Wildlife Preserves

The Costa Ballena contains several wildlife reserves, public and private, where your activities will include hiking, camping, rappelling, kayaking, bird watching. horseback and ATV exploration, zip-lining over rain forests and jungle, river rafting, waterfall swimming, and wildlife photography.

Ballena Marine National Park: Beachcombing, rock climbing, whale and dolphin watching, stunning sunsets, sports fishing, boating, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, and surfing – these are the activities that await you at the Costa Ballena’s magnificent marine park, Ballena Marine National Park. The park was created in 1990 to protect Costa Rica’s Pacific marine ecosystems. The park encompasses about 200 hectares of coastline and 5375 hectares of ocean. This park includes many natural habitats such as mangrove estuaries, sandy beaches, ocean cliffs, islands, shoals and rocky coast, water-carved caves, and coral reefs. Its beautiful coral reef and migrating whales have attracted tens of thousands of visitors.

The coral reef is very sparse, about half of its volume is empty, providing space for marine creatures of all sizes and for groups of marine animals to feed and breed. Five species of coral grow in the reefs, making the reefs visually diverse, a treasure for snorklers and scuba divers.

On land, the park boundaries begins on the north side at the Higuerón river and ends at Point Piñuela to the south. Out to sea, the boundaries extend out to enclose the coral reefs and the shoals of Point Uvita, Isla Ballena, and the Rocas Tres Hermanas.

The land and marine wildlife that inhabit the park include whales, dolphins, dozens of species of coral fish and a variety of other sea animals such as sponges mollusks, algaes, echinoderms and crabs. Land wildlife includes Green Marine iguanas, Olive Ridley turtles, and Hawksbill turtles. Flying above are several species of seabirds such as terns and gulls, Brown Boobies, Brown Noddys, Brown Pelicans, Sea Earwigs, Great Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, Frigatebirds, White Ibis, Neotropical Cormorant, Whimbrels, sandpipers, and many others.

Rancho La Merced National Wildlife Refuge comprises an area of about 1250 acres that contains a forest reserve, mangrove estuary, river frontage, pastureland and beaches. The forest area contains primary and secondary tropical forest, and the refuge is the habitat for hundreds of species of birds – over 300 species have already been identified. Both day- and night-time hikes are permitted for spotting and photographing frogs, snakes, lizards, uncountable species of insects as well as anteaters, sloths, opossums, raccoons, bats and other mammals.

La Hacienda Barú Wildlife Refuge is a private reserve that offers a special overnight campout deep in the rainforest. Getting to the camp requires a moderate hike, arriving in plenty of time to watch the sunset, then enjoy a typical dinner of local cuisine. Camera and lantern in hand, you’ll explore the surrounding rainforest in search of nocturnal animals, and finally retire to the tent camp (complete with shower.) Daytime activities at the Refuge include a canopy (zip-line) tour, tree rappelling, and rainforest, mangrove and beach hikes.

Oro Verde Nature Reserve is another small privately-owned reserve that is popular with bird-watchers. Hundreds of species of birds have been identified in this small reserve, its isolation provides a refuge from the tourist bustle that might frighten birds elsewhere. Oro Verde Nature Reserve is located north of Uvita, about 20 kilometers south of Dominical, up on the mountain by the small village of San Josecito.

The Terraba Sierpe mangrove forest provides outstanding opportunities for boating, bird watching and photography. As one of Central America’s largest mangrove swamps, this area provides habitat for more than 55 species of fish, three species of monkeys (the white-faced capuchin, squirrel and howler monkeys) and numerous rare birds, such as the red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), black mangrove (Avicennia germinans), white mangrove (Languncularia racemosa), and Mangle Piñuela (Pelliciera rhizophorae). Daytime boat tours cruise by iguanas, tree boas and other rare snakes, crocodiles, fruit bats, wading and colorful tropical birds such as herons, egrets, jacanas, scarlet macaws, toucans, and parrots. Night tours in the Sierpe mangrove forest and along the Terraba river let you observe the stealth and power of the native crocodiles.

Caño Island Biological Reserve is located about 12 miles from the Osa Penisula. There are daily boat tours from many towns and hotels along the coast, and overnight stays are not allowed. The main attractions of the island are swimming on the small beach, snorkeling and scuba diving, and visiting the archeological sites, a pre-Colombian settlement and cemetery. Pottery fragments and small, perfectly round stone spheres are still visible to visitors. Two hiking trails lead to the archeological sites and to overlooks with views of the ocean and mainland.

Corcovado National Park lies a short distance to the south of the Costa Ballena on the Osa Penisula. This is a large park with extraordinary ecosystems – often called the Amazon of Costa Rica, the park is estimated to contain 3% of the biodiversity in the Americas. The park is the largest preserved area of primary forest on a Pacific coastline, and is said to be “the most biologically intense place on Earth.” Estimates of the biodiversity are astounding – 500 tree species, 140 mammal species, 117 amphibian and reptile species, 367 bird species, 6,000 insect species, and 40 freshwater fish species take habitat in this park.
Encompassing about 54,500 hectares and protecting eight distinct habitat types, this park is the best example of Pacific Coastal Rainforest in Central America. Thousands of species of flora and fauna are protected here including mammals such as jaguars, anteaters, deer, spider, howler, and white-faced monkeys, sloths, coatis, raccoons, tapirs, agoutis, peccaries, and pumas.

The park also contains miles of solitary beaches, and other activities include snorkeling, kayaking, swimming, bird-watching, animal and bird photography, horseback riding, sport fishing, and hiking.

Manuel Antonio National Park is located north of the Costa Ballena by the town of Quepos. This is Costa Rica’s most popular and visited national park, and although there will often be many well-behaved visitors, this park is well worth the trip. Created in 1972, this was the smallest national park in Costa Rica, but the combination of crescent white sand beaches, unspoiled primary rain forest, and exotic wildlife entice visitors to return again and again. The park’s initial 682 hectares have recently been expanded to about 1,800 hectares, and feature a well-maintained trail network that allows visitors to easily visit the rocky headlands with their impressive beach and ocean views, access the beaches, and explore the forest without disturbing the plants and wildlife. In the forest, you’ll see lizards, iguanas, monkeys, snakes. sloths, coatimundis and hundreds of exotic birds – over 350 species of birds have been identified in the area. Marmosets, ocelots, river otters, pacas, and spectacled caimans have been spotted in the more remote river areas.

Manual Antonio national park also includes 12 small islands that serve as bird nesting sanctuaries. These islands are rocky with little to no vegetation, and should not be visited. The waters around the islands are home to dolphins, sponges, corals, crustaceans, and numerous fish species.

Other activities in and around the park include snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, surfing, fishing, sailing, river rafting, hiking, bird watching and photography, and canopy tours. Plan this trip in advance, as entry is limited to ensure the park remains unspoiled.