Let’s be honest – nothing is more romantic than a day at the beach.
And for nature lovers, nothing beats a day at the beach and a boat ride to see several species of dolphins, snorkeling in a coral reef next to an island famous for sea-bird nesting, and doing it all in a region National Geographic has claimed to be “the most biologically intense place on Earth.”
A day with the dolphins in Uvita – That’s what I call a good date.
This weekend, Pablo and I hunkered down in a tent at Cabinas Ballenas in Uvita, Costa Rica. We only had 18 hours to celebrate our “Dia de amor y Amistad” so we decided to save money on the room (we opted for a tent with an air mattress for $16.00) and splurge on a dolphin and whale tour the next morning.
Being February, we knew the chance of a whale sighting was little to none, but we decided that $50 was an ok price for a 3-4 hour tour with the chance to see some of nature’s smartest animals (and one’s that I am personally obsessed with). Plus, the additional snorkeling off the coast of the famous “whale’s tail” was hard to resist; it’s a place that’s hard to miss on the map of Costa Rica and we – like many tourists – were drawn to the idea of discovering what waited under the waves of a national park known for its marine life.
We were enroute to the Marina Ballena National Park by 8:30am, and within the hour we were aboard a 30-person boat with 22 other eager travelers, suited up in orange life vests with cameras in-hand.
The trip began with a quick tour of the coast, visiting the famed “Playa Ventanas” (Window Beach) to get a glimpse of the rock formations and series of sea caves that have cut channels through the mountains over the years, creating “windows” and tunnels along the coast. The boat drifted among the rocks, giving ample opportunities to glance through each opening and watch as the tide surged through the arches.
Picking up speed, our guide caught wind that a pod of dolphins was following another tour boat 7 kilometers out, so we headed into open ocean. In the Osa Peninsula, it’s not uncommon to see massive groups of dolphins – up to 500 in number – but in this case we came upon a small family, probably between 20-30 dolphins. After seeing the first few fins, our boat came to a halt, creating massive ripples and replacing the white wake with smooth water. Several minutes of anticipation later, a woman on the boat pointed below and the show began. For the hour following everyone excitedly pointed in all directions as bottle nose dolphins raced beneath the boat, surfacing right at the bow, then shooting across to another boat to surf in its wake. Several dolphins surprised the group by jumping completely out of the water, and several times they seemed to disappear completely only to resurface just feet away.
The crystal clear water is what, in our opinion, made the experience so incredible. Seeing such huge animals dart beneath the boats underwater and surf in the wake without ever breaking the surface or making a sound was surreal. Dolphins in Uvita have gotten used to these boats and as a result are comfortable swimming close and playing in the boat’s wake.
We left the dolphins just as several other boats were showing up and headed to Isla Ballena, a popular nesting site for sea birds due to the non-existence of predators (though the guide did say that some brave iguanas have endured the several-hour swim to feast on eggs). At the base of the island is where our boat shut off the engine, passed out masks and snorkels, and let us jump in. Pablo was the first one off the boat, diving off the side in eagerness to cool off. With our masks on and jackets tethered to our wrists – to show boats we were there – we swam towards the rock outcroppings in search of life. Almost immediately we came upon a large Dorado fish about fifteen feet below, followed by several massive starfish and some smaller, more colorful fish darting out from under a coral shelf. While the variety and colors did not compare to my experience in Bocas del Toro, Panama – the conditions and visibility were great for exploring. After about an hour in the water – the guides had to whistle until we noticed we were the only ones left in the water – we boarded the boated and headed towards land. We ended the tour with complimentary fresh fruit and a quick walk along the beach.
Even without whale sightings or massive pods of dolphins and fish, we had a great time and would recommend the tour to anyone looking to get to know the Marina Ballena National Park. In Uvita there are multiple operators running the same tour and dolphin sightings are nearly guaranteed year-round.