Things that you have to kept in mind when you take a Whale Watching tour, tips, suggestions and standards

Recommendations and Regulations for Whale and Dolphin Watching tour


Marino Ballena National Park, located in the South Pacific just 3 hours from San José, is a favorite area for watching whales and dolphins in Costa Rica. In this lush protected area, you may see many species of whales and dolphins, moving their tails or making acrobatic leaps, as do the humpback whales. Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeanglia) is the whale species which is sighted the most in the area, this mammal is as big as a school bus. Many of these whales are born in the warm, calm and shallow waters, Costa Rica, but migrate to colder areas with high food availability, both in the southern hemisphere and northern hemisphere to feed, returning to the tropics to mate and give birth.

From December to March, visitors to the Marino Ballena National Park (MBNP) can see whales coming from the north, and from July to October, humpback whales from the southern hemisphere, in one of the longest migrations of any mammal world done by any mammal.

Less frequently than the humpback, near the Ballena Bay area there have been encounters with Bryde's whale (Balaenoptera edeni), one of the lesser-known whales to date, but unlike the hunchback, lives its entire life in tropical water offshore. In Costa Rica, the sighting of whales and dolphins is done from boats sailing in protected natural areas and animals are in captivity or being trained, so we can not guarantee 100% sighting. However, most of the time it is possible to appreciate spotted dolphins and bottlenose dolphins (the famous pinball), but in this national park, unlike those who are confined to small pools, large groups more than 20 individuals and performing natural behaviors can be observed. On many occasions, they come to the boat sighting, but it must not interfere with their behavior. In addition to dolphins and whales in the MBNP, there is the opportunity to observe birds, turtles traveling in search of beaches to spawn, as well as rays and colorful tropical fish that inhabit coral beds and rocky areas where you can snorkel and Punta Uvita, Ballena Island and Three Sisters and the Caño Island Biological Reserve. Most tour companies Marino Ballena National Park offer the combo tour, which specializes in finding whales and dolphins. They also sail near the coast to appreciate the striking geological formations (caves, the isthmus of Punta Uvita and islets) and provide equipment for snorkelling when water conditions are appropriate. The tours start between 8 and 9 am and end at noon. In high season, tours are usually offered in the evening, leaving between 12 and 1 pm.

Suggestions for tourists

The advantage of hiring a tour in the community of Ballena Marine National Park, is that you can choose from any of the companies that have adopted a system of Best Practices in Responsible Marine Tourism. With this, visitors are guaranteed the completion of a tour quality that protects their safety, have a guide onboard to make your experience more interesting and also the company takes care of marine ecosystems and contributes to community development local. We recommend that you make sure the boat you are going to take your tour has the liability policy that covers you in case of an accident, life jackets, rescue rings, radio equipment, first aid kit and, of course, Captains and trained guides. In the case of the tour operators Marino Ballena National Park, these tools are part of the Safe Practices that make up the voluntary system has adopted.

One of the most important practices is the introductory lecture you will receive at the start of the tour, where, among other particulars, reports that it must maintain a life jacket during the tour and stay in your seat while the boat is sailing. If you and your family care for the safety instructions given by the tour guide, will spend a good time.

What to bring?
  • Camera
  • Hat or cap
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunblock
  • Swimsuit and towel
  • Water or sports drink
  • Sandals
  • Binoculars
  • Comfortable and fresh cloth
  • Handbags impermeable to carry your items


Ballena Marine Park and surrounding areas have temperatures between 26 and 29 ® C (80 to 85 F), therefore, is recommended to wear light clothing, suitable for heat and an appropriate bathing suit to enjoy the tour comfortably, taking into account that will be exposed to sea water and sand.

While most boats have a roof that protects you partly from the sun, sunscreen must be applied before boarding the boat, so it can be absorbed into your skin properly. It is advisable to use sunscreens that are biodegradable, so as not to leave more pollution in the sea. You should wear a hat and sunglasses.

Other items that we remind you to take are sandals, towel, camera (underwater camera is recommended if you do snorkelling or scuba diving). Ensure that your luggage size is small, waterproof bag is recommended if you want your belongings from getting wet.

A sports drink or water is never underestimated, although most tours include a bottle of water and fruits during the trip. It is important to remember that no alcoholic beverages are allowed during these tours, or in any protected area (National Park) in Costa Rica.

A Careful Tourist

The proximity of the vessels may affect cetaceans (dolphins and whales), both by collisions and by the noise the boats produce. They are acoustic animals, many of their behaviors in socialization, feeding, courtship, require a complex system of sounds to be successful.

If you want to contribute to keep these wonderful animals that inhabit our seas, we recommend to pay attention to the following:

  • There are certain rules that captains must follow to not affect whales and dolphins. Assist these to be standards are met, do not press the master or guide to approach closer to the animals or stay longer than established.
  • In the presence of whales or dolphins boats must sail slowly (more slowly than the dolphin that swims more slowly). The boat should not interrupt the swimming direction of the animals, or come between them. The form of approximation must be from behind and slightly to one side in the same direction as the animals swim.
  • Report to the administration of the company or by any means, the captain or guide that is acting improperly.
  • Do not feed animals or dispose waste at sea.
  • Be quiet when you are around animals.
  • Sudden changes in the direction of swimming, speed and other signals are indicators of discomfort in animals. The appropriate thing to do is to leave the area immediately. If these signals are not present, it is not convenient to stay for more than 30 minutes with a group and for over 15 with mother and baby.
  • For your safety and in order not to affect the animals, the laws of Costa Rica ban swimming with whales.

It is said that humpback males are the best singers among the cetaceans. The part of the courtship song is performed by the male during the breeding season to woo their females. Some guides carry hydrophone equipment with which you can listen to these songs. However, if the tours operate incorrectly, they can cause serious damage to the survival of these organisms. If we implement and monitor that the standards (which are summarized in box) are respected by reducing one of the many threats they are exposed to the whales and dolphins.

From the expert:
Catalina Molina Bustamante

If you want take the whale & dolphin watching tour, here you will find the list with all the companies who offer this tour, kept in mind that this is an open list, and anybody could be listed here, Keto Foundation is not recommending any of them, that is only a service of, a single place where you can see all the offer in the area:

Whale and Dolphin Watching Tour

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