Last Updated: October 15, 2021
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.
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. It 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). It 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.
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 drive into the hills.
Since the Costa Ballena has steep mountains very close to the ocean, you can see the fin-shaped sandbar from the balconies of vacation rentals, hotels, or even from different spots along mountain roads.
One easy place to see it is from the road near Rancho La Merced (on the highway just north of Uvita). This steep (now paved) road eventually leads up to a village called San Josecito. But only a few minutes’ drive up the mountain, there is this gorgeous view.
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.
Entering the Park
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 Ballena neighborhood. The park has three other entrances, on 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 know that it can be extremely hot. There is absolutely no shade. 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.
Safety Notice: There have been a few incidents of people being robbed while out on the whale tail. So it’s best not to bring much with you.
What You’ll See
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. 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.
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).
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 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. 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:
7 Things to Do in Dominical – Our top picks for activities in the surf town of Dominical, just north of Uvita.
Visiting the Beautiful Nauyaca Waterfalls – Tips for hiking to one of our favorite waterfalls.
Costa Rica Rental Car Discount – The Costa Ballena is more remote and best accessed with a rental car. Check out our discount to save some money.