Ballena Marine National Park stretches from Playa Uvita to Playa Pinuela on the central Pacific coast of Costa Rica’s popular region of Dominical. The tiny island of Isla Ballena is also included in Ballena Marine National Park.
Ballena Marine National Park is named for the whales that are often sighted offshore during the winter months. During low tide the marine park and the Costa Rica beaches near it somewhat resemble the tail of whale when viewed from the air.
Whatever the origin of its name, the Costa Rica beaches at Ballena Marine National Park have become major surfing attractions.
The waves here are impressive and best tackled by surfers with a moderate to extensive amount of experience, but lessons for beginners are also offered. For example, Green Iguana Surf Camp (www.greeniguanasurfcamp.com) offers on site lessons and a comprehensive experience for beginners, and easy access to all the park features.
Ballena Marine National Park includes a number of different beaches, each with its own unique personality and flair. Playa Ballena, Playa Uvita, Playa Pinuela, Playa Ventana, and Playa Tortuga are all beautiful.
All of the Costa Rica Beaches in this area charge an entrance fee of $1, but since almost all are part of Ballena Marine National Park proper, you can save your ticket and use it again and again at any beach all day.
If surfing or lounging on the beach are not your thing, Ballena Marine National Park and the surrounding region still offers lots to see and do.
Hacienda Baru (www.haciendabaru.com) schedules a variety of different tours of the jungle forests and mangrove wilderness areas, including bird watching hikes, tree climbing excursions, and an overnight camping trip that includes a visit to some Indian petroglyphs. Most tours are based on per person rates that range from $20 to $60 USD.
Almost any major hotel in the Ballena Marine National Park area can also arrange horseback riding excurions to two spectacular waterfalls–the Santa Crista and the Nuayaca falls. Or book an all day excursion to the breathtaking three-tiered Diamante Falls. (Santa Christo is a two-tier waterfall, but it is still spectacular and features the best swimming hole of the three.)
Other exciting activities in the area include ultralight tours, scuba diving lessons, and canoe tours through the mangrove forests. Check with any travel agent or major hotel for prices or to make arrangements.
Camping inside Ballena Marine National Park only costs $2 per day—a real bargain—and includes access to an indoor bathroom and shower.
Finally, don’t forget to visit Isla Ballena just off the shore of Playa Uvita while in Ballena Marine National Park. At low tide you can actually walk across a small sandbar and explore the small islet on foot. The small park ranger’s office at Ballena Marine National Park also runs a small turtle hatching shelter that is worth a visit.
Travelers visiting Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast often head straight for Manuel Antonio, but Ballena Marine National Park is well worth the short drive south and the few extra days for those who love the water and have the time.