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Whale Watching in Costa Rica

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If you hope to go whale watching in Costa Rica — you are in for an incredible experience! Costa Rica boasts the longest humpback whale season worldwide, so you have a spectacular chance at seeing humpback whales during your trip to Costa Rica — and potentially other marine life too.

Before heading to Costa Rica, read through this guide to learn everything you need to know about spotting whales in Costa Rica, including the country’s whale-watching season, where to see whales, and the best whale-watching tours in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Whale and Dolphin Species

During your vacation, you will have the opportunity to see three species of migrating humpback whales in Costa Rica: California Humpback Whales, Antarctic Whales, and North Atlantic St. Lawrence Whales.

As we mentioned earlier, Costa Rica has the longest humpback whale season in the entire world. You will be able to see the Northern and Southern Hemisphere humpback whales passing through the waters of Costa Rica for more than ten months of the year.

It’s also common to see bottlenose dolphins, spotted dolphins, common dolphins, sea turtles, and pseudo orca whales — a species of dolphin that shares similar characteristics to killer whales — in Costa Rica. Though they aren’t as common as humpback whales, pilot whales, orca whales, and blue whales have all been spotted off the coast of Costa Rica.

A humpback whale breaching out of the Costa Rican waters and flipping with water spraying around him | brought to you by
The Humpback whales often breach out of the water providing a spectacular show

Costa Rica Whale-Watching Season

You can see Northern Hemisphere California Humpback Whales off Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast from December to March. The Southern Hemisphere Antarctic Whales migrate north from late July to November. If you stay along the Caribbean Sea, you can see the North Atlantic St. Lawrence Humpback Whales trading in the cold waters of Eastern Canada for these warm waters from DecemberMarch.The only place with an abundance of both types of whales at both times of year is Uvita — a town on the Osa Peninsula on the South Pacific Coast. That is why famous whale-watching destinations in this region,like Marino Ballena National Park, are widely considered the best places for whale-watching in Costa Rica.

Best Months for Whale Watching in Costa Rica

The best months for seeing humpback whales in Costa Rica are January, February, August, and September. During these months, the humpback whales are most active because this is when they breed and raise their young. So, if you want to see baby whales, these months are the best times to visit.

If you wish to attend the Annual Whale and Dolphin Festival in Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula, plan your trip in early September, during the peak season. It’s almost guaranteed you will see a humpback whale, and you will likely see bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, spotted dolphins, sea turtles, and sea birds during your whale-watching tour.

Best Places for Costa Rica Whale Watching

Whether you’re searching for humpback whales, pilot whales, or bottlenose dolphins — there are plenty of opportunities to see majestic whales in Costa Rica. From the warm tropical waters of Golfo Dulce to Papagayo Bay — here are the best places to embark on a whale-watching tour in Costa Rica (moving north to south on the Pacific Coast).

Three boats tied together on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica with some white clouds in the blue sky | brought to you by
The Pacific Coast is a must visit if you want to try your luck and see whales.

Guanacaste & North Pacific Coast

If you’re looking for somewhere to spot whales in the Guanacaste Province of Costa Rica, the Gulf of Papagayo (or Papagayo Bay) is your best bet. This gulf stretches from Santa Rosa National Park to other beaches in the south, like Playas del Coco and Playa Hermosa. It is most common to see humpback whales here in July and August.

While it may be less common, you can also see humpback whales off the coast of other beaches in Guanacaste, like Playa Flamingo or Tamarindo, as the humpbacks migrate from the cold northern or southern waters to the warmer waters of Central America.

Central Pacific Coast

Manuel Antonio National Park, located at the center of Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, is a beloved tourist destination for its golden-sand beaches, excellent surfing, and exotic wildlife, like monkeys and sloths. However, it’s not unusual to see humpback whales or dolphins off the coast of this popular national park during June, July, and August.

Whale exposing its tail in the ocean
South Pacific Coast

South Pacific Coast

The further you move down the Pacific Coast — the better chance you’ll have at seeing whales. That is why Uvita, a town between Manuel Antonio National Park and the Osa Peninsula, is one of the best places for spotting whales and dolphins.

The national park in Uvita — Marino Ballena National Park — was created to protect the waters around this town since it’s a popular spot for humpback whales to come to breed, nurse their young, and teach them how to dive, feed, and play. For the best chance of seeing whales at Marino Ballena National Park, visit from August to October. However, the official whale-watching season lasts from August to April.

Fun Fact: At low tide, the ocean waters in Marino Ballena National Park retreat to reveal a sandbar in the shape of a whale’s tail, nicknamed the “Whale’s Tail Sandbar.”

Osa Peninsula

Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, located on the Southern Pacific Coast, is one of the best locations in the entire country to embark on a whale-watching tour.

Popular places to see whales on the Osa Peninsula include Drake Bay and Golfo Dulce. Drake Bay is located on the northwestern side of the peninsula, whereas Golfo Dulce stretches between the Osa Peninsula and Piedras Blancas National Park. The shallow, protected, calm waters in both locations provide the perfect place for humpback whales (usually Southern Antarctic Humpback Whales) to raise their calves. Hotels on the Osa Peninsula can typically arrange whale or dolphin tours in these two popular whale-watching locations.

Top Costa Rica Whale-Watching Tours

While there are plenty of opportunities to see whales and dolphins on the Northern or Central Coast of the Pacific Ocean, most official whale-watching tours in Costa Rica will depart from the Osa Peninsula or Southern Pacific Coast.

  • Whale-Watching Tours in Guanacaste: There aren’t many (if any) whale-watching tours offered in Guanacaste. However, you can book a snorkeling excursion, sunset sailing adventure, or fishing tour for the chance of a whale and dolphin sighting while you’re on the high seas.
  • Whale-Watching Tours in Manuel Antonio: Similarly to Guanacaste, there are no specific whale-watching tours on the Central Pacific Coast. However, consider booking a catamaran or sunset sailing excursion in August or September if you want to see a whale or dolphin.
People on a sailing boat encounter a whale near the coast | brought to you by
Besides when on whale watching tours, you can also see whales if you go exploring a coastline on a catamaran

FAQ: Costa Rica Whale Watching

Is Costa Rica good for whale watching?

Yes, Costa Rica is one of the best countries in the entire world for humpback whale watching. Costa Rica has the world’s longest humpback whale season (lasting ten months), so you can likely watch humpbacks migrate or nurture their young in Costa Rica’s calm, tropical waters during a whale-watching tour.

Can you see humpback whales from the shore in Costa Rica?

Though it’s possible to see a humpback whale or other marine species, like common dolphins, from the beach in Costa Rica, you will have a much better chance of seeing a whale or dolphin on an organized whale-watching tour in Costa Rica.

Can I touch the whales and dolphins in Costa Rica?

If you see a bottlenose dolphin or humpback whale while on snorkeling excursions or whale-watching tours, please remember to keep your hands off these majestic animals. Costa Rica does not allow swimming with dolphins or whales in their protected waters — just dolphin watching or whale watching to admire these creatures from a distance.

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