Ballena Marine National Park
The Ballena Marine National Park was created in February 1990 to protect the shoreline of Bahía de Coronado and includes Punta Uvita, several beaches (notably Playa Ballena), plus 4,500 hectares of water surrounding Isla Ballena. The park extends south for 15 km from Uvita to Punta Piñuela, and about 15 km out to sea.
The park harbors within its relatively small area important mangroves and the largest coral reef on the Pacific coast of Central America. Green marine iguanas live on algae in the saltwater pools. They litter the golden-sand beaches like prehistoric jetsam, their bodies angled at 90 degrees to catch the sun’s rays most directly. Once they reach 37? C, they pop down to the sea for a bite to eat. Olive ridley and hawksbill turtles come ashore May-November to lay their eggs (September and October are the best months to visit). Common and bottle-nosed dolphins frolic offshore. And the bay is the southernmost mating site for the humpback whale, which migrates from Alaska, Baja California, and Hawaii (Dec.-April).
Snorkeling is good close to shore during low tides. You can also reach the island at the tip of Punta Uvita at low tide to discover corals, sponges, and sea anemones. There are caves worth exploring. Isla Ballena and the rocks known as Las Tres Hermanas (The Three Sisters) are havens for frigate birds and boobies as well as pelicans and even ibises. Whales tend to congregate near Las Tres Hermanas.
Despite protection, shrimp fishermen still fish with impunity close to shore using gill nets that are indiscriminate about the species they trap. And erosion and sedimentation resulting from construction of the coastal highway have killed off at least 60 percent of the coral reef.
Information: The ranger station and park headquarters, tel./fax 786-7161, is beside the beach at Hacienda Bahía, three km south of Uvita. There’s another ranger station at Playa Piñuela, at the southern end of the park. Nominally the entrance fee is $6, but a fee seems to be charged only rarely. You can camp on the beach. The ranger stations have water.
Getting There: You can hire a boat and guide at any of the fishing hamlets between Palmar and the park, or in Dominical or Uvita, to take you to the reef or Isla Ballena (about $30 per hour, $45 two hours)