The Whale Tail at Uvita’s Marino Ballena National Park

Nature works in mysterious ways. And one really interesting oddity of nature is the so called whale tail that juts into the Pacific Ocean on Costa Rica’s Southern Pacific Coast. This giant rock and sand formation not only has the distinct shape of a whale’s tail, but is located in the exact spot where hundreds of humpback whales congregate each year. In this post, we’ll let you know how to see this famed whale beacon for yourself.

 

The Whale Tail at Uvita’s Marino Ballena National Park

About the Whale Tail

Costa Rica’s famous whale tail is located in the small town of Uvita, about an hour south of Manuel Antonio and is part of Parque Nacional Marino Ballena (the National Marine Whale Park). This national park, one of only two national marine parks in the country, consists of 270 protected land acres (110 hectares) and 13,200 acres (5,375 hectares) of preserved ocean. The delicate ecosystems that the park protects include things like mangroves, coral reefs, beaches, and whale-breeding grounds. The whale tail itself is a result of converging currents. These currents deposit sand on top of the rock formations to create the unique, tail-shaped pattern.

If you are planning a visit, the greater area is known as the Costa Ballena (Whale Coast) and consists of three towns, Dominical, Uvita, and Ojochal. For more information about this stretch of coastline, including some hotel and activity recommendations, check out our post all about it.

Access

The cool thing about Uvita’s whale tail is that it can be enjoyed from many different vantage points. Here are the three best ones:

The Bird’s Eye View

The first way to enjoy the whale tail is from above. Although some people might catch a glimpse if they are flying on a small plane to or from Drake Bay or Puerto Jimenez (see cover photo) on the Osa Peninsula, an easier way is to just drive into the hills. Since the Costa Ballena region has steep mountains very close to the ocean, you can see the fin-shaped sandbar from the balconies of many vacation rentals, hotels and B&Bs, or even from different spots along mountain roads. One easy place to see it is from the dirt road near Rancho La Merced (on the highway just north of Uvita). This long dirt road (4×4 required) eventually leads up to a village called San Josecito. But only a few minutes’ drive up the mountain, there is this gorgeous view.

 

The Whale Tail at Uvita’s Marino Ballena National Park
View from the road to San Josecito, north of Uvita.

 

Visiting the National Marine Park

Another way to enjoy the whale tail is to get up close and actually walk out onto the rocks and sand that make up the tail. This can be done only at lower tides, so check the charts to see what time you should go. To do this, you will have to pay admission at Marino Ballena National Park ($6 foreigners, ₡1,000 nationals) and walk from the main entrance in Uvita’s Bahia neighborhood. The park has three other entrances, on three different beaches, so be sure to start out from the right place at Playa Uvita. It only takes about 15-20 minutes to reach the point from the ranger station, but be forewarned, it can be extremely hot. There is absolutely no shade, so make sure to take a bottle of water and wear proper sun protection. For footwear, navigating on the uneven rocks can be tricky, and although we did it in flip-flops, it would be much easier in sturdy sandals or sneakers.

 

The Whale Tail at Uvita’s Marino Ballena National Park
Walking on the rocks can get a little treacherous so take your time.

 

From the tip of the whale tail, you can explore the thousands of little tide pools and rock formations that are normally covered at high tide. When we’ve gone out, we have seen all kinds of small fish, snails, and crabs in these pools. Some people even snorkel in the adjacent waters if conditions are good, but we haven’t been lucky enough to time it just right. In our opinion, though, the best part of visiting the tip of the whale tail is to look back to shore and take in the amazing mountain and beach views that make this area of Costa Rica so special.

 

The Whale Tail at Uvita’s Marino Ballena National Park
Nothing like a palm-tree-lined coast with jungle-filled mountains as a backdrop.

 

Go by Sea

A third way to enjoy the whale tail is to get out on the water. If you enjoyed the view from the tip of the tail, you’ll love the vantage point you can get from farther out in the ocean.

There are a few different options for this experience: One is to take a whale watching tour from Uvita. These tours will take you around the tip of the tail and to some of the small offshore islands nearby. The whales come for about nine months a year, so make sure to time it right. We wrote a whole post about this, so if you are interested, you can read it here (Whale Watching in Costa Rica).

 

Whale Watching in Costa Rica
A shot we took while whale watching near the tail.

 

Other tours out of Uvita include kayak and stand up paddle-boarding (SUP), which also go out around the tip of the tail and the islands. Or, for a glimpse under the water, take a diving or snorkeling tour. This area has a ton of underwater rock formations that are perfect for exploring. Tip: Be sure to inquire about visibility before booking a snorkel or dive tour as the water around the whale tail sometimes can be murky.

 

Uvita’s whale tail is a unique natural phenomenon that you won’t want to miss when visiting the Costa Ballena region of Costa Rica. When we first explored this area of Costa Rica back in 2007, we fell in love with it. Now we live close by! We’ll never forget trekking out to the tip of the whale tail for the first time, totally unprepared and sunburned, but in awe of the raw beauty of the ocean and lush green mountains. Hopefully this post will get you ready for your own adventure, and you’ll love it just as much as we do.

 

Have a question about visiting the Costa Ballena? Ask it below.

Looking for more information about this region of Costa Rica? Check out these posts:

 

Related Posts

Waves at Playa Avellanas
Playa Avellanas: Sun, Surf, and Fun in Guanacaste
Playa Dantita from Above
Playa Dantita: A Serene White Sand Beach in Guanacaste
Car Seats Costa Rica Travel
Car Seats in Costa Rica
Planning a Family Vacation to Costa Rica
Planning a Family Vacation to Costa Rica: Essential Tips and Info

19 Comments

  1. What type of camera did you use to take your pics? My family is travelling to Uvita July 16-23. And the Whale Tail is on our list of must sees. My concern is that I read on a recent (June 2016) post on another travel site that a group was robbed at gun point on the beach of Uvita/Whale Tail. Is this a regular occurrence?

    I love taking pictures and want to get the best pics I can while vacationing. However, I worry using my 35 mm camera will make me a target for a robbery. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    I am from the Houston, TX area and have never experienced being robbed. I really don’t want to experience ever but especially while on vacation with my children (18,15, & 5).

    Also, the same site someone mentioned crocodile signs on the Uvita Beach. I realize Crocs can be in saltwater. Is this a concern? Would like to return to Houston with all my family and all body parts intact. Sorry probably a silly question but just a little skidish of the idea due to the recent alligator attack on a 2 year old at Walt Disney World.

    By the way, I love your website! It is very, very, very informative! I can’t wait to visit CR and experience how your family lives on a daily basis.
    Thank you,
    Dana

    1. Hi Dana, We heard about that incident at the beach and it is unfortunate. It is not a regular occurrence. We live not far from Uvita so follow the local happenings closely. Usually the crime that happens here is petty theft like backpacks being taken from the beach while people are out swimming, car break ins when people leave things in plain sight, etc. Armed assaults are uncommon. There is a local crime task force that is working with police to make sure incidents like that don’t become a regular occurrence. These photos were taken with our DSLR camera, which we carry around with us quite a bit. We haven’t had any problems (knock on wood) and have traveled with it all around the country. It’s not uncommon to see people with cameras around their necks, go pros, cell phones, etc. Just be aware of your surroundings, especially after dark and in isolated areas (during the day there are usually plenty of people around the whale tail because it’s a popular beach). We have a post with more safety tips that you might want to check out.

      As for crocodiles, I guess it’s possible but the streams there are pretty small and we’ve never heard of anything happening so I wouldn’t worry too much. Try not to worry, this is a very safe area and you and your family are going to have a great time!

  2. To anyone who plans to drive to Uvita from the interior of Costa Rica via Ruta 2: avoid Highway 244 at all costs. My fiancé and I are staying at the Hacienda Alta Gracia in Perez Zeledon and wanted to make a day trip to Marino Ballena National Park. We used the Waze driving app and it charted a southwesterly course from 244 to 34/Carr. Pacifica Fernandez that took us through a 15 kilometers of extremely washed out, rocky roads filled with holes and fallen tree limbs. Even though we were driving a 4×4, we almost got stuck several times. We finally made it to Uvita but it was a nerve-racking drive. For our return trip to Perez Zeledon, we used Highway 243, a well-trafficked and paved road. Much easier!

    1. Hi Matt, That’s too bad that Waze sent you that way. 244 is not a major route in any way (I didn’t even know it had a route number). All of those mountains roads between Dominical and Uvita are generally very rough and only used when they have to be. Route 243 is definitely the way to go and what everyone uses. At least you had a bit of adventure and can say you really experienced Costa Rica’s crazy roads!

      If anyone is unsure about which road they should take in CR, we recommend planning your route with our Road Conditions post.

  3. I will be going from Manuel Antonio to San Gerardo de Dota in March. I was thinking about stopping by Marino Ballena on the way up (obviously leaving Quepos early). I was mainly wondering if that is a good idea. We will have all of our luggage in the car with us and I am slightly worried about the parking lot.

    Maybe we would just be better off getting to San Gerardo de Dota earlier and hiking to the San Gerardo waterfall?

    1. Hi Derek, Marino Ballena National Park is quite a detour if you’re going from Manuel Antonio to San Gerardo (you will want to take Route 243 towards San Isidro de El General). As you pointed out, it’s also not a good idea to leave all your stuff in the car. There are guards to watch your car but I still wouldn’t risk it. Definitely better to just get to San Gerardo early and do the waterfall trail.

  4. Hi Jen and Matt!
    My husband and I have been to Costa Rica many times, and now retired, we are looking at perhaps making Uvita area our forever home! Advice?
    PS Love your posts!

    1. Hi Bill and Bobbi, The Uvita area is a really popular location for retirees and expats. We love this area, for its amazing wildlife, green mountains/rainforest, and beautiful beaches. There’s a lot to say about moving to CR but you could start with our Life in Costa Rica posts if you haven’t seen those yet. We have a FAQs About Moving to Costa Rica that covers a lot of the basics. Best of luck with your plans and let us know if you make it happen!

  5. We will be staying in Uvita for 5-6 days in March and are hoping to spend a few days in Santa Teresa or Montezeuma as well (we were in Montezeuma several years ago and loved it). We are having challenges trying to figure out the best way to get to Uvita to Santa Teresa. We are renting a car while in Uvita but assume we will drop it off. Flights seem to be limited so we thought maybe a water taxi might be an option. Do you have any insights. Or any other suggestions on where to go for a few days? We don’t want to stay near Manuel Antonio or Jaco as too touristy. We are flying out of San Jose so don’t want to get too far away from there.

    1. Hi Gillian, Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. If you don’t want to drive, you could shuttle from Uvita to Jaco to take the boat taxi across to Montezuma. They can then shuttle you on to Santa Teresa if you decide to stay there. If you need any help making the arrangements for this, please contact us through our Private Shuttle Booking page and let us know you’re interested in the water taxi to Montezuma. Thanks!

  6. We are planning two weeks in Uvita in May .. just the two of us in a private house on the road near the falls. I was hoping to do some beach fishing and have a new rod and reel and a small tackle bag… should I be worried about fishing alone. Are there places where fisherman congregate more along the beach that are safer. I am rethinking about taking my gear (and an extra artificial leg I have for surf fishing) after reading of a lot of mugging crime in the Uvita area. I stick out like a sore thumb no matter what I do because of my leg and struggle walking on the sand. No chance of me looking like anything but a tourist with rod and reel too I imagine. You guys who are locals are there any easy beach accesses you are privy to? Should we have concerns about our house being targeted? Thats where I was planning on leaving passports and most valuables etc etc.

    1. Hi Andrew, fishing from shore is hit or miss from what we’ve heard but it’s always fun to try right? Occasionally we see locals casting out hand-lines into the surf along the beaches. Also, the area of Dominicalito (at the turnoff for La Parcela Restaurant) has a lot of rocks, which people walk out on and fish (walking out between the little island and the mainland). Not sure it would be doable with your leg because it could be slippery, but worth scouting out. Another thought is near the Dominical River Mouth (more sandy and more easily accessible), there are always a lot of local guys fishing around there, especially on weekends. I’m not sure you’d specifically be targeted by thieves anywhere but it’s always better to stick to areas where there are other people around. The main beach near the whale tail in Uvita might be good as long as you go at a time when other people are visiting the park. And the river mouth of Dominical should be pretty safe since there are usually other people around. If it is deserted, maybe try a different spot. Hope that gives you some guidance. For the vacation rental; Just be sure to lock up everything and keep valuables out of site. Usually when there are problems, it’s because there was an easy opportunity for someone to reach in through a window, cut a screen, or something. There have been break-ins in that area so best to be overly cautious.

  7. Hello. My husband and I are spending June 28-July 4 at a moutainside VRBO in Uvita. We plan to book an ATV jungle tour, explore the national park, and be lazy on the beaches. We are possibly looking to zipline. Is there place nearby you would recommend?

  8. We just spent time at the Marina Ballena National Park three days ago. It’s definitely a great experience! You have to pay to enter, but perhaps that makes for less of a crowd and no vendors compared to Manuel Antonio. There were 2 police officers patrolling on their motorcycles. We arrived around 9:45 a.m., and after a 20 minute walk we reached the area close to the famed “whale tail”, and left our things… one of us always stayed with the towels, etc and the others walked. Around 10:15 we walked through knee high water, the waves were coming from both sides. Walking back to the beach from the “whale tail” was after 11:00, and the water was already receding due to the tide going out, and by 12:30 the sand bar was fully exposed with no water covering it. For sure take some good sunscreen!! The sun is intense. And take your own water/drinks with you while at the beach since there are no restaurants or potable water supplies there. There are limited non-coconut trees to provide shade, but shade is available. (You don’t want to be under a coconut tree when one of those lets loose from 30 feet up! It can dent your noggen.) Recommended good shoes if you want to walk out on the rocks at the tip of the sand bar, because these look like volcanic rock faces that stick up. When wet they can be slippery, not advisable walking there in flip-flops. I have a history of falling on wet ocean rock (in Uvita) and breaking a radial bone in my arm, so I avoided walking out on those stones. Our friend walked out on the rocks but not all the way because she felt it was too dangerous. After a very pleasant stay on the beach (and not breaking anything!) we had lunch at one of the local sodas. All together a very fine day!

  9. Hi! Some friends and I are coming to Costa Rica in a couple of weeks and are wondering if it is possible to snorkel on our own around Whale Tail area, or if it is worth doing a tour and either snorkeling or scuba diving? Thank you!

    1. Hi Jenn, You can snorkel around the Whale’s Tail but conditions vary a lot. We recommend doing some casual snorkeling as part of a tour, like a kayak tour. For the best snorkeling experience, we recommend a day trip to Cano Island. We work with some great operators in the Uvita area for these tours. Feel free to contact us through our Tour Booking Service page if you’d like more information.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Become a Subscriber!

Receive our newest articles by email. It’s free.