Spectacular Humpback Whale breaching off the coast of Marino Ballena National Park
Spectacular Humpback Whale breaching off the coast of Marino Ballena National Park

Though the land of Costa Rica gets most of the glory for the country’s wildlife, there is an astounding, and not to be overlooked, array of marine life to explore as well. One of the largest animals that you’ll see in the waters of Costa Rica are humpback whales. There are several places along the beaches of Costa Rica that allow travelers to see a breathtaking glimpse of these whales throughout the year as they migrate. There are two different migration seasons, depending on where the whales are coming from. If the humpback whales are from the Antartic in the south, they arrive during the summer months and stay through fall. Those that are coming from northern regions, such as California or Alaska, will be migrating during Costa Rica’s holiday seasons – roughly from Christmas to Easter.

One of the places that is known for seeing humpback whales is Marino Ballena National Park. Sometimes I like to hop to this park and sit in a tree high up to see the humpback whales, and let me tell you - it's pretty incredible. You'll see them swimming in packs, flapping their fins and flopping into the crystal clear waters. Any lover of marine life must visit this park! Did I mention the park is also home to the largest coral reef on Central America's Pacific Coast? That's a must-see, too!

Humpback Whale breaching near Uvita
Humpback Whale breaching near Uvita

Go on a Whale Watching Tour

A whale watching tour here is the perfect way to spend your afternoon in the wonderful weather in Costa Rica! These tours will not only allow you to see the humpback whales up and close, but you'll learn about these creatures as well. The guides will teach about when they come here, and when they head back out into the open waters, as well as how large families migrate together for thousands of miles and why they make such far travels - it's like a real life episode of Planet Earth!

Costa Rica is one of the main breeding grounds for two different groups of the humpback, and they come from the two different hemispheres! One of the groups travels from the south of Chile and all the way from the Antarctic, and the other comes from California. It just makes me tired thinking about all the miles they swim! There are plenty of other animals that travel far and visit Costa Rica, so you may be able to see some dolphins or other whales like the sei whale, killer whale, melon-headed whale and fin whale. But the humpbacks are the most intriguing.

Humpback Whale breathing off the coast of Ballena National Marine Park
Humpback Whale breathing off the coast of Ballena National Marine Park

When to Come

If you want to visit Marino Ballena National Park to see the humpback whale migration, you should try to come between December and April, since these whales are migrating here from northern areas like Alaska and California. If you want, you can also snorkel through the waters and you might just be able to see humpback whales from an entirely new perspective! It's likely that you can even view the humpback whales from the shores, although it's much more fun to get up close in a boat and see these creatures like you'll never see them again!

Park Location and Tips

The Marino Ballena National Park can be reached by Highway 34, and it's about an hour west of San Isidro. Early birds should head to the park anytime after 8 a.m. because it closes around 4 p.m., and you'll want to make sure you enjoy the entire park. You will have to pay a fee to get into the park, but it will typically cost about $10. However, this cost doesn't include the tour. Luckily, the months the humpback whales migrate here are the driest, but come prepared with rain gear, just in case!

Humpback Whale off the coast of Marino Ballena National Park
Humpback Whale off the coast of Marino Ballena National Park