Just 17km south of Dominical, this sweet little hamlet is really nothing more than a loose straggle of farms, houses and tiny shops, though it should give you a good idea of what the central Pacific coast looked like before the tourist boom. Uvita serves as the base for visits to Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, a pristine marine reserve famous for its migrating pods of humpback whales and its virtually abandoned wilderness beaches.

Sights & Activities

Uvita is a perfect base for exploring Costanera Sur, which is home to some truly spectacular beaches that don’t see anywhere near the number of tourists that they should attract. All the better for you, if crowds aren’t your thing.

Surfers passing through the area tend to push on to more extreme destinations further south, though there are occasionally some swells at Playa Hermosa (not to be confused with the one south of Jacó) to the north and Playa Colonia to the south. However, if you’ve just come from Dominical, or you’re planning on heading to Pavones, you might be a bit disappointed with the mild conditions here. If you’re a beginner, this can be a good place to practice.

Reserva Biológica Oro Verde

(Tel 8843-8833 2743-8072) A few kilometers before Uvita you’ll see a signed turnoff to the left on a rough dirt road (4WD only) that leads 3.5km up the hill (look over your shoulder for great views of Parque Nacional Marino Ballena) to this private reserve. Two-thirds of the 150-hectare property is rainforest, and there are guided hikes, horseback-riding tours and bird-watching walks. Tour prices vary.

The reserve is on the farm of the Duarte family, who have lived in the area for more than three decades.

Rancho La Merced National Wildlife Refuge

(Tel 8861-5147 2743-8032 A few kilometers before Uvita, opposite the turnoff to Oro Verde, is this 506-hectare national wildlife refuge (and former cattle ranch) with primary and secondary forests and mangroves lining the Río Morete. Here you can take guided nature hikes, horseback-riding tours to Punta Uvita and birdwatching walks. Tour prices vary.

You can also stay at La Merced in a 1940s farmhouse, which can accommodate up to 10 people in double rooms of various sizes (doubles US$85).


Bahía Aventuras

(Tel 8846-6576 2743-8362 A well-regarded tour operator in Uvita, Bahía Aventuras has tours running the gamut, from surfing to diving to hiking, and spanning the Costa Ballena to Corcovado. Tour rates are variable.

Festivals & Events

Best Fest

( Adding to the festival season that’s developing along the central Pacific coast, this new music festival kicks off at the beginning of February and features a great mix of danceable, up-andcoming Tico and American bands.

Envision Art, Music & Sacred Movement Festival

( Four days of spoken word, music, yoga, performance art, permaculture, dreadlocks and DJs descend on Uvita in late February. Attendees set up camp in a jungle setting near the beach in Uvita.

Sleeping & Eating

The main entrance to Uvita leads inland, east of the highway, where you’ll find a number of eating and sleeping options. More guesthouses, sodas and local businesses are along the bumpy dirt roads that surround the edges of the park.

Flutterby House

(Tel 2743-8221 8341-1730 campsites US$6 dm US$12 d US$30-80 p i W ) S Is it possible to fall in love at first sight with a hostel? If so, the ramshackle collection of colorful Swiss Family Robinson– style tree houses and dorms at Flutterby has us head over heels. Run by a pair of beaming Californian sisters, the hostel is friendly, fun and well situated within a short stroll of Marino Ballena’s beaches.

It rents out boards and bikes, sells beer for a pittance, has a tidy, open-air communal kitchen as well as a new restaurant, and it employs downright visionary sustainability practices. Follow the signs from the main highway; it’s near the south entrance gate of the park.

Cabinas Los Laureles

(Tel 2743-8008 2743-8235 campsites. US$10 s/d. from. US$30/35 piW) Set up on a forested property with a short trail running through it, this 14room spot in Uvita offers authentic Costa Rican hospitality. Of the friendly Tico family that runs the place, son Victor is bilingual and conscientious about referring guests to other locally-run businesses. He also runs good kayaking and mountain-biking tours via Uvita Adventure Tour (Tel 89185681 2743-8008 mountain-biking/kayaking tours from US$35/65).

Cascada Verde

(Tel 8593-9420 2743-8191 dm US$11 r US$14-54 piW) If you’re looking for a quiet retreat in the jungle, this hostel is for you. About 2km inland and uphill from Uvita, it’s run by a young German couple who keeps the atmosphere peaceful and the facilities spotless. There’s a large communal kitchen, plenty of indoor and outdoor spaces for relaxing, and a waterfall and pools a short walk away. Because of the open architecture style, be aware that there’s very little noise privacy – but you’ll also hear the jungle symphony surrounding you.

Tucan Hotel

(Tel 2743-8140 campsites/ hammocks/dm. US$6/6/10 d. from. US$25 p8 a i W ) Located 100m inland from the main highway, this is a most popular hostel for international travelers. There is a variety of accommodations to suit all budgets, from simple tents and hammocks to dorms, private rooms and the lofty tree house. With a shared kitchen, daily movies at 4pm and a convivial atmosphere, Tucan Hotel is a reliable budget choice.

Bungalows Ballena

(Tel 8309-9631 2743-8543 apt/bungalows. US$125/250) These fully outfitted apartments and stand-alone bungalows are an excellent mid-market option for families and large groups. All have kitchens, wi-fi and satellite television. The place is outfitted for kids – there’s a playground and a big, welcoming pool in the shape of a whale’s tail. Find it 300m north of the park’s main entrance.

Sabor Español

(Tel 8768-9160 2743-8312 Playa. Colonia mains. US$7-22 h noon-3pm. &. 6-9:30pm. tue-sun) Having had a successful run in Monteverde, charming Spanish couple Heri and Montse realized that they wanted to live by the ocean – to Uvita’s good fortune. Thus, their sublime gazpacho, paella, tortilla española and other Spanish specialties can now be savored with sangria at the end of a dirt road in Playa Uvita, in a lovely rancho setting.


The area off the main highway is referred to locally as Uvita, while the area next to the beach is called Playa Uvita and Playa Bahía Uvita (the southern end of the beach)   the beach area is reached through two parallel roads that are roughly 500m apart – they make a C-shape connecting back to the road   the first entrance is just south of the bridge over the río Uvita and the second entrance is in the center of town   At low tide you can walk out along Punta Uvita, but ask locally before heading out so that the rising water doesn’t cut you off  



You can find bus schedules, an area map and other useful information at Also keep an eye out for the free print magazine Ballena Tales, a wonderful resource for visitors, with bilingual articles, tide charts and listings of local businesses from Dominical to the Península de Osa  



When enjoying the local beaches, be aware that personal possessions that are left unattended have been known to melt away into the jungles that fringe the shorelines   in fact, it’s best not to bring anything valuable to the beach with you   Until recently, petty theft was the worst problem around the national park and area beaches, but unfortunately, a few in-person (non-violent) robberies had been reported at the time of research   get the latest word from the staff at your accommodations  

Parque Nacional Marino Ballena

This stunner of a marine park (Tel 2743-8236 admission US$7) protects coral and rock reefs surrounding several offshore islands. Its name comes not only from the humpback whales that breed here but also because of the Punta Uvita ‘Whale Tail’, a distinctive sandbar extending into a rocky reef that, at low tide, forms the shape of a whale’s tail when viewed from above. Despite its small size, the importance of this area cannot be overstated, especially since it protects migrating humpback whales, pods of dolphins and nesting sea turtles, not to mention colonies of seabirds and several terrestrial reptiles.

Although Ballena is relatively off the radar of many coastal travelers, this can be an extremely rewarding destination for beach lovers and wildlife-watchers. The lack of tourist crowds means that you can enjoy a quiet day at the beach in near solitude – a rarity in Costa Rica. And, with a little luck and a bit of patience, you just might catch a glimpse of a humpback breaching or a few dolphins gliding through the surf.

Sights & Activities

The beaches at Parque Nacional Marino Ballena are a stunning combination of golden sand and polished rock. All of them are virtually deserted and perfect for peaceful swimming and sunbathing. And the lack of visitors means you’ll have a number of quiet opportunities for good bird-watching.

From the ranger station you can walk out onto Punta Uvita and snorkel (best at low tide). Boats from Playa Bahía Uvita to Isla Ballena can be hired for up to US$45 per person for a two-hour snorkeling trip, though you are not allowed to stay overnight on the island.

To delve into the underwater beauty of the park, take a dive with the Argentine-run Mad About Diving (Tel 2743-8019

There is also some decent surfing near the river mouth at the southern end of Playa Colonia.


Although the park gets few human visitors, the beaches are frequently visited by a number of animal species, including nesting seabirds, bottle-nose dolphins and a variety of lizards. And from May to November, with a peak in September and October, olive ridley and hawksbill turtles bury their eggs in the sand nightly. However, the star attraction are the pods of humpback whales that pass through the national park from August to October and December to April.

Scientists are unsure as to why humpback whales migrate here, though it’s possible that Costa Rican waters may be one of only a few places in the world where the whales mate. There are actually two different groups of humpbacks that pass through the park – whales seen in the fall migrate from Californian waters, while those seen in the spring originate from Antarctica.


Heading southeast from Punta Uvita, the park includes 13km of sandy and rocky beaches, mangrove swamps, estuaries and rocky headlands   All six kinds of Costa rican mangrove occur within the park   there are coral reefs near the shore, though they were heavily damaged by sediment run-off from the construction of the coastal highway   entrance is at the ranger station (Tel 2743-8236; admission US$6; h dawn-dusk) in Playa Bahía Uvita, the seaside extension of Uvita  

Getting There & Away

Parque Nacional Marino Ballena is best accessed from Uvita or Ojochal, by either private vehicle or a quick taxi ride; inquire at your accommodations for the latter  

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