We do get some magical encounters when we interact with the ocean. As scuba divers we do spend most of our days on or underwater. And last week we had such a great encounter. Humpback whales visiting our coast and bay of Playas del Coco. In the early morning on our way to the dive site "Punta Ballena" our captain spotted humpback whales in the distance. Right on top of our dive site. It turned out to be a mother with her calf. All our guests on board had a front row seat, witnessing these majestic animals close to our beloved underwater sites. Luckily we had drone with us and got some great shots !
Watch the video below !
Costa Rica, often referred to as the "Rich Coast," is a paradise for nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers. While renowned for its lush rainforests, diverse ecosystems, and stunning beaches, it's also a prime destination for whale watching. According to National Geographic, Ballena Marine National Park is one of the 10 best places to spot humpback whales. But in our very own Guanacaste coast we do get our fair share of humpback whales sightings !
When planning your whale watching tour in Costa Rica, keep in mind that wildlife sightings can never be guaranteed, but with the right timing and a bit of luck, the chances are good that you will witness these majestic giants.
1. Why are the humpback whales visiting Costa Rica ?
Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are marine mammals belonging to the rorqual family (Balaenopteridae) of the suborder Mysticeti (baleen whales) and the Cetacea order, which includes whales, orcas and dolphins. They are estimated to live around 60 - 80 years and the females are longer than the males with a lenght of up to 16 meters (almost 50 feet) !
The name “humpback” is due to its distinctive short, stout dorsal fin. Its Spanish name, ballena jorobada comes from joroba, the Spanish word for “hump”.
The scientific name, Megaptera is a compound word consisting of the greek words mega, large and ptera, fin: a reference to the animal’s massive pectoral fins, which can reach up to one third of its body length, around 5 meters.
Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are known for their long-distance migrations, and the Costa Rican waters serve as a vital stop-over during their journey. These gentle giants are found in various oceans worldwide, but in this case their migratory route takes them from their feeding grounds in colder regions of the Northern and Sourthern hemisphere, down to the tropical waters of Costa Rica for breeding and calving. Costa Rica is such a great Whalewatching destination because whales are spotted almost the whole year. And when we talk about humpback whales in Costa Rica we refer to the two different populations from the Northern and Southern Hemisphere.
2. Costa Rica's Whale Watching Season
Regardless of whether you’re relying on patience or luck, watching humpback whales and their calves jumping and performing acrobatic feats in the ocean is something we should all see at some point in our lives. Humpback whales travel long distances from their feeding areas in cooler waters, including the polar oceans, to their breeding areas in the warm waters of Costa Rica.
These giants remain in Costa Rica for a total of 10 months a year, with groups coming from different hemispheres in each half of the year. This gives the country the longest humpback whale watching season in the world !
Whales visiting Costa Rica´s Pacific Coast
On the Pacific coast two different populations of Humpback whales are visiting Costa Rica. The Northern hemisphere California Humpback whales are visiting Costa Rica´s Pacific Coast from December to April (Dry Season).
From their feeding areas on the southern Pacific coast of Canada and the entire western coast of the United States, humpback whales migrate (an average of 5,200 km) to their breeding areas in southern Mexico and throughout Central America and back to their feeding areas up north. In Costa Rica, they congregate in specific areas of the northern and southern Pacific.
The Southern Hemisphere Antarctic Whales migrate north to Costa Ricas Pacific coastal waters and the best time to catch a glimpse of them is typically from July to November (Rainy Season). From their feeding areas around the Antarctic Peninsula and southern Chile, this population of humpback whales migrate to their calving sites in northern South America, Panama and Costa Rica. In Costa Rica, the whales congregate in certain sites in the southern and (to a lesser extent) northern Pacific coast. Below you will find an overview of the best whalewatching spots.
Fun fact: the whales that migrate from the southern hemisphere arrive during July to November, are traveling an average of 8,400 km on their way here and the same amount back to their feeding areas. This is the longest permanent migratory route of any mammal!
3. Best months for whale watching tours in Costa Rica
Ok so whales are visiting Costa rica almost the whole year. But when is the best time to go if I want to see whales ?
The best peak months are January, February, August and September, making this period the ideal time to plan your visit. During these months, the chances of spotting these magnificent creatures are at their highest, as they engage in mating and give birth to their calves.
4. Best Places for Whale watching tours in Costa Rica
1.Ballena Marine National Park (Uvita, South Pacific Coast)
According to National Geographic, Ballena Marine National Park is the 8 best place to spot humpback whales. Located near the town of Uvita, the Ballena Marine National Park (Spanish: Parque Nacional Marino Ballena), is part of the Osa Conservation Area created as a safe area for humpback whale migration, hence its name. According to their website the best time to visit is July to October. But the season lasts till April.
2. Osa Penninsula (Drake Bay, South Pacific Coast)
Starting in the month of August. Drake Bay (located north west of the penninsula) and Golfo Dulce (The bay that separates the Osa Peninsula from the mainland Costa Rica) are popular places on the Osa Penninsula to go whale watching. Most hotels will be able to arrange your tour.
3. Playas del Coco (Guanacaste Province & North pacific Coast)
If you are looking to to spot whales in our own Guanacaste province then of course Playas del Coco is a good location to start. Altough seen almost throughout the year, the months of July to September are the months when we often spot whales on the way to our dive sites in Gulf of Papagayo or on our way to Catalinas Islands or Bats Islands (Murcielago and the Santa Rosa National park). Rich Coast Diving does not specifically organize dolphin and whalewatching tours but there are a few operators in Playas del Coco. Your hotel will be able to arrange your tour. Note that Whale sightings in Gunacaste are not as predictable as in more popular places like Uvita, Drake Bay or Gulfo Dulce.
Whale watching services are available all along the pacific coast on the following beaches:
Playas del Coco
Bahía Ballena / Uvita
Want to know more about diving & snorkeling in Playas del Coco. Contact us at:
Rich Coast Diving
Mrs. Céline Monfort
WhatsApp +506 8610 0914