Costa Rica is known worldwide for its astounding natural heritage. A melting pot of biodiversity that’s literally on display in dozens of national parks and wildlife reserves.
However, when conjuring images of Costa Rica, most people imagine tropical beaches, rainforests, volcanos, and rivers brimming with rapids. Others think of exotic tropical wildlife such as sloths, macaws, iguanas, and giant sea turtles… to name a few.
What most visitors don’t know, however, is that the country’s ocean waters are equally rich with marine life. Mantas, sea turtles, dolphins, sharks are all commonplace. But the star of the show are the humpback whales.
Throughout the year, several of the world’s whale species migrate to the warm, nutrient-rich waters along the coast of Central America. Yet, it’s the enchanting humpback whale that draws nature enthusiasts from far and wide. The gentle giants are famous for their distinct calls (whale songs) as well as their social displays, playful splashes, breaching, and affectionate behavior towards their young.
Other maritime favorites that can be spotted in Costa Rica’s ocean waters include bottlenose, spinner, and spotted dolphins. Groups of these curious mammals are known to make regular appearances during most ocean tours.
Whales in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is one of the best places to see humpback whales, and the season to do so is practically year-round. At least one of the three subspecies of humpbacks can be seen anytime from July to March.
As many as 34 types of whales frequent the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines but in fewer numbers. Spotting a blue whale, Pseudo-Orca, or Pilot whale is considered a rare treat. But don’t expect orcas or baleen whales as these species prefer different climates.
Humpbacks, on the other hand, can arrive in the hundreds making spotting them much easier. They also tend to stay awhile, taking advantage of the warm waters to breed and raise their young.
Costa Rica humpback whales
Costa Rica has the longest humpback whale season in the world. Particularly along the Pacific Coast. The country’s northern Caribbean side also has a humpback season, although shorter and in smaller numbers.
Nonetheless, tour operators around Tortuguero are increasingly featuring the migration season of Atlantic St. Lawrence humpbacks in their tours. The best time to catch a glimpse of this branch of the humpback family is between December and March.
There are generally two annual Pacific migrations during any given year. Chilling water temperatures corresponding with the northern and southern winter months spur the majestic creatures to travel towards warmer climates near the equator. And one of their favorite destinations is the coast of Costa Rica.
Northern hemisphere California humpbacks generally arrive between December and April. And southern hemisphere Antarctic species are present between July and November.
Dolphin and whale watchers are typically one and the same and delight in the increasing number of tour opportunities available in Costa Rica. The options are plenty, from small personalized tours with local fishermen to serious, scientific-minded excursions. Even vivacious booze cruise-type whale watching tours are available; however, the music stops once the whales are sighted to not scare them into hiding.
What is best time of year to see humpback whales?
The best place & time of year to whale watch in Costa Rica is when their numbers are highest. This is generally between August and November along the central and southern Pacific Coast. Although both northern and southern humpback whales are regulars to the warm waters, the Antarctic subspecies are the most prolific and usually arrive during this period.
The warm, nutrient-rich waters provide the perfect breeding ground for adults and a safe haven for newborns during their first few months of life.
Anywhere between Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Drake Bay, and the Osa Peninsula is prime territory to glimpse the whales and their young. Yet, it’s the picturesque towns of Playa Uvita and Dominical that are renowned as Costa Rica’s premier whale-watching destinations.
The main entrance to Marino Ballena National Park is in Uvita. It is considered the best park for whale watching. In fact, the coastline within and close to the park is known as La Costa Ballena – or Whale’s Coast. The park was founded in 1995 and is the only of its kind explicitly created to protect the marine territory. Approximately 5,160 hectares of marine and 171 hectares of land territory are within its jurisdiction.
Coincidentally, at low tide, a long whale-tail-shaped sandbar juts out into the coastal waters from Punta Uvita. Much to the delight of visitors who can snorkel or kayak in the calm surf around the tail. The sandbar, which visitors can explore four times a day at low tide, is large enough to be visible from space.
Getting to Costa Rica’s Whale Coast
We at Adobe Rent a Car want to help your whale watching dreams become a reality. We have 13 full-service Adobe offices around the country so that you can get around quickly and easily.
The best bet is to pick up your Adobe vehicle when you arrive in the country. There’s an Adobe office at both international airports, the Juan Santamaria Airport (SJO) in Alajuela and the Daniel Oduber Quiros Airport in Liberia (LIR).
If you are flying from place to place with a domestic airline, we also have Adobe offices near the most popular in-country airports. For example, if you’re flying to the central or south Pacific Coast, you can pick up your rental at our Quepos or Uvita offices, respectively.
Tell your Adobe agent that you’re interested in whale watching, and they’ll gladly give you some local tips or refer you to someone on the Adobe team that can help you best plan your itinerary. We’re here to help you have the best vacation experience possible.
For more information, feel free to call toll-free from the US & CANADA: 1-855-861-1250 (8 am-5 pm), or call locally at +(506) 2743-8102. Or send us a text by Whatsapp +506 8494-5956, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watching humpback whales in Costa Rica is easier than you may think.
Seeing humpback whales in Costa Rica should not be missed. It’s actually difficult not to see the large whales when their numbers are highest – even from land. Because they spend much of their time near the surface and with distinct dorsal fins, the majestic creatures are easy to spot.
Humpbacks are famous for their social antics, slapping their fins on the surface in warning or play, as is their acrobatic breaching high into the air before crashing to the water’s surface with a splash.
Other interactions among humpback populations include bubble net feeding, a cooperative feeding tactic where multiple whales herd their prey by blowing a ring of bubbles below and around them. They then rise to the surface, capturing and ingesting the trapped fish while their baleen plates siphon away seawater.
Costa Rica is a member of the International Whaling Commission, which helps monitor and track commercial whaling across the globe. The country also promotes marine conservation through education and awareness campaigns and its blossoming eco-tourism industry.