Park

In conclusion, the Marino Ballena National Park is a great place to visit in Uvita, Costa Rica. Unlike a lot of national parks in the country, there aren’t any hiking trails. Instead, the park consists of coastline and protected ocean. Taking a whale-watching tour or walking to the whale’s tail are both always fun activities  

Let us know if you have any questions about visiting Marino Ballena National Park in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out! 

You Might Also Like:

Costa Rica Travel Details: What You Need to Know

🚗 Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?

Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will also allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

🏄🏽 How can I book things to do?

We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

🍍 I’m overwhelmed with planning. Can you help?

Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

✈️ What is the best way to book a flight?

Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner. Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).

🛏️ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?

We highly suggest Booking.com for hotel bookings and typically use VRBO for Costa Rica vacation rentals.

🗣️What is the main language in Costa Rica?

The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.

💰 What is the currency in Costa Rica?

The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas

📞 What is the best way to stay connected?

An eSIM from Airalo is the easiest way to get 4G data while traveling in Costa Rica.

🌴 Is Costa Rica safe?

Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.

🛂 Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.

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3 Comments

  1. Monya Dade says:

    This site is AMAZING! A much needed guide! We are just about to complete building a vacation home here and had no idea the Whales Tale and Marino Ballena National Parks are literally in walking distance from our home!! So excited to explore our Uvita treasure!!

    1. Hi Monya.
      Welcome to part-time living in Costa Rica! You’ll love the Uvita area. It’s so nice down there.
      Feel free to message us if you have any questions about life here 🙂
      -Sarah

  2. What a wonderful destination. You are writing very interestingly and the pictures are great. Next time when we’ll visit, we’d like to see this.