Uvita, Costa Rica: Exploring Ballena National Marine Park
Uvita is a small village on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, a place from where you can explore the mountainous landscape, waterfalls or get to Ballena National Marine Park famous for whale watching and iconic Whale Tail Beach. Read more in our travel guide.
Uvita was the first place we visited in Costa Rica after crossing borders from Panama, and we were quite surprised, in a positive sense of the term, how normal and undeveloped it felt, even though the village is getting increasingly popular, and often is advertised as a quieter and more relaxed alternative to Manuel Antonio National Park.
We met quite a lot of visitors in the village who had planned to stay in Uvita only a couple of days and found themselves still there even weeks after. This is an example of how addictive the atmosphere and natural beauty of Uvita can be.
The Costa Ballena consists of three small settlements with Uvita sitting in the middle, and closest to Ballena National Marine Park. For a long time, Uvita had been skipped by travelers, who either did not make it that far south, or who headed from Manuel Antonio National Park or from Dominical straight to Corcovado National Park, but times have changed, and the small village is not an underrated destination anymore.
THINGS TO DO IN UVITA
Uvita is the right place where you can chill and unwind - that's why the whole stretch of Costa Ballena is a popular place for American and Canadian retirees, same as a mountainous town Boquete in Panama - but it also has remarkable nature, perfect idyllic looking brown beaches with palm trees, diverse flora and fauna, jungle and green hills behind the village holding the clouds most of the time away.
In short, Uvita has a lot of things to do to keep its visitors busy for days.
Marino Ballena National Park & Whale Tail Beach | One of the few marine national parks in Costa Rica is the true paradise for the ocean and beach lovers. There are several beautiful beaches, but the real reason for people traveling to Uvita is visiting Punta Uvita, a place better known under a fitting nickname, Whale Tail Beach. Every day during low tide you can watch how the sandbar in a shape of whale's tail appears from the ocean. The natural phenomenon is, of course, the best to be seen from above, but as we did not feel like walking to the viewpoint and didn't have a car, we simply walked on the sandbar. Unfortunately, we don't have a drone, and our photos cannot do justice to this marvelous place in the shape of a whale's tail. Where else should be this natural gem than in Uvita, where hundreds of humpbacks whales migrate every year around?
In order to get to the park, you need to pay an entrance fee $6 (there are three entrances, make sure you will get in at Playa Uvita) which will allow you to walk on the sandy beach to the end where it splits and the surface change from a sandy to rocky one. There is absolutely no shade, so take plenty of water. Also, this place has, unfortunately, a bad reputation because of robbings, so better watch your valuables or don't take any with you.
Whale Watching | Costa Rica is a famous whale watching destination and waters around Uvita offer a spectacular sight of humpbacks whales from December to March when those large aquatic mammals are migrating from cold waters of North America along Costa Rica's Pacific coast. It is a perfect opportunity to watch whales in their natural habitat, and a paradise for photographers as humpbacks occasionally jump out of the water! The standard tours leave Uvita early in the morning and take three to four hours. The cost is between $70 - $100, depending on the time spent on the sea and the number of people in the group.
Hiking | Although Uvita lies right under lush green hills, the classical hiking is not that easy because in the jungle you need to have trail's infrastructure which is often available on private properties. Basically, there are two best places you can visit in order to spot wildlife (get up early) and to hike. One of the places is Tesoro Escondido Eco-Reserve in Playa Hermosa de Uvita and the other one is Hacienda Baru in Dominical. The admission is around $7 for a self-guided tour, and it is better to have a car to get there. It is well worth to visit places like these two for many reasons. First, the hiking trails are well-managed, and you will be able to spot many animal species because those parks are not that busy.
Surfing | The whole stretch between Ojochal and Dominical is famous for great waves all year round which attracts surfers from all around the world who come here regularly to work on their skills. Dominical is not a place for beginners (or only for the brave ones) as the attached beach offers one of the largest waves in Costa Rica, but more south you travel, the easier the conditions are. If you want to try surfing in Central America and do not insist that it has to be Costa Rica, we can recommend you a great and budget-friendly place in Nicaragua, San Juan del Sur.
Dominical & Ojochal | Both Ojochal on the south and Dominical on the north of Costa Ballena are small villages you can visit on a one-day trip from Uvita, but you can also stay there in case you have a feeling that you did not have enough of beaches and sun. Those two small settlements boast with relaxed almost hippie atmosphere, budget-friendly restaurants and accommodation, and host many surfers and yoga people throughout the year.
Waterfalls | Uvita is home to many waterfalls, the most famous one, 61 meters high is Nauyaca Waterfall, but we visited Uvita waterfall instead close to our accommodation because there was an option to take a dip in the pool, something we were craving for all day. This waterfall is on private property, so we had to pay 1000 colones per person, and is not somehow spectacular when it does not rain, but was absolutely satisfactory for us as we needed to cool off.
Wildlife | Wildlife in Costa Rica is almost omnipresent, and places like Uvita have a rich fauna and flora because they sit between the ocean and the jungle with a high level of humidity. It does not matter, if you are a professional bird-watcher or an enthusiast without any knowledge, the fauna of Costa Rica will amaze you. To get closer, head to sanctuaries near to Uvita or hire a guide and set off for a jungle adventure.
Kayaking & Paddle Boarding | Kayaking and paddle boarding is a popular activity in Costa Rica and when you are getting nearer to the beach in Uvita, you will go around several shops renting kayaks or paddle boards for reasonable prices.
WEATHER IN UVITA
Uvita experiences the classic Central American weather with two distinct seasons, but humidity is very high, and we must admit that weather along Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast was very uncomfortable for us. Average temperatures are sitting around 30°C and a night breeze brings at least a short welcoming cool off.
The dry season runs from December to April, when you should also expect lots of travelers in the area (although January and February still can see some rain), and the rainy season is usually from May to November - normally, the weather in the wet season is fine in the morning with clouds building up later on and downpours in the afternoon, but you can have days when it rains non-stop as well.
WHERE TO STAY IN UVITA
Uvita has a relaxed, laidback atmosphere, and you will find lots of nice accommodation options close to the park, or near to the jungle. It only depends on your preferences and budget. Costa Rica was one of the most tourist destinations we visited in South and Central America, so you better make your reservation ahead, especially in the high season from December to April.
Budget | Cascada Verde Hostel - This was one of the nicest budget hotels we've stayed in Central America. Set in the jungle, it features large open areas where you can listen to the sounds of the forest. It is a bit out of the village, but close to the waterfall.
Mid-range | Tropical Beach - Quiet rooms set in a friendly environment where you can enjoy the swimming pool, continental breakfast and delicious meals for reasonable prices.
Luxury | Oxygen Jungle Villas - Beautifully appointed villas feature an infinity pool, spa treatments and friendly staff can arrange a number of activities for you.
You can also search for all hostel options using HostelWorld.
HOW TO GET AROUND
We naively thought that road conditions in Costa Rica would be much better, but the opposite was true. It took quite a lot of time to get from one place to another, even though distances were not great, and the habit of dropping off everyone on every corner was sometimes driving us crazy (we will probably never get used to this).
Rent a car | The most popular way how to get around Costa Rica is by renting a car. It is unquestionably the most time efficient and comfortable way how to get from one place to another.
Shuttles | Shuttles are quite a popular way among travelers in Central America how to travel between well-known destinations without using public transport. This option is slightly more expensive, but save you time. One of the most reliable companies providing shuttle services is Easy Ride Costa Rica.
Public Transport | We found public transport in Costa Rica cheap and reliable, although a bit slow and the nonexistent airconditioning was tiring. If you have time and travel on a budget, this is a way to go.
HOW TO GET TO UVITA
Although Uvita is a small village on the Pacific coast, buses and minivans are passing through quite often. You will get the most up-to-date information about current schedules at the small bus station, where you can buy a ticket to some destinations in a shop selling snacks on the left side or in the information center only a few meters away.
From Uvita, you can easily get to the capital San Juan, to the nearby surfer's town Dominical, to Ciudad Neily if you are planning on crossing borders to Panama, to Quepos, a town from where you can easily visit Manuel Antonio National Park or to another popular tourist spot, Jaco.
WHAT TO PACK
The weather and climate in the park is similar to Manuel Antonio NP. It's hot and humid throughout the year, and temperatures often sit around 30°C - take plenty of water with you!
Mask & Snorkel | Ask at the entrance where is safe to swim and snorkel.
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