The Marino Ballena National Park was created on February 6th 1989, to protect the various coastal marine habitats, the beaches, estuaries, mangrove swamps, islands, coral reef and also the marine endangered species. This marine park was the first in Latin America with 110 hectares of land and 5375 hectares of ocean. Located south of Dominical on the Costa Ballena, the park is bordered on the south by Punta Piñuela, then extends out to sea for 9 kilometers, heading north 6 kilometers before coming back to shore at Punta Uvita in the southern end of Playa Hermosa, the park is ideal for scuba diving and beach walking as it includes islands and long and wide beaches with open ocean.
The park includes Punta Uvita, where a sandy spit connects with an island forming a whale tale, through a tombolo and two offshore islands, Las Tres Hermanas (The Three Sisters) and Isla Ballena (Whale Island), which provide nesting sites for Magnificent Frigate birds, Brown Booby, Brown Pelicans and White Ibis.
The tiny village of Bahia is the location of an endangered turtle-nesting beach – Hawksbill and Olive Ridley turtles come ashore between May and November – with a protection system administrated by the local community. Also of interest are the Green Marine Iguanas that graze on the algae in the saltwater pools.
Marino Ballena National Park is named from the Spanish word for whale, “ballena”, after the Humpback Whales that migrate here each year from December to April to mate before returning to the frigid waters of the north. In fact, each year from August to October and from December to April, pods of massive humpback whales migrate through the warm waters of Marino Ballena National Park. It used to be thought that the Humpbacks were on migration to their breeding grounds off Mexico and Hawaii, but improved identification techniques suggested that some of the whales may breed in Costa Rican waters. The park also has Pilot Whales, Melon-headed Whales and Sperm Whales.
In addition to whales, dolphins are abundant, Common and Bottlenose Dolphins, as well as common striped and spinner dolphins are seen throughout the year.
The marine park has four entrances regulated by park rangers. At the Uvita sector visitors can observe Punta Uvita, the famous rock and reef formation that fittingly resembles a whale’s tail. The calm waters off Punta Uvita are ideal for swimming and snorkeling, with mild currents and decent visibility. The park’s beaches are protected by a network of crescent-shaped reefs and a scattering of rocky islands.
The park is specialized in whale and dolphin watching tours and also on sport fishing both inshore and offshore. In addition, people can take a trip to the Isla del Caño Biolgical Reserve or to Corcovado National Park, and if you like you may also take an adventure expedition to Mangroves Swamps, where you can see the wildlife and birds of this area. Camping is allowed on the beaches, but there are no amenities, and you can only get drinking water at the ranger stations.
Environmentalists, however, are worried by the effect that the construction of the coastal highway has had on the coral reef. They claim that it has polluted the water and the latest estimate is that 60% of the coral has been destroyed. Shrimp trawling is also consider a threat.
If you are planning to visit the Marino Ballena National Park, you should consider that the Olive Ridley and Hawksbill turtles can be seen laying their eggs on night visits to the beach between May and November, and that the Humpback Whales migrate here each year from December to April.
Getting to Ballena Marine National Park:
From San Jose take the Pan-American Highway north passing through Atenas up to Orotina. Take the Tárcoles-Jaco-Quepos-Manuel Antonio exit. Once in Quepos travel south for 58km (35 miles) on highway until the Ballena Marine National Park. Now you can also take the new Caldera Highway (route 27), taking the same exit to Tárcoles-Jaco-Quepos-Manuel Antonio and following the same directions until you get to the Ballena Marine National Park. The Caldera trip takes about 3 hours from San Jose while the other takes about 4.5 hours.
There is another route from San Jose through the Cerro de la Muerte. Drive south on the Pan-American Highway for about 135 km (81 miles) to San Isidro, where you turn southwest taking the exit to Dominical and then drive for 26 km (16 miles). In Dominical turn southeast for about 16 km (10 miles) to Uvita.
From Daniel Oduber International Airport (LIR), drive south on the Pan-American Highway to Puntarenas. From there, take the new Caldera Highway (route 27) and take the exit to Tarcoles-Jaco-Quepos-Manuel Antonio. Once in Quepos travel south for 58km (35 miles) on th highway until the Ballena Marine National Park.
Take a bus from the route San Jose – Quepos / Manuel Antonio – Ballena National Marine Park, which takes about 4 hours (Transportes Morales, 2223-5567).
You can also take a bus from the route San Jose – San Isidro de El General, which takes about 4 hours, (MUSOC, 2222-2422) and then take another bus San Isidro de El General – Uvita, which takes about 2 hours, (Transportes Blanco, 2771-4744).
You can also take a flight from the Juan Santamaria Airport to Quepos Airport, either with Sansa or Nature Air airlines, both with daily flights. From here you can rent a taxi to Ballena Marine National Park, which takes about 40 minutes.
Location: about 120 miles (190 km) southwest of San José on the Pacific coast, in Uvita, district: Bahia Ballena, canton: Osa, province: Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Zone postal code: 60504.
GPS Coordinates: 9.156925,-83.747561 (9°09’24.93″N, 83°44’51.22″W)
Size: 5161ha (12,752acres)
Altitude: sea level
Ballena National Marine Park Telephone: +(506) 2786-5392
Osa Conservation Area (ACOSA) Telephone: +(506) 2735-5580 / 2735-5276
INFOTUR Tourist Information: 1192