Up until a few months ago, we’d never even heard of Costa Ballena. Back when Max was growing up in Costa Rica this area was nothing more than a few fishing villages stretching along the south Pacific Coast. After bumping into a few fellow travelers who raved about their time in this region, we finally decided to check it out for ourselves!
Costa Ballena, (literally translated as Whale Coast), is located in Southern Costa Rica, along Coastal Highway 34 (Costanera Sur), about an hour south of the popular destination of Manuel Antonio. The region stretches from the town of Dominical to Uvita and farther to Ojochal, and encompasses beautiful untouched beaches, great surf breaks, and the Marina Ballena National Park, famous for the Humpback Whales that migrate past here each year from December to April.
Today, Costa Ballena is still fairly unknown, attracting primarily off the beaten path travelers and adventure lovers, but we think there are plenty of reason to include a visit to this part of the country into every traveler’s itinerary!
1. Quiet town of Uvita
Uvita is an ideal destination for a less crowded experience. This quiet little town is not overrun with tourism, it’s unspoilt, very tranquil, and representative of many other small towns in Costa Rica. The town centre revolves around 1-2 streets with a few shops, a visitors centre, a few eating establishments, and souvenir shops. Located just a short 20 min drive from Dominical, Uvita offers plenty of secluded beautiful accommodation options, many of which are perched up in the mountains offering breathtaking panoramic views of the town.
Our favourite part of Uvita was actually our accommodation, Oxygen Jungle Villas. Set in the lush jungle, the hotel offered private waterfall and hiking trails, an infinity pool overlooking the town, and secluded all-glass villas with an open-air veranda where we loved spending our mornings with tea in hand.
2. Whale’s Tail at the Marina Ballena National Park
The Marina Ballena National Park is definitely one of the top attractions of Costa Ballena. The park is home to the beautiful Playa Uvita and the famous Whale’s Tail, a natural coral reef in the shape of a whale’s tail that becomes exposed during low tide. The coral reef is popular for its rock pools that form around the tail, and is also said to offer good snorkelling. But the majority of visitors, us included, don’t even go into the water, but enjoy the walk down to the tip of the tail and the views of the Uvita Beach from afar.
3. Whale Watching
Whale’s Tail is not the only reason why this region bears the name of Costa Ballena. In fact, the name actually stems from the fact that between the months of December and April, majestic Humpback Whales migrate through the waters of Costa Ballena. A number of companies in town run Whale Watching tours, giving you an opportunity to see these gentle giants in their natural environment.
4. Beach Hopping
But it’s not just Playa Uvita that attracts visitors to this area. There are 5 other beaches worth checking out, including Playa Ventanas, Playa Pinuela, and Playa Hermosa. Playa Ventanas was our favourite thanks to the unique caves that surround its shores. The beach wasn’t suitable for swimming when we visited due to bad rip tides, but the beach offered a perfect setting for a day of hanging out in a hammock.
5. Uvita Waterfall
Uvita Waterfall is a local gem, found on a private property located about 5 mins from Uvita town centre. It takes less than 5 mins to descend to the waterfall from the parking lot of the restaurant and next thing you know, you are sliding into the refreshing pool at the base of a gushing waterfall. Go mid-week and you’ll most likely have the waterfall all to yourself!
6. Envision Festival
Envision Festival, an art, spirituality, yoga, music, and dance festival has been drawing in crowds to Uvita for over 5 years. We learned about it from the manager at the Oxygen Jungle Villas and upon hearing what the festival was all about, we immediately added it to our bucket list for next year. The festival takes place at the end of February on Rancho La Merced and offers a full weekend of music, art, workshops, and multicultural performances.
7. Culinary delights in Ojochal
In recent years, Ojochal has become a popular destination for expats in Costa Rica and earned a reputation of being the culinary hub of the area. Here you’ll find great restaurants like Exotica, a French Canadian spot serving everything from spicy Vietnamese chicken soup to French liver pâté, Citrus, boasting a Moroccan-inspired menu of gluten-free and vegetarian options, Ylang Ylang, famous for its authentic Indonesian cuisine, and Azul, an intimate restaurant with a gourmet Mediterranean menu.
Make sure you plan to experience Ojochal’s culinary delights for dinner, as most restaurants are closed for lunch and many are also closed all day on Mondays. (We had to find out the hard way 🙁 )
8. Laid Back Vibe in Dominical
Dominical, a small beach town just 20 mins North of Uvita offers travelers a laid back vibe where beach life dominates the list of daily activities. Playa Dominical’s excellent waves welcome surfers of all levels and its lack of sights and attractions makes it a perfect destination for those that just want to spend days relaxing in a hammock with a book in hand.
9. Nauyaca Waterfalls
Nauyaca Waterfalls are an absolute must for nature and adventure lovers. The falls are located on private property of the Lulo Family and can be reached by hiking, horseback riding, or by pick up truck. The waterfalls have two levels, the tallest is over forty meters high and the smallest is a little over 20 meters. We were lucky to experience the waterfall early in the morning and spent a few blissful hours admiring the breathtaking views well before the crowds rolled in!
10. Massage on Beach in Dominical
It’s not hard to find a spa in Costa Rica, but finding a great spot for a massage that won’t cost more than your daily budget can be a challenge. Enter Glen, a professional massage therapist who has set up a pop-up massage parlour on the beach in Dominical and is now offering professional massages for just $35/hour. You just can’t beat that in Costa Rica!
11. Beach Side Market in Dominical
If you are looking to give your wallet a good workout while in Costa Rica, Dominical has got your covered. Every day dozens of stalls selling clothes, jewellery, and souvenirs are set up along the beach turning Dominical into a shoppers paradise. Stock up on Costa Rica t-shirts, grab a new sarong or pick up cheap souvenirs for all your friends and family back home.
12. Diamante Verde
Diamante Verde is home to 10 different waterfalls, including Diamante Waterfall, the tallest waterfall in Costa Rica. Plunging 600 feet off the Tinamaste ridge, the Diamante Waterfall is surrounded by the green valley and offers stunning views overlooking the coastal mountains and the Pacific Ocean. You can hike to the waterfall, spend the day swimming in magnificent natural pools beneath the falls, try rappelling, canyoning, and cliff jumping, or you can choose to stay the night at Casa de Piedra, a natural cliff-dwelling located behind the falls and enjoy a unique overnight experience with all the comforts of home including kitchen, bedding, showers, and toilets. Tours to Diamante Verde are offered by Tree of Life and while they are a little pricey, they look incredible!