Isla Ballena, South Puntarenas

Costa Rica River
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Located in Costa Rican province of South Puntarenas, Isla Ballena literally means "Whale Island." With such a specific name, it's no wonder that people from all over the world visit the area to view whales and other marine life, as well as to partake in a wide variety of other water activities.

Whale Watching

Humpback whales visit the tropical waters of Costa Rica for a longer period than they visit any other area in the world. Each winter, about a thousand of these creatures, which routinely reach lengths of about 50 feet, make the 8,000-kilometer trek to the Antarctic and grab a snack of krill before heading back north toward Central America. They stay until spring arrives in the north again, with many of the females birthing calves during that time. While December through March is the best time to attempt viewing the whales, July through November may also produce excellent opportunities.

Other Marine Wildlife

While whales are the most popular marine animal in Isla Ballena, plenty of other animals call the area home as well. It is common to see dolphins throughout the year in Costa Rica, including such species as the bottlenose dolphin, spotted dolphin and rough-toothed dolphin. Other animals you might come across during your visit include blue- and brown-footed boobies, frigatebirds and green iguanas.

Water Activities in the Area

Isla Ballena features a gorgeous beach area that is perfect for a range of other water-related activities. The nearly two-mile-long waterfront features plenty of beautiful spots for swimming, scuba diving and snorkeling. Tourists often travel between the beach and the nearby Costa Rica islands so that they can snorkel among one of the largest coral reefs in Central America. The activity is usually most rewarding during low tide, although the currents and riptides mean snorkelers should be experienced or have a professional with them.

Beachcombing is also popular in the area. Combers find gorgeous shells and other remnants of the ocean during their walks. If the water recedes far enough during your trip, make sure to walk along Punta Uvita Tombolo. This small island is slowly being reclaimed as sand and other ocean debris create a natural bridge between it and the mainland.

Part of the island also houses Marino Ballena National Park, an attraction that is popular with tourists and locals alike. Established in 1990 and protecting more than 5,500 hectares, the park is home to turtle species such as the hawksbill and the Olive Ridley. Between May and November, visitors may get a chance to see the turtles lay their eggs at night. However, it is important to respect nature. Because this area is not as regulated as other nesting sites, you may be lucky enough to enjoy the wondrous event all to yourself. Even so, avoid using flashlights, getting too close or making loud noises. Each of these activities could scare the turtles away and prevent the egg-laying process from happening.

When to Visit the Area

The best time to visit Isla Ballena greatly depends on what you hope to see while you are there. If you want to see whales, visit during the winter months. Turtles are best viewed during the summer months. Dolphins, other wildlife and the area’s colorful flora and fauna are available all year. Of course, you’ll likely want to see it all, so it may be best to plan several trips, or perhaps, to relocate altogether.

Regardless of your visit, always remember to pack appropriately. While the area is typically warm, it is also often rainy, so be sure to pack clothes that you can layer when necessary, such as a sweatshirt, light jacket and raincoat. Socks and comfortable shoes are also important. Don't forget sunscreen, bug spray, hand sanitizer, a hat and a water bottle that you can carry while spending time outdoors. By preparing well and knowing when to visit, you are sure to have an excellent time in Isla Ballena.