Top Spots For Whale Watching In Costa Rica
Did you ever wonder what whale watching in Costa Rica looks like? Imagine this: You’re enjoying your Costa Rican vacation, exploring a coastline on a catamaran, when suddenly, in the distance you see something like a spray of water exploding from the ocean’s surface. You’re watching the water shoot towards the sky with your eyes wide open. Yeah, it’s a whale! And a big one too.
Costa Rican waters are home to a lot of species of marine mammals. However, the whales spend more time in these waters than anywhere else in the world. Hence, whale watching in Costa Rica tours are not so uncommon. So, climb aboard, and get ready for the whale watching adventure of a lifetime.
What is it about the whales?
What makes whales so unique? First of all, they are large. And when I say large, I mean gigantic. Do you think I’m exaggerating? Whales range in length from 2.6 meters up to 30 meters. Their weight also varies from more than 100 kilograms to almost 200 tons. The dwarf sperm whales are the smallest while the blue whale is the largest. It’s actually considered to be the largest creature that has ever lived.
Secondly, some whales can be pretty fast. Although it’s the biggest whale, the blue whale can swim as fast as 50 km/h when it’s fleeing from potential danger. However, this whale typically swims at a speed of 22 km/h. The sperm whale is much slower and swims at a speed of about 10 km/h.
Did you know that, according to the Evolution Theory, whales have evolved from mammals that used to live on the land? Scientists assume that’s the reason whales have to breathe air regularly, although they can stay underwater for quite some time. Some species can remain submerged for more than an hour, and others need to resurface after 10-20 minutes. They can dive to great depths and resurface with ease.
Species of whales you can see in Costa Rica
The humpback whale is the one you can often see in Costa Rican waters. Adult species are about 15 meters long and weigh around 30 tons. Humpback whales are known for breaching from the water and propelling themselves out. That makes them quite popular with whale watchers.
Humpback whales are also famous for extended songs and a variety of vocalizations they produce. Although both male and female vocalize, the former produce longer and more complex songs. No one really knows what the purpose of their songs is. However, scientists have noticed that all the whales in one area repeat the same sequence of notes.
Quite extraordinary, isn’t it?
Sei whales, bryde’s whales, blue whales, and pilot whales can also be seen in the waters of Costa Rica. On the other hand, orcas, also known as killer whales, are rarely seen.
What are whales doing in Costa Rican waters?
Now that you’ve read all those interesting facts about the whales, we can move on, and learn some more. For example, do you know what whales are doing in the waters of Costa Rica?
Most species of whales prefer living in colder waters of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. However, whales move to warmer waters to breed. Also, they stay in warmer waters until their offspring is strong enough to survive cold waters.
Some species are capable of traveling thousands of kilometers before reaching their breeding grounds. And when baby whales grow up, whales migrate back to the places they came from.
There is also a region called the Costa Rica Dome. It’s an offing site on the southern part of the Pacific coast of the country. It is one of the favorite breeding and feeding places of blue whales due to the highly nutritive waters. Beside the blue whale, there are many other marine animals.
Whale watching season in Costa Rica
There are actually two seasons for whale watching in Costa Rica. The first is from December to April, and the second is from July to November. These seasons are established upon the migration cycle of the humpback whale.
As we know by now, whales leave the waters they are living in when it becomes too cold, so that those living in the waters of the Northern Hemisphere arrive in the waters of Costa Rica in December and stay there until April.
The same goes for the whales living in the waters of the Southern Hemisphere, only they arrive in July and leave the Costa Rican waters in November.
However, you have a better chance of seeing humpback whales between August and October. Some whales from the Northern Hemisphere waters migrate to Hawaii, so it’s harder to see them during the December-April season.
Top spots for whale watching in Costa Rica
It is possible to see whales anywhere along the Pacific coast, as well as along the northern Caribbean coast. With that being said, whales do appear more often along the southern part of the Pacific coast. Uvita and Drake Bay are the best places for whale watching in Costa Rica. Also, in these places, you can go for a whale watching tour during both seasons.
Pretty convenient, huh?
Uvita is a town of the Costa Ballena, which translates to The Whale Coast. Besides the actual whales, you can also see the Whale’s Tail – a famous giant sandbar shaped like a tail of a whale.
The town of Uvita and the whale’s tail are a part of the Marino Ballena National Park. This marine national park preserves not just the land, but also the ocean with its coral reefs and whales breeding grounds.
If you want to increase your chances of seeing a whale there, you should visit Uvita in September. That is also the reason why the annual Whales Festival takes place in this town at the peak of the whale watching season.
Now, Drake Bay is a village on the Pacific side of the Osa Peninsula. This bay is a perfect place for a mother whale to raise their young.
Another excellent place for watching whales on the Osa Peninsula is the Golfo Dulce. It’s located on the east side of the Osa Peninsula. Because of its shallow protected waters, you can often see whales and dolphins.
What are other popular places for whale watching?
If you are visiting the northern areas of Costa Rica, like Guanacaste province, you might be able to see whales too. Whales have been spotted in Papagayo Bay, especially from July till October. However, it’s not clear whether whales are staying there or just passing through.
The Manuel Antonio National Park is another popular whale watching destination. The best time to see our big friends from this place is during July-November season.
When it comes to the east coast of Costa Rica, it’s good to know that whales also migrate to the northern Atlantic Ocean. In fact, there are more whales during the December-April season than most other places. However, they are spread over a vast area, and it’s harder to see them. Also, it’s more difficult to launch a boat through the rocky northern Caribbean coast.
What can you expect from a whale watching tour?
Humpback whales are the most popular ones for watching because they spend so much time above the water. They can pop above the surface to take a look around, or do some fin slapping or fluke flipping.
Although that happens occasionally, you’re more likely to witness another fantastic experience: a huge mother whale and its offspring playing around her.
Besides the whale watching tour, you’ll have the chance to see the whales if you go exploring a coastline on a catamaran, or during a dive and snorkeling tours. You’ll also have a chance to see some of our other exotic friends during these tours such as sea turtles, and dolphins too.
Tips for whale watching
- Take anti-nausea medicine, in case you get seasick. Take it even if you are not prone to it. It can be quite a rocky ride.
- It’s against the law to swim with whales and dolphins in Costa Rica. So if you are thinking about jumping off the boat, don’t.
- Make sure your camera or your phone are fully charged and can zoom in clearly.
- Have in mind that the rainy season in Costa Rica is from May to November.
- Even if you go whale-watching during the recommended seasons, you may not see them. Like other animals, whales are unpredictable.
Now, let’s go back to the beginning of this story and imagine you’re witnessing a humpback whale breaching out of the water, hanging in the air for a brief moment, and then diving back in. Your eyes are wide open, and you are mesmerized by the incredible creature of the open sea.
How’s that for an unforgettable experience?