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Costa Rica Travel >>natural areas>>Marino Ballena

Marino Ballena National Park
(Whale Marine Park)

Ballena National Park Costa Rica
Attractions | The Region | When to Visit | Getting There | Books | Web

Marino Ballena National Park is named after the Humpback Whales that migrate here each year from December to April to mate before returning to the frigid waters to the north.

humpback whale  (USFW)
humpback whale in a spectacular leap (photo R. Hunter USFW)


BirdingSwimming BeachesSnorkelTurtle NestingWaterfall

Playas Uvita and Ballena are relatively unvisited stretches of white and golden sand. Green marine iguanas (iguana verde) bask in the sun between dives to feed on the algae growing on the rocks and coral. Between the beaches are areas of mangrove habitat.

Near Piñuela (photo © Sue Krueger-Koplin)
Near Piñuela (photo © Sue Krueger-Koplin)

The largest coral reef on the Pacific Coast of Central America forms a crescent necklace with the three small islands known as Las Tres Hermanas (three sisters) and Ballena island as the center piece. The park stretches from the southern end of Playa Hermosa to the northern end of Playa Piñuela and about 9 miles (15 km) seaward.

coral reef (NOAA)
coral reef (photo NOAA)

green moray eel (FKNMS/NOAA)
green moray eel (photo Chris Huss FKNMS/NOAA)

Especially at low tide, snorkeling is good from the shore, and dive trips are available to the islands. Beach combing is rewarding here, especially when the water recedes far enough to allow you to walk out to Punta Uvita Tombolo, the small island that is slowly being reclaimed to the land as sand and debris deposit to form a land bridge.

Hawksbill sea turtle (NOAA)
Hawksbill sea turtle shows his colors
as he soars through the sea (photo NOAA)

Olive Ridley and Hawksbill turtles can be seen laying their eggs on night visit to the beach between May and November. The largest numbers arrive on the waning moon usually in September. Please respect the turtles. Marino Ballena is not as closely monitored or regulated as some of the more famous nesting sites, and you may find yourself alone on the beach. Please do not use unshielded flashlights, camera flashes, make loud noises, or approach too closely. The turtles have worked very hard to get to the beach, don't scare them away.

In the region
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In the region:

mouse over the icons for available activities

Horseback RidingBird Watching
Rancho Merced National Wildlife refuge
Sue and her horse pimpinella To the right Sue drinking a pipa (the water of an unripe coconut), while her horse Pimpinella watches. Near punta Uvita, in Rancho Merced National Wildlife Refuge. Their guided rides and birding tours of the nearby estuaries are highly recommended. Accommodations are also available.

SurfingRestaurantsSwimming Beaches
Surfers and sun worshippers hang out in the village of Dominical about 10 miles (16 km) north, where you will find restaurants and budget an midrange accommodations.

HikingRestaurantsCanopy ToursClubs & BarsBird WatchingSwimming Beaches
Manuel Antonio
and Quepos are about 35 miles (58 km) to the North off highway 34.

When to visit Costa Rica
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When to visit:
The Olive Ridley and Hawksbill turtle's nesting season runs from May to November with the peak in September and early October.
Humpback Whales migrate here each year from December to April.
The air and water temperatures are fine for bathing year round.

Books and other resources
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Toucan Ratings Explained | Lowest Available Price
Why Buy from Us?


National Audubon Society Guide to Marine Mammals of the WorldNational Audubon Society Guide to Marine Mammals of the World
by Pieter Folkens (Illustrator), Randall R. Reeves (Contributor), Brent S. Stewart (Contributor), Paperback: 528 pages, Publisher: Knopf, (April 2002), ISBN: 0375411410

As usual the National Audubon Society has published a target for everyone else to reach for.
rated four and a half out of five toucans by
$US 18.87 from Amazon -or-
Barnes&Noble member price $US 20.48

Smithsonian Handbooks: Whales Dolphins and PorpoisesSmithsonian Handbooks: Whales Dolphins and Porpoises
by Mark Carwardine, Martin Camm (Illustrator), Paperback: 256 pages, Publisher: DK Publishing, (August 2002), ISBN: 0789489902

not yet reviewed
$US 14.00 from Amazon -or-
Barnes&Noble member price $US 19.00

Archie Carr won the O. Henry Award for fiction in 1956 for his short story, "The Black Beach," which was first published in Mademoiselle magazine. Ironically this is a nonfiction essay set on one of the beaches now protected by Tortuguero National Park, and an evocative picture of a day in the life of the father of turtle conservation (Carr). You can find this story in The Windward Road by Archie Carr (Buy Now from $US 11.87) or reprinted in an excellent collection edited by Daniel Katz and Miles Chapin called,
Tales From The Jungle : A Rainforest ReaderTales From The Jungle : A Rainforest Reader
by Daniel R. Katz, Paperback, 398 pages, Publisher: Three Rivers Press, (1995), ISBN: 0517881608

Collection of environmental/ecological essays and short stories (late 1800's to present) that give a sense of the rainforest. Sue says it's great to get you in the mood. A good read, especially while one is traveling because the 2-30 page segments stand on their own. Not particularly Costa Rica specific but a good feel for the forests.
rated four and a half out of five toucans by
Out of print but often available from Amazon


For Kids

The Whales' SongThe Whales' Song
by Dyan Sheldon, Gary Blythe (Illustrator), Paperback, 32 pages, Publisher: Puffin, (April 1997), ISBN: 0140559973

A wonderful children's story of giving and hope beautifully illustrated with oil paintings.
Children ages 4-8
$US 19.95 from Amazon -or-
Barnes&Noble member price $US 18.95

Humphrey the Lost WhaleHumphrey the Lost Whale
by Wendy Tokuda, Hanako Wakiyama (Illustrator), Richard B. Hall, Paperback, 32 pages, Publisher: Scott Foresman, (December 1992), ISBN: 0893463469

The captivating true story of saving a humpback whale beached in San Francisco Bay. Beautifully illustrated in watercolor, for kids 4-8.
$US 9.95 from Amazon -or-
$US 6.60 Barnes&Noble member price


Information on the web
Attractions | The Region | When to Visit
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Information on the Web
Humpback whale fact sheet.

Whales of the world

Rancho Merced National Wildlife refuge. Especially known for the excellent birding, tours to Ballena, and horseback riding.

You can track the travels of several sea turtles around the globe and get more information on turtles at the Caribbean Conservation Corporation web site.

Kids pages on Sea turtles. The main index is realistic, but depressing because we are killing the worlds turtles. There are more upbeat pages including, The Remarkable Journey of Adelita, Project Paola, student art, and how to build a turtle ice cream sundae.

Sea turtle conservation information and images of sea turtles that are free to use with acknowledgement.


Map showing the location of Marino Ballena National Park in Costa Rica
About 120 miles (190 km) southwest of San José on the Pacific coast.

Getting There:

Driving Directions
From San José, the most direct route is to drive south on the Interamerican Highway (Pan American) 81 miles (135 km) to San Isidro, where you turn southwest on 22, which becomes 243 to Dominical (16 miles, 26 km). In Dominical turn southeast on 34 for about 10 miles (16 km) to Uvita.
From Quepos/Manuel Antonio travel south 35 miles (58 km) on highway 34 towards Palmar.
Detailed roadmaps are available in acrobat pdf format or printed on waterproof tear proof plastic.
The nearest airports are in Quepos to the north, and Palmar to the south. (info)
639 Uvita, (Marino Ballena) Departures from San José, terminal Coca Cola, Mon-Fri 3:00 p.m., Sat/Sun 5:30 a.m., 3:00 p.m. 7 hours, ~$US 5.00. Transportes Morales, telephone (506) 223-5567

Entrance fees:

$US 7 (This is rarely collected)


Camping is allowed on the beaches, but there are no amenities. You can get drinking water at the ranger stations.
There are several basic Cabinas off highway 34 between Uvita and Piñuela.

Quick Facts

13 feet (4,000 mm) of rainfall annually with an average temperature of 79 °F (26 °C).


270 acres (110 hectares) of beach and coast, and 13,300 maritime acres (5,400 hectares)


Sea level


Ballena National Marine park was established in 1990.


Beach, coral reef, and mangrove.

Humpback whales, green marine iguanas, bottle nosed and common dolphins, Olive Ridley and Hawksbill turtles, corals, sponges, anemones, lobsters, trunkfish, frigate birds, brown footed boobies, pelicans, ibises

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