© Flickr/Paul Balfe
© Flickr/Paul Balfe

Whale watching off Costa Rican shores

4 minutes to read

True things you have heard about Costa Rica

Have you heard that Costa Rica is a fabulous vacation destination? It is true! Or, that it is a very progressive country for creating its own renewable energy and ecological conservation? That is true, too!  Or maybe you have heard Costa Rica is a fabulous place with great beaches and super surfingThese are also both true!  Vacationing in Costa Rica is safe for enjoyable back-to-nature, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  Make memories on a whale watching excursion --it is awesome!

© Flickr/Alex W
© Flickr/Alex W

The longest recorded whale migration ends in Costa Rica

Humpback whales seem to like vacationing in Costa Rica as much as people do! In fact, all along Costa Rica’s Pacific coastline is a "whale ocean boulevard". Humpback whales are often spotted from beaches at Jacó and Manuel Antonio National Park southward to the Osa Peninsula beaches.  For many Humpback whale pod families, the migration route appears to end at Osa.

© Flickr/MAGarridoCrespi
© Flickr/MAGarridoCrespi
Jacó, Costa Rica
Jacó, Costa Rica
Puntarenas Province, Jaco, Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, Provincia de Puntarenas, Quepos, Costa Rica

The migration route for Humpback whale pods is unbelievably long. It stretches from the cool ocean waters of Antarctica all the way to the warm, tropical coasts of Costa Rica.  This remarkable migration route is an amazing 11,500 miles (18,508 kilometers) long, round-trip. It is the largest recorded migration journey by any individual mammal.

© Flickr/Isaac Kohane
© Flickr/Isaac Kohane

Humpback whales like Costa Rican coasts

So, why do Humpback whales like Costa Rica? According to marine biologists, Humpbacks prefer Costa Rican coasts to breed and raise their calves because the water is warm.  The temperature of ocean waters off Costa Rican shores tends to range around 75-77F (24-25C). Researchers believe that high water temperature is an essential factor for Humpback mating and reproduction. They also suspect that warm tropical waters are also beneficial to the newborn calves.

Typically in Costa Rica, you see humpback whales from December to March and again after May until September. In fact, in Uvita at the Ballena Marine National Park, you can see humpback whales during both seasons. Uvita is famous for this natural tombolo formation called Whale Tail Beach or Moses’ Pass.

© Flickr/Paul Balfe
© Flickr/Paul Balfe
Uvita town & beach, Costa Rica
Uvita town & beach, Costa Rica
34, Puntarenas Province, Uvita, Costa Rica
The Whale Tail Park, Costa Rica
The Whale Tail Park, Costa Rica
Marino Ballena National Park, Bahia Ballena, Provincia de Puntarenas, Uvita, 60504, Costa Rica
Moses’ Pass / Whale Tail Beach,  Ballena National Marine Park, Costa Rica
Moses’ Pass / Whale Tail Beach, Ballena National Marine Park, Costa Rica
Uvita Beach, Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica

Wildlife, whales, & tours around the Osa Peninsula

Besides whale watching, beaches all along the Osa Peninsula are paradise beaches; full of wildlife at sea and on land.  You can count on wonderful photo opportunities at every turn. As you drive from the airport outside Alajuela to the Osa area, plan to sight-see along the way. To or from the Osa beaches, there are small towns and plenty of beaches to discover. Plan a day or two to see nature’s marvels by visiting the rainforests, volcanos, and take a coffee tour.  There are plenty of hiking tours to see wildlife and waterfalls (La Fortuna or La Paz Waterfall Gardens).  

© Flickr/Chris Jimenez
© Flickr/Chris Jimenez
Poás Volcano National Park, Costa Rica
Poás Volcano National Park, Costa Rica
Unnamed Road, Provincia de Alajuela, Poás, Costa Rica
La Fortuna Waterfall, Costa Rica
La Fortuna Waterfall, Costa Rica
Alajuela Province, La Fortuna, Costa Rica
La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Costa Rica
La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Costa Rica
126, Heredia Province, Costa Rica

For whale watching, the Osa Peninsula shores are a very special spot for Humpback whales.  Whale or dolphin sighting tours depart from many different beaches around the Osa Peninsula. Sometimes whales can be sighted from the beach; most frequently from June to October, so always have your binoculars handy.

Osa lodges

While the Osa Peninsula is a hotspot for whales, it is a fabulous place for people too!  Not only is Osa one of Costa Rica’s most remote, off-the-grid vacationing destinations, but it is also a popular surfing spot. This untamed tropical region is worth the trip. Think about an Osa vacation as roughing it, but with the wonderful comforts at Osa lodges. There are great restaurants, too. You will not be disappointed. Consider staying at Jaguar’s Jungle Lodge & Hostel and enjoy eating at the restaurant; it is open to the public. Another delightful eating spot is the Kalaluna Bistro. Other places to check out are La Leona Eco-Lodge, Ojo del Mar Eco-Lodge, or Poor Man’s Paradise Hotel.  Bosque el Cabo Rainforest Lodge is at the outermost tip of the Osa peninsula.

La Leona Eco Lodge, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
La Leona Eco Lodge, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
Carate - LaLeona - Corcovado Trail, Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica
Jaguar's Jungle Lodge & Hostel, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
Jaguar's Jungle Lodge & Hostel, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
5 miles south of Drake Bay, next to San Pedrillo, Drake Bay Hiking Trail, Agujitas de Drake, Puntarenas, Costa Rica, San Pedrillo, Provincia de Puntarenas, Drake, Costa Rica
La Leona Eco Lodge, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
La Leona Eco Lodge, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
Carate - LaLeona - Corcovado Trail, Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica
Ojo del Mar EcoLodge, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
Ojo del Mar EcoLodge, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
245, Provincia de Puntarenas, Costa Rica
Poor Man's Paradise Hotel, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
Poor Man's Paradise Hotel, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
Rincón de San Josecito, Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica
Bosque El Cabo Rainforest Lodge, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
Bosque El Cabo Rainforest Lodge, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
Drake Bay, Costa Rica
Kalaluna Bistro, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
Kalaluna Bistro, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
70100 Puntarenas Bahia Drake, Costa Rica
© Flickr/Trish Hartmann
© Flickr/Trish Hartmann

Marine tours & guides

The end of the Humpback whale corridor is a little further south off the Osa Peninsula. Marine biologist researchers come to Osa Peninsula because of its very long humpback whale watching season. Most whale-sighting tours leave from Bahía Drake (Drake Bay), but you can also find full-day tours at Puerto Jiménez

Further north of Drake Bay, you can find excellent guides and whale sighting tours in Uvita and Quepos.  It is always a good idea to ask around when you arrive in a town. Both Bahía Adventures in Uvita and The Divine Dolphin in Drake Bay have good reviews; but do not just take my review, ask around. Things are always changing and new companies are constantly popping up. Remember, it is always about the adventure!

The Divine Dolphin tours, Bahía Drake, Costa Rica
The Divine Dolphin tours, Bahía Drake, Costa Rica
Drake Bay, Costa Rica
Bahía Aventuras, Uvita, Costa Rica
Bahía Aventuras, Uvita, Costa Rica
N 09.15888 W .74178, Bahía, Provincia de Puntarenas, Uvita, 60504, Costa Rica
© Flickr/dcoverntini
© Flickr/dcoverntini

Choose Costa Rica for a whale-watching dream adventure

Costa Rican shores from Jacó to the Osa Peninsula are excellent for natural adventures, including whale watching. Beaches are fabulous for spotting all kinds of marine life, and excellent, but less-traveled, surfing and exotic fishing destinations. Importantly for tourists, Costa Rica is a hospitable and welcoming country to explore --perfect for families, singles, and seniors. Like Switzerland, Costa Rica is a neutral, peace-promoting country; highly tolerant of all cultures. It is ranked by Condé Nast Traveler and Bloomberg as one of the best places for vacationing and ecotourism experiences. Plan your trip to watch whales along Costa Rica’s unique Humpback whale corridor.  You will be glad you did!    

© iStock/Jaime Espinosa de los Monteros
© iStock/Jaime Espinosa de los Monteros

The author

Susan Wesley-Vega

Susan Wesley-Vega

My name is Susan and I’m from the U.S., but have been living in Alajuela, Costa Rica for 15 years. I love discovering the specialness in every place I go. By writing about the fun and fabulous ecotourism hotspots in my adopted country, Costa Rica, I hope to inspire you to come and see for yourself!

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