Parque Nacional Marino Ballena (6am-6pm daily, $6) was created in 1990 to protect the shoreline of Bahía de Coronado and 4,500 hectares (11,000 acres) of water surrounding Isla Ballena. The park extends south for 15 kilometers (9.5 miles) from Uvita to Punta Piñuela, and about 15 kilometers (9.5 miles) out to sea. The bay is the southernmost mating site for humpback whales (Dec.-Apr.), which migrate from Alaska, Baja California, and Hawaii—hence the park’s name.

Punta Piñuela in Ballena Marine National Park. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Punta Piñuela in Ballena Marine National Park. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Isla Ballena and the rocks known as Las Tres Hermanas (The Three Sisters) are havens for pelicans, frigate birds, and boobies.It harbors within its relatively small area important mangroves and a large coral reef. Green marine iguanas live on algae in the saltwater pools. Olive ridley and hawksbill turtles come ashore May to November to lay their eggs; September and October are the best months to see them. Dolphins also frolic offshore.

Snorkeling is good close to shore during low tide (although sedimentation resulting from local construction has killed off much of the coral reef). Isla Ballena and the rocks known as Las Tres Hermanas (The Three Sisters) are havens for pelicans, frigate birds, and boobies. At the southern end, Playa Ventanas has caves accessible by kayak.

There are ranger stations at Uvita (Bahía), La Colonia, Playa Ballena, and Piñuela. Park headquarters (tel. 506/2786-5392), which has a small turtle hatchery, is at Playa Ballena, but the park is administered by SINAC (tel. 506/2786-7161) in Palmar Norte. All the ranger stations except Bahía permit camping and have showers and toilets.

Where to Stay

The German-run Finca Bavaria (tel. 506/8355-4465, $64-84 s, $74-84 d), in the hills inland of Playa Ballena and 500 meters (0.3 miles) south of La Cusinga, offers five bungalows with a beautiful aesthetic that includes louvered glass windows, raised wooden ceilings, bamboo and rattan furnishings, halogen lamps, mosquito nets over the beds, and clinically clean baths with glass-brick showers. Trails lead through the forested 15-hectare (37-acre) property. Filling and delicious meals are served, washed down with chilled German beer served in steins. There’s a swimming pool in the landscaped garden.

I’m enamored of La Cusinga (tel. 506/2770-2549, $181-294 s/d, including all meals), about five kilometers (3 miles) south of Uvita at Finca Tres Hermanas, a farm involved in reforestation and sustainable agriculture. It has huge and delightful albeit modestly appointed all-wood cabins with terra-cotta and river-stone floors, screened glassless windows, and exquisite stone-faced baths. Its Gecko Restaurant is fabulous, with staggering views, and trails lead through 250 hectares (618 acres) of primary forest (day visitors $5).


Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.