Exploring the South Pacific
Driving to Costa Ballena and Uvita
Some of Costa Rica’s most magical and pristine beaches are found on the Pacific Central Coast in the southernmost point of Puntarenas Province. The area is commonly referred to as Costa Ballena, or Whale Coast, and is aptly named due to the frequent whale sightings as well as for the impressive whale-tail shaped sandbar that juts a full kilometer into the Pacific Ballena Bay at low tide.
Bahia Ballena is part of the larger Marino Ballena National Park. The park is comprised of both land and ocean territory and was created in 1990 to preserve the reefs and ecology of the nearby islands and coastal waters. The rich marine life and stable water temperatures have made the area a perfect breeding ground for a number of whale species; in particular, the mighty Humpback Whale whose numbers in the area are greatest from July through October and December through March. Other whale species, as well as dolphins, are also prolific and the rich coastal waters are part of several marine migration routes.
The quaint and convenient town of Uvita is the principal municipality servicing the park and nearby beaches, hotels, and resorts. Visitors will find everything from fine international dining to charming local eateries serving up homemade local fare and fresh seafood, and backpacker hostels to five-star hotels and retreat centers. Grocery stores, pharmacies, and more than a handful of tour operators and local gift shops are also available.
Route 34, known as Costa Rica’s Costanera, is probably the country’s best-kept highway and stretches all the way from Coyolar on Route 27 to Palmar Norte just above the Osa Peninsula. The highway passes a number of renowned beach towns as it winds south, including Jaco, Quepos, and Manuel Antonio. A 4WD vehicle isn’t necessary to get to Uvita from any major of Costa Rica’s major cities unless you’re planning on taking side trips into the countryside or mountains. Make sure to share your itinerary with your rental car agent so you’ll receive the right vehicle to fit your needs.
If you’re leaving from San Jose or the Juan Santamaria International Airport, take Route 27 Autopista Jose María Castro Madriz west towards Port Caldera. The highway is a toll road and requires around $7 in local currency. Just after the fourth toll on Route 27, take the exit onto Route 34 south and follow the coast all the way to Uvita. The drive takes about 3 1/2 hours and covers approximately 225 km.
If coming from the northern zone and the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport in Liberia, take Route 1, the Inter-American Highway, south towards San Jose approximately 135 km until veering west onto Route 23. After about 12 km, merge onto Route 27 Autopista José María Castro Madriz toward and past Port Caldera. The exit for Route 34 is located near to where Route 27 turns into a toll-road. Take Route 34, the Costanera, south all the way to Uvita and Bahia Ballena. The trip takes approximately 4:45 hours and covers about 310 km.
Places to Visit
Bahia Ballena and the Marino Ballena National Park are lined with stunning beaches interspersed by mangroves, estuaries, and river inlets. Foreigners pay $6 entrance fee to the park while locals pay $2. The park entrance includes access to nearby Colonia, Ballena, Arco, and Pinuela beaches so hold on to your entrance receipt.
The picturesque Ballena and Tres Hermanas islands, with their coral reefs and colorful array of marine life, are popular for kayaking, snorkeling, and scuba diving. Further inland, horseback riding, hiking and canopy tours are all local favorites and a great way to see the abundant wildlife and tropical environment.
Experienced and beginner surfers will be glad to know that there’s a break just for them. Ventanas, Chaman, and Hermosa beaches are the most popular and draw a large number of local surfers as well as tourists. Don’t miss Ventanas (Windows) beach—even if surfing isn’t for you. The small horse-shoe shoreline is bordered by steep coastal cliffs and ocean caves that can be explored during low tide.