Costa Rica is known for its excellent fishing and numerous sea turtle nesting areas, but did you know that the waters on the Pacific coast are also migratory locations for Humpback Whales? In fact, it is possible to see Humpback Whales in Costa Rica all throughout the year. The best way to experience seeing one of these giant mammals is by going whale watching in Costa Rica with a tour.
Whale Migration to Costa Rica
Humpback whales from Alaska and California begin their migration down to the warmer waters of Costa Rica in December each year. These whales typically stay until April before heading back home.
Humpback whales from Antarctica make their way up to Costa Rica’s warmer waters in July and stay until November. I recently read that this is the longest migration for any animal in the world with several thousand miles of travel. Interesting, right?
The whales from both the north and the south use the warm waters of Costa Rica to mate and then to give birth the following year upon their return to Costa Rica. From what I have read, it seems that researchers believe the Humpback whales not only like the warmer waters here, but they also have fewer predators in Costa Rica than in their normal seas. This makes Costa Rica a good spot for their young to start their lives.
This means that not only can you see adult Humpback Whales in Costa Rica, but you also have the chance of seeing the little babies as well.
The Best Time of Year to See Whales
Although it is possible to see whales year-round, the best time to see them is from July until November when the Antarctica Humpbacks arrive. There tends to be a much larger population of whales coming from Antarctica than the whales which come from California and Alaska between December and April.
The Best Places to See Whales in Costa Rica
The best place to see Humpback Whales in Costa Rica is along the Osa Peninsula, specifically the town of Uvita. This is also the most popular place to take a whale watching tour in Costa Rica.
It is a bit ironic because Uvita also happens to be home to Marino Ballena National Park. The national park is known for its beach which resembles the tale of a whale. In fact, the national park classification was put into place mainly to protect the whales in the waters here. Cute coincidence, right?
There are several companies in Uvita which offer whale watching tours. These tours tend to be about three hours long and often also include snorkeling and possible dolphin sightings as well. Dolphins can be seen here (and all along the Pacific coast and Caribbean coast of Costa Rica) year round.
Just be warned that these tours are not cheap. You can expect to pay about $90 per person for a whale watching tour from Uvita.
You can check out and book the most popular whale watching tours in Uvita on the TripAdvisor website.
Although the Uvita area tends to be the best place to see whales, that doesn’t mean you won’t see whales anywhere else throughout the country. In fact, you could get lucky and spot whales anywhere along the Pacific coast.
There are not many other specific whale watching tours throughout the country, but you can always take a snorkel tour, sunset catamaran tour, a sailing trip etc. and look out for whales.
Tour guides for all types of boat trips know that people want to see Humpback Whales. If there have been recent sightings or they know a good spot to potentially see whales, you can guarantee they will make sure you see them.
You can check out and book other popular boat trips in Costa Rica on TripAdvisor.
The Costa Rica Whale Watching Festival
Every year for two weeks in September there is a whale watching festival in Uvita. If you happen to be in Costa Rica at that time, it is the best possible time to take a whale watching tour because the prices are about $70 for a three-hour tour instead of the usual $90.
Just be warned, this is a super popular event with locals (the rate is even cheaper for nationals) and hotels in the area tend to fill up fast at this time of year.
What to Bring/ Wear for Whale Watching
The months when you will have the best chances of seeing whales (July through November) also happen to be the rainiest months of the year on the Pacific coast. You may have a really cloudy whale watching day.
On the day of our whale watching tour (in late September) the weather was very overcast in Uvita. In fact, it started raining heavily by the end of our tour.
We opted to wear fast drying shirts and shorts with our bathing suits underneath and flip flops.
– We brought our dry bag and this was super helpful. The boat got soaked (mainly from the rain) and everybody else had to put their bags in a hold on the boat. Because we had our dry bag we could keep all of our stuff with us and didn’t have to worry about it getting wet.
– It is not a bad idea to bring a waterproof plastic sleeve for your phone. That way you can continue to take pictures even if it starts raining or if you get sprayed with ocean water.
– Definitely put on sunscreen before your whale watching trip. Even on cloudy days, it is possible to get a sunburn, especially when you are sitting in a boat for three hours.
– We also brought a bottle of water with us. Just note that there is no bathroom on these whale watching boats.
– Bring motion sickness pills. I always get a bit seasick on these types of tours, especially if the weather isn’t the best and it is very windy.
Also, you have to consider that the boat will be stopped for large chunks of time to look out for whales. This is often the worst time for seasickness because you feel the rocking of the boat a lot more.
You can buy motion sickness pills without a prescription at any local pharmacy. In Uvita, there is a pharmacy in the downtown area called Farmacia Costa Ballena. I know for a fact, from experience, that they carry Dramamine.
We also brought a change of clothes and a towel but we kept them in the car for when we returned.
Our Experience Whale Watching in Costa Rica
We were a bit disappointed with our whale watching experience.
Thomas and I both thought that the tours are insanely overpriced at $90 per person. We have gone on several trips for fishing and snorkeling in similar size boats and we have never paid that much for a trip.
The boat guides did communicate with each other over walky-talky to discuss whale sightings and our guide did give us information on the whales, but nothing more than that which could have made the inflated price worth it.
We were also disappointed because all we saw was the backs of a few whales. Now, obviously, that is no fault of the tour company. It’s impossible to predict if you will see whales or not on a particular day. A friend of ours visited Uvita a few days later and saw whales actually jumping. He thought the tour was amazing. You just never know!
Although we were disappointed with the experience, most of the whale watching tour companies have great views on TripAdvisor. Maybe we are just difficult to please or participated in the tour on an “off” day.
I may also just be a bit snobby because I grew up outside of Boston and have taken many very successful whale watching tours in my life.
If you have never seen whales in the wild before then you might actually be really happy and satisfied to even just see the backs of whales swimming.
If you end up doing a whale watching tour, let us know how your experience was. We are curious to know how you liked it.
What to Do After Your Whale Watching Tour
If you take a whale watching tour in the Uvita area there are many fun things you can do nearby.
– We like to walk out to the whale’s tale at Marino Ballena National park during low tide. Within your ticket for the whale watching tour you have already paid for admission to the national park. Might as well get the most out of your admission and explore a bit.
– On your whale watching tour you will likely see the rock bridge formation near Arco beach. It is a 10-minute drive south from Uvita to Arco Beach. You can then walk into another cave-like rock formation out into the ocean. The beach is also great for swimming.
– The Uvita waterfall is located about 10 minutes away from Uvita Beach. Admission is a few dollars and totally worth it! You can climb to the top of this waterfall and slide down it like a slide. It’s super fun!
Check out our guide to Uvita for more tips on things to do, places to eat, the best places to stay, and more!
If you have any questions about whale watching in Costa Rica, please leave them in the comment section below and we will help you out ASAP. Also, id you take a whale watching tour we would love to hear about your experience.
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