Whale watching in Costa Rica is a great attraction and an amazing experience that you will remember for a long time. Imagine these magnificent humpback whales in their natural habitat and you among them. The warm waters of Costa Rica attract these magnificent animals on their annual journey and so we have the opportunity to observe their habits.
Whale watching in Costa Rica is a wonderful thing, but the season only lasts a few weeks, so we have put together a set of information for you on where and when to see humpback whales. That way you’ll be in the right place at the right time. Don’t forget to bring your camera with you, as you never know what you might encounter on the ocean.
Table of Contents
We are an experienced company that not only organizes scuba diving trips, but also whale watching in Costa Rica. However, the purpose of this essay is not to convince you of our services, but to provide you with a complete guide so you don’t have to look any further. After all, our ultimate goal is for you to be satisfied with your stay in the country of Pura Vida.
I will try to discuss here all aspects of whale watching tours, prices and the best places. Of course, you will also find information about the best season for this attraction in Costa Rica. This is simply meant to be a complete and supreme guide to this type of attraction, so that you are not left with any unanswered questions after reading. So, shall we get started?
As you may already know, Costa Rica is a country full of natural resources, magnificent jungles and rainforests, and amazing animals. These include the stunning humpback whales during their annual migration. It is during this time that we can admire large humpback whales along with their young. And most importantly, you don’t have to go far out to sea to see them. Sometimes, if you are lucky, whale watching will be possible even from the beach.
But why do they visit Costa Rica in particular? The great humpback whales begin their journey every year when the water in the north and south becomes too cold. This is the main reason for the whales’ migration. These giant animals come to the warm waters of Costa Rica from two directions – from the north, i.e. from the Alaskan region, and from the south, i.e. from Antarctica.
The second and more important reason for the whales’ migration is the birth of offspring. In the warm waters of Costa Rica, females give birth to young whales, which are more safe here. The warm water helps them gain weight faster and become independent. Second, there are fewer predators in the area that could threaten the offspring. That’s why we can enjoy this amazing spectacle every year.
Seeing these large animals with your own eyes is truly something you will remember for a lifetime. Especially when a body the size of a school bus pops up with great grace right next to your boat. That’s why whale watching in Costa Rica is deservedly popular. But before you hop on a boat, it’s worth knowing a few facts about these magnificent animals.
Let’s start with the size of this animal, and here the humpback whale has something to boast about, as it is one of the largest animals on Earth. It grows to a length of more than 16 m (50 feet) and a weight of 40 tons. Interestingly and noteworthy, such incredible size is only possible due to the aquatic lifestyle of this species. And this is due to the laws of physics and buoyancy provided by sea water. If any animal of this size lived on earth, it would certainly be crushed by the weight of its own body.
As you already know, these animals are among the largest in our entire world. However, maneuvering such a large body requires a considerable amount of energy. Humpback whales are not particularly picky and will eat anything that is fit to eat. Shrimp, plankton, small fish, squid, sea snails – you name it. But the most impressive thing is the amount of food an adult needs to take in every day to stay fit. And we’re not talking about a fit salad, but 2 tons of food a day!
If we consider that the size of the shrimp or other creatures the whale feeds on, we can see that it takes a really large amount to feed such an animal. In order to improve the process of acquiring food, whales have developed an interesting method of hunting, which we call Bubble Net Fidding. This involves creating a wall of exhaled air to confuse a school of fish and allow multiple animals to catch food at the same time. Interestingly, this behavior is not instinctive, but learned, and not all groups of whales can do it, and some have their own variation of this method.
The humpback whale is large and has a huge appetite that it must constantly satisfy. Despite this difficult task, these whales live an average of 45-50 years. Pretty good, but not much if we compare it to the bow head whale, which lives up to 200 years!
All animals need sleep, including whales. However, this sleep is different from human sleep. Different species of whales have developed their own methods of resting, and so, for example, it can be resting quietly in the water, either horizontally or vertically, or sleeping while slowly swimming next to another member of the herd. Humpback whales can often be found resting motionless on the surface of the ocean while sleeping. However, they cannot sleep for more than 30 minutes without risking a drop in body temperature due to inactivity. All the more reason whale watching in Costa Rica can be a great adventure if you manage to meet a sleeping whale.
Whales are highly social creatures that live and travel in groups. They use a variety of sounds to communicate with each other, mainly clicks and whistles and pulsating calls. Clicks are used to navigate and identify their surroundings, because when sound waves bounce off an object and return to the whale, it allows it to identify the shape of the object. Whistles and pulsating calls are used during social activities and often sound to the human ear like squeaks or screams, or music-like sounds, which is called whale vocalization.
Humbacks are viviparous which means that they do not lay eggs like, for example, turtles, but their offspring are born just like humans. This happens when they migrate to warm waters, where, as I mentioned earlier, their offspring have better conditions for development and are more secure. This is the main reason for their annual migrations and why whale watching in Costa Rica is such a good idea, because it is in Costa Rican waters that these large animals give birth to their young.
Although humpback whales are large and very resistant animals, there are also predators who specialize in hunting these whales. Among the top predators of humpback whales are orcas, which are also known as killer whales. But false killer whales and large sharks also hunt whales. And when orcas are reported in Costa Rican waters, it means a direct threat to young whales. This is why I personally am not a fan of them…
The whales that can be seen in Costa Rica come to the area from two directions, but for basically the same reasons. First, so that their offspring can be born here, but also for the simple reason that the water becomes too cold in the north and south. The first group arrives from near Alaska, traversing the entire west coast of America. The second group of whales arrives from the south, from near Patagonia. Both routes are long and tiring, so they definitely deserve a rest in the warm waters of Costa Rica.
You already know that whale watching is a great attraction and a once in a lifetime opportunity to see large humpback whales in their natural habitat. Costa Rica is one of the best places to see these animals, as it is where they come to give birth to their offspring. But where would be the best place to watch whales in Costa Rica?
The undisputed best place for whale watching in Costa Rica is the town of Uvita on the Pacific coast. This town is about a 3-4 hour drive from the country’s capital, San Jose. This is where the tours depart from and where you have the best chance of seeing whales in their natural habitat. The waters around Uvita are protected as part of the Marino Ballena National Park. But why is this particular place the best?
If you look at the map you’ll see that Uvita, along with the Isla del Cano and mangroves on the Sierpe River, form a bay that attracts whales with its tranquility and warm water. It is in this area that you have the best chance of seeing humpback whales with their young.
Tamarindo is a town located in Guanacaste, and in this area you also have a chance to see whales as they swim along the coast. There tend not to be dedicated whale watching tours there, but you do have a chance to encounter them while snorkeling or scuba diving.
Another good place to see whales is Nicoya Bay. You can take a trip to Tortuga Island during whale season, and there’s a good chance you’ll see them along the way.
We can divide the whale watching season in Costa Rica into two parts. From July to the end of November, we have the chance to admire whales from the north, i.e. from around Alaska. On the other hand, from mid-December to mid-April, Costa Rica is visited by whales from the south. Both seasons for whale watching in Costa Rica are great, and although rainfall can be expected during the rainy season, it shouldn’t scare you at all. Hey, after all, it’s the tropics and even during the rainy season it can be hot here.
As I mentioned earlier, if you decide to go whale watching in Marino Ballena National Park then you have a chance to see these large animals even from the beach. However, to really enjoy their presence you need to go on an organized tour. During such a trip, the captain gets information from other boats about where the whales are at the moment, and so you will always be in the right place at the right time to admire them up close.
Actually, such an organized tour is the only way to fully feel the nearness of these animals and learn something about them. Seriously, this experience is worth the money spent. If you’ll be looking for a whale watching tours in Uvita, you’ll easily find many operators who provide whale-watching services. Our dive center also provides such services, so you can contact us directly.
It’s worth noting that our whale-watching tours in Marino Ballena last a couple of hours, and during that time you can also jump in the water and swim with mask and snorkel. Also as visit some interesting places such as the caves on Ventanas beach or the Three Sisters, which are beautiful rocks in the ocean.
The answer is simple – no, you can’t swim with whales. First of all, it would be dangerous for both the animals and you. Remember that these are wild and very large animals whose behavior we cannot predict. Secondly, your presence in close proximity, can cause very high and completely unnecessary stress, which can negatively affect the health of the animals. And also for these very reasons, swimming with whales in Costa Rica is prohibited by law. So don’t even ask tour operators if you can swim with a whale….
Watching whales is truly impressive, and even though I’ve seen dozens of them, I always love watching the spectacle. Animals about the size of a school bus jumping out of the water is truly something special. Whale watching in Costa Rica is also a way to see the beauty of the country and the amazing wildlife that we should protect at all costs. I hope this guide has given you all the information you need and you put seeing whales in their natural habitat on your itinerary.