Traveling with Stephy

Costa Ballena travel guide: all you need to know

Located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, Costa Ballena is the region of Ojochal, Uvita, and Dominical. Costa Ballena is well-known for its good living life, great and wild beaches, and wildlife. We had the chance to spend a week around there and we couldn’t start our trip to Costa Rica in a better way. That is why  I share my Costa Ballena travel guide that gathers all you need to know to enjoy the area to the fullest!

Costa Ballena is in the South Western part of Costa Rica. One big advantage of the area is that it is easily accessible either by car or by public transportation. For instance, Tracopa buses go directly from San Jose to Uvita in a little more than 4 hours. Then, you can reach either Dominical or Ojochal by a local bus by adding 20 to 30 minutes more. 

“Keep in mind that in Costa Rica, the bus schedule is not that accurate. You will need to wait a lot before getting the right bus. Moreover, I noticed that each bus company has its price for the same journey. Pura Vida!”

From San José (Calle 5 - Tracopa bus station) to Uvita Info Center
6025 colons per person
4:00 hours

From Uvita Info Center to Ojochal
900 colons per person
30 minutes

Where to stay in Costa Ballena?

Coast Ballena is home to three main towns, which gives you enough choice for all types of accommodation.

  • Dominical: is the surf town of Costa Ballena with many artisanal shops and restaurants. 
  • Uvita: is located in the middle of Costa Ballena with a lot of tours starting from there and main buses coming from/to.
  • Ojochal: is the perfect location to escape from the crowd and be surrounded by intense jungle. This is more an ex-pat village than a tourist town.
We stayed in a little cabin in Ojochal for a week and we had a blast! The place has it all with a furnished kitchen and bathroom. Above all, we were surrounded by a jungle with no neighbors, so we got a lot of opportunities to encounter wildlife. We saw many times capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, and toucans!

It is up to you to stay in one place only or to stay in different places during your stay in Costa Ballena. I prefer enjoying one place and moving around from it.
“We didn’t have a car and did all of our trips by public bus. It’s ok to do so, but if you have the budget, I highly recommend renting a car. Indeed, sometimes we weren’t able to do what we wanted because of the bus schedule.”

How long to stay in Costa Ballena?

Costa Ballena is packed with lots of unspoiled beaches and intense jungle. Therefore, there are many things to do from beach hopping to trekking in the rainforest. To enjoy the area to the fullest and take time, I strongly advise you to stay at least one week in the region. 

How to move around Costa Ballena?

As budget travelers, we always get around by public transportation. Some buses go from one town to the other. From our experience, if you can and have the budget to do so, we highly recommend renting a car. Indeed, the bus schedule in Costa Rica is not very accurate and the journey can take much more time than announce before. Moreover, the bus stops are mostly located on the main road. Consequently, in case you want to go to a remote place, far away from the main road, you will need to grab a taxi. This is why, in my opinion, a car could be a great option if possible to go freely from any place you want at any time. 

“During the dry season (from November to April), you don’t need a 4×4 car to move around.”

What to do in Costa Ballena?

Costa Ballena offers a beautiful coastline and a lush jungle and mountain scenery. Therefore, you will have lots of things to do around the area from beach hopping to trekking into the rainforest.

Ballena MarinE National Park

Ballena Marino National Park is a great mix of wild beaches, lush jungles, and mountains in the backdrop. As a national park, the place is protected by rangers and an entrance fee of 6 dollars per person (+ tax) has to be paid.

How to get there? 
If you come by car, there is a paid parking lot at the main entrance. By bus, either stop at Uvita Info center or Uvita town Center depending on your bus route.
  • From Uvita Info Center to the park is 35 minutes on foot.
  • From Uvita Town Center to the park is 20 minutes on foot.
What to do?
Do not miss the Whale tale on Uvita Beach, which is visible during low tide (approximately from 11:30 am to 5:00 pm during summer time). The experience is unique since you walk through the ocean which is divided and arrive at a sandbank that constitutes the tail of the whale. If you are lucky, you can even spot whales!
Along the beaches of Marino Ballena National Park, there is a parallel path that leads you into the jungle. This is the perfect place to get some fresh air and hide from the sun for a while.
“Don’t do the same mistake as us and take enough water and food with you because there is no restaurant or shop close by. “

Whale watching tour

We didn’t do any whale-watching tours during our stay in Costa Ballena but the attraction is the most popular in the area. Indeed, the coastline is famous for its whales living (almost) all year around. More specifically, two whale migrations come here, one from the North and one from the South. So, you must get a great chance to see some humpback whales during your stay in Costa Ballena!

How to get there? 
All the tour operators offering Whale watching tours are mainly located in Uvita Center. You can reach Uvita Center easily either by public bus or car. The easiest way to book a tour is directly on the Internet. Therefore, you will get info about the meeting point or pick-up location.
“As per my research, all tour operators offer a tours with a small boat of dozens of people and they all deliver sustainable tours, which is amazing!”

Haciend Barù

Hacienda Baru is a protected reserve packed with 8 kilometers of trails into the jungle and an eco-lodge with cute cabins. On top of that, the Hacienda Baru eco-lodge reserve offers several guided tours through the reserve from the guided walk, and zipline to the night walk (from $ USD 36 to $ USD 52 per person).

How to get there? 
If you come by car, there is a free parking lot just in front of the reception. If you take the public bus, the best way to get to Hacienda Baru is to head to Dominical. Then, either take a taxi (about 3000 colons) or take the bus that goes to Quepos and ask the driver to drop you off at Hacienda Baru lodging (which is located close to the main road).
What to do?
We did only the self-guided hike (US$ 15 per person) and it was amazing! The entrance fees give you access to the whole reserve and the five trails. Most of the hikes are easy to level, except the one that goes up in the mountains which is fairly difficult with stairs.
I advise you to spend half a day walking through the reserve to enjoy all the secrets that the jungle has to offer. The reserve is the perfect location to spot a lot of wildlife such as sloths, coatis, capuchin monkeys, raccoons, peccaries, and more! 
We had the chance to encounter all these animals mentioned above and we even had the ultimate luck to spot 4 sloths during our morning there. It was magical!!! We will never forget our encounter with a female sloth and her newborn baby. They were standing like 2 meters away from us. We didn’t see them immediately but by chance, looking for capuchins, we stopped our hike and spotted them! The cutest thing ever!!! We were dying of seeing sloths in the wild for so long, so you can imagine we got a lot of emotions coming out.
“To spot wildlife and take all chances on your side, you should visit the reserve early in the morning.”

Nauyaca waterfalls

Nauyaca falls are the most impressive waterfalls of Costa Ballena! Indeed, the waterfalls are a combination of two streams of a total of 60 meters approximately.

How to get there?

From Dominical, you need to take the bus that goes to San Isidro de El General airport. There is a bus stop just in front of the entrance of the park.

What to do?

There are different ways to reach Nauyaca falls. 

  • The first and cheapest option is by foot with a 6-kilometer hike through the primary forest. The hike can be very steep at some point so, I recommend putting on hiking shoes or sneakers at least. No flip-flop. This option is only feasible if you don’t have a car to park in.
  • The second option is to come by car and let it 2-kilometer down the reception. In this case, you will skip the steepest part of the hike (which is great). However, this option is more expensive than the first one.
  • The third option is to be dropped off by a trolley ride if you don’t want or cannot hike down the 6-kilometer hike. This is the most expensive option to reach Nauyaca falls.
Nauyaca falls is divided into two parts, including one where you can swim into it! So take your swimsuit!
“The water in the natural pool is very refreshing. I  then advise you to take a change of clothes and towel for after your swim!”

Enjoy the coastline

Ballena’s coastline is packed with beautiful and wild beaches such as:
  • Playa Dominical: great for surfing 
  • Playa Uvita: great for relaxing at the beach 
  • Playa Tortuga: great for long walks and sunset
Enjoy the Pura Vida at the beach!

Volunteer at Reserva Playa Tortuga

If you have time, you should volunteer a day at Reserva Playa Tortuga, a non-profit research and educational center. We had the chance to spend 2 days at this center and we learned a lot! On top of that, we lived a once-in-a-lifetime experience by releasing baby sea turtles into the ocean.

How to get there?
If you come by car, there is a free parking lot close by. Otherwise, by public bus, stop at Ojochal and then walk 300 meters to reach the small path that leads to Playa Tortuga. You will see a sign of Reserva Playa Tortuga from the main road.
What to do?
During our 2-day of volunteering, we notably helped out in the sea turtles nursery and released baby turtles into the ocean (2 times), we also walked through the jungle to do a monkey survey (we saw a large group of capuchin monkeys with babies), and finally helped clean the butterfly garden and released new butterflies.
“Be prepared to have your hands dirty and be under the sun. So, I strongly advise you to take appropriate clothes such as sport short, a long sleeve shirt, and water shoes (if you need to cross rivers to release turtles into the ocean or during your walk in the jungle).”

In conclusion

To sum up, Costa Ballena is a great spot to enjoy a mix of unspoiled beaches, intense jungle, and wildlife encounters. Moreover, renowned for its biodiversity, Costa Ballena is the ideal place for nature and adventure lovers!

We had an amazing week in the region and can certainly recommend visiting the area to enjoy the Pura Vida! I sincerely hope that through this Costa Ballena travel guide, you will be able to enjoy your time there and love it as much as we did!

Check out all my posts related to Costa Rica here to get more tips and travel guides.

Sending you lots of love,

Share it on:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Not authorized.