Catch A Glimpse Of Whales At This Central America National Park

Of all the creatures on earth, there can be few more awe-inspiring than whales. Aside from their sheer size, these majestic animals communicate through a series of highly complex and still little-understood sounds. Intelligent and social, they also live longer than any other mammal. So, the chance to see humpback whales in the wild, as you can at the Ballena National Marine Park in Costa Rica, is something not to be missed.

Found on the Pacific Coast of Central America, in South Puntarenas, this vast marine park spans 9 miles of pristine coastline. Taking in coral reefs, beautiful beaches, and mangrove forests, it's a true natural paradise in every way. Here, visitors can experience everything from canyoning, cascading waterfalls, and coastal walks, to swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving. And that's not to mention simply taking in the park's rich fauna and flora. Among the animals that can be spotted here are macaws, monkeys, and even sloths.

However, nothing can beat the most magical experience of them all. Namely, the chance to see the humpback whales that come here on their annual migration between July and October. Renowned for their hauntingly beautiful "songs", which can travel many miles, the humpback is also one of the best species for whale-watching. As well as coming close to the shore, they often play near the surface, sometimes even leaping out of the water in a dramatic display of power and grace. So, this really is an encounter quite unlike any other.

A brief introduction to humpback whales

Named after the distinctive hump on their backs, these impressive animals can grow to be 39 to 52 feet in length. They can also live to be 80 to 90 years old. Despite their large size, humpbacks are harmless to humans, feeding only on small sea creatures. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said the other way round. At one stage, populations were so depleted that the humpback whale was listed as an endangered species. Thankfully, though, numbers have been recovering in recent years.

While humpback whales can be found in every ocean across the world, the population here in Costa Rica is a particularly special one. Incredibly, their epic migration from the feeding grounds of Antarctica to the breeding areas of Ballena National Marine Park along the Costa Rica coastline, sees them clock up more than 5,000 miles.

Although humpback whales can be spotted here at various times of the year, thanks to a secondary population that heads south from Alaska, the high point is around late-summer/early-fall. It's at this time that migrating whale mothers from Antarctica head into the balmy waters to give birth. So, who knows, if you are very lucky, you might even get to see one of the humpback calves.

The many wonders of whale-watching

While you may be fortunate enough to spot a whale from the shoreline, one of the best options is to join an organized boat tour. Among the companies offering these are Bahia AventurasDolphin Tours, and Tucanes Tours. As well as knowing the best spots, the experts will get you much closer to the action, which really can't be beaten. In addition, you will also stand a good chance of seeing dolphins, too, as both the spotted and bottlenose varieties frequent these waters. Other species you might encounter include hammerhead sharks, manta rays, and parrotfish.

Aside from the joy of seeing the humpbacks up close, whale-lovers really will be in their element at this special location. Not only is the park itself named after this iconic species — "ballena" is the Spanish word for whale — but there is also an enormous sandbar here shaped liked a whale's tail. There's even an annual environmental event, the Costa Rica Whales and Dolphins Festival, that celebrates the arrival of the humpback whales with various activities.

On a practical note, the Ballena National Marine Park is easily accessible, too, with four official access routes via the Inter-American Highway South. Open from Monday to Sunday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., the park has an entry fee of only $6, and it's free for children under age 11 and seniors. If you've ever dreamed of seeing whales in real life, it's hard to think of a more perfect place than this idyllic spot.