Whale-watching in Costa Rica is, without a doubt, one of the best activities you can do in Central America. Thanks to its tropical climate and perfect water temperature, Costa Rica is one of the best places to see cetaceans.
Trust me when I say that spotting whales in Costa Rica, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, is an incredible experience. Whales and dolphins are magnificent creatures and seeing them in the wild really takes your breath away.
There are many whale watching tours in Costa Rica, so I’ll share the best options in this guide, as well as all the information you need to know about when to go and how to identify them.
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Best Costa Rica whale watching tours
Since Costa Rica is one of the best places in the world to see dolphins and whales, there are numerous tours that you could book. To make it easier for you, I’ve chosen the best dolphin tours in Costa Rica:
- Whale-Watching Tour in Uvita, Costa Rica
- Whale and Dolphin-Watching in Costa Rica (Drake Bay)
- Whale-Watching Tour in Costa Rica from San José
- See Dolphins in Costa Rica (Guanacaste – Playa Sámara)
- Whale-Watching in Costa Rica (Golfo Dulce – Puerto Jiménez)
- All-inclusive Whale-Watching Catamaran from Manuel Antonio (Costa Rica)
1. Whale-Watching Tour in Uvita, Costa Rica
If you’re looking for one of the best tours to enjoy whale-watching in Costa Rica, I definitely recommend this one. It’s the excursion we took, and the experience was truly incredible because we traveled through the Marino Ballena National Park in the South Pacific. This is the most popular spot for dolphin-watching in Costa Rica and the country’s first national marine park. Here, you can see humpback whales, dolphins, and sea turtles, among other sea creatures.
In addition to providing the best odds of seeing cetaceans, the tour also includes a snorkeling session and a visit to some local caverns.
- Highlights: Marino Ballena National Park, snorkeling, and caverns
- Starting point: Uvita, Costa Rica
- Duration: 3-4 hours
- Price from: $82
- Description: This tour goes through one of the most popular places to see whales in Costa Rica, the Marino Ballena National Park, where the chances of seeing cetaceans and sea turtles are very high. It also includes snorkeling and a visit to several caverns.
2. Whale and Dolphin-Watching in Costa Rica (Drake Bay)
Another top dolphin tour in Costa Rica is this one, which travels through Drake Bay. This area is one of the best places to enjoy whale-watching in Costa Rica, as several species of dolphins live here permanently. Besides, humpback whales come here every year to mate and give birth, so depending on when you go, you could see them.
During the tour, an expert guide will tell you all about the cetaceans, and you can use a hydrophone to listen to the whale sounds. You’ll also get the chance to go snorkeling and see more marine life.
- Highlights: Humpback whales, dolphins, and snorkeling
- Starting point: Aerodrome road – Drake Bay
- Duration: 6 hours
- Price from: $127
- Description: Take a cruise through Drake Bay to see dolphins and humpback whales. During the tour, an expert guide will share interesting facts and let you listen to the whales on a hydrophone. This excursion includes snorkeling equipment for those who want to explore the seabed.
3. Whale-Watching Tour in Costa Rica from San José
Another one of the best Costa Rica whale-watching tours is this one, which departs from San José. From there, it travels to Dominicalito beach and goes through the Marino Ballena National Park, one of the best places to see whales and dolphins in Costa Rica. During the cruise, you’ll also get to see other marine creatures like sea turtles and manta rays.
This excursion includes some free time to enjoy the beach, as well as breakfast and transportation to and from your San José hotel. Without a doubt, it’s an excellent choice if you’re staying in the Costa Rican capital and don’t feel like driving to the coast.
- Highlights: Dolphin and whale-watching in the Marino Ballena National Park, breakfast, and transportation from/to San José
- Starting point: Your accommodation in San José
- Duration: 14 hours
- Price from: $165
- Description: See whales in Costa Rica, as well as dolphins and other marine species as you travel through the Marino Ballena National Park. This tour also includes breakfast and transportation from and to your San José hotel.
4. See Dolphins in Costa Rica (Guanacaste – Playa Sámara)
This excursion along Sámara beach is one of the best ways to see dolphins in Costa Rica. Here, you can spot bottlenose dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, and, depending on the time you go, migratory humpback whales. The tour also includes a snorkeling session and drinks, as well as hotel pick-up and drop-off.
- Highlights: Dolphin and whale-watching near Sámara Beach, snorkeling
- Starting point: Your hotel
- Duration: 3.5 hours
- Price from: $56
- Description: Enjoy this Costa Rica dolphin tour and spot other marine creatures while enjoying a snorkel and drinks.
5. Whale-Watching in Costa Rica (Golfo Dulce – Puerto Jiménez)
Golfo Dulce is rich in marine life, so it’s another place with some of the best dolphin-watching in Costa Rica. During this tour, you can see dolphins and other creatures, as well as travel through nearby mangroves, rivers, and dive in the reefs.
- Highlights: Dolphin-watching and diving among the reefs of the Golfo Dulce
- Starting point: Your hotel
- Duration: 4-5 hours
- Price from: $230
- Description: This dolphin and whale-watching tour in Costa Rica takes you to impressive areas around Golfo Dulce, including several mangroves and reefs.
6. All-inclusive Whale-Watching Catamaran from Manuel Antonio (Costa Rica)
Finally, this catamaran tour is an excellent excursion through Manuel Antonio National Park, one of the most beautiful places to spot whales in Costa Rica. During the tour, you’ll be able to see whales and dolphins, and you’ll also get the chance to snorkel. This cruise also includes lunch and transportation from and to your hotel.
- Highlights: Dolphin and whale-watching, snorkeling, and lunch
- Starting point: Your hotel
- Duration: 3-4 hours
- Price from: $250
- Description: Take a catamaran ride to enjoy dolphin-watching in Costa Rica with lunch and hotel pick-up/drop-off included. You’ll also get the chance to snorkel and explore the deep sea.
Best time to see whales in Costa Rica
One of the most frequently asked questions is about the best time for whale-watching in Costa Rica. This makes sense because some times of the year are better than others for booking a dolphin tour.
There are two prime times of the year for dolphin-watching in Costa Rica. One is from the end of December to the beginning of April, while the other is from the end of July to the beginning of November. While tours operate year-round, these two seasons coincide with the humpback whales’ annual migration south.
If you travel outside of these two seasons, don’t worry because dolphins live in these waters permanently, so you’ll still be able to see a variety of marine life.
Where to see whales in Costa Rica
If you’re wondering where to see whales in Costa Rica, the answer is very simple. The Pacific Coast is the best place to spot whales and dolphins, and all Costa Rica whale-watching tours go through this area.
That said, there are several specific areas to see whales and dolphins in Costa Rica. Some of the most popular ones are the Marino Ballena National Park, the Osa Peninsula, and Drake Bay. Many Costa Rica dolphin tours also go to the Manual Antonio National Park, particularly those that operate during the humpbacks’ migration period.
While there are many places and opportunities to see whales in Costa Rica, keep in mind that these are wild animals, and predicting their movements is not guaranteed. Of course, the tours that operate in this area have years of experience, so they have a good idea of where to go in Costa Rica to spot whales. Every time we’ve taken one of these tours, we’ve had an unforgettable experience.
Types of whales in Costa Rica
Now that you know when and where to see whales in Costa Rica and which are the best tours, I’ll share some information about the types of cetaceans you can see here, as well as how to easily identify them.
Humpback whales in Costa Rica
The humpback whale is one of the most common whales that you’ll see while whale-watching in Costa Rica. While they don’t live in the waters of Costa Rica, they spend a few months here, particularly during mating and breeding season.
These whales belong to the family of fin whales and can measure 39 to 52 feet in length and weigh up to 35 tons, which makes them one of the largest baleen whales. You can easily recognize them by their robust bodies.
Dolphins in Costa Rica
It’s also common to see dolphins in Costa Rica, and some of them live permanently in some areas off the coast. The most common species are the bottlenose dolphin and the pantropical spotted dolphin.
The bottlenose dolphin lives in groups of over 10 and usually measures 8 to 10 feet long. It has a dark gray body that gets lighter towards the back.
The pantropical spotted dolphin is smaller, sometimes not even reaching 6 feet. Its most distinctive feature is its spotted body, particularly its back, which gets covered in more spots as it ages.
Other cetaceans in Costa Rica
In addition to the species I mentioned, there are other cetaceans you can see in Costa Rica, although they’re not as common. One of these is the false killer whale, also known as the black killer whale. It ranges from 12 to 18 feet long and can weigh up to 2 tons. Unlike actual killer whales, this one is completely gray or black.
You may also see pilot whales in Costa Rica, which can measure up to 16 feet long and weigh between 1 and 2 tons.
A species of common dolphin, this one with yellow stripes on its side, has also been spotted in Costa Rica. You may also see the acrobatic spinner dolphin and the sperm whale, which is one of the largest toothed animals in the world. Moreover, keep an eye out for sea turtles, manta rays, and other marine species while whale-watching in Costa Rica.
Now you have all the information you need to enjoy the best whale-watching tours in Costa Rica. If you have any questions or you’d like to share your experience, leave me a comment. I know that no matter which excursion you choose, you’ll enjoy your Costa Rica dolphin tour!