Costa Ballena Activities



On your visit to the Ballena Coast you can choose to just lie around the pool and maybe visit the Whales Tale at low tide and have a great dinner in Ojochal. But should you decide that you would like to be a bit more active (adventurous) there are literally dozens of activities, tours, attractions and just interesting places to explore within an hour of here.  If you are looking to stay in the area we can highly recommend this airbnb we stayed in not far from Uvita center.

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Where the wild life finds you attractive.


Located “where the mountains meet the sea” and not too far from some of the most interesting national parks in Costa Rica; Manuel Antonio Park, Parque Marina Ballena and Corcovado N.P. this area offers both mountain adventures and river tours like rafting, kayaking, exploring waterfalls, ATV tours, tubing, canyoning (that means “jumping off high waterfalls with a rope around your waist and hoping that you will slow down before you get to the rocks below) as well as beach/ocean activities like kayaking, surfing, snorkeling, boogie boarding, whale watching, boat tours, deep sea and inshore fishing and just plain swimming in the surf.

From La Mariposa to the Pacific


Before swimming at any beach learn something about "rip currents" - if you do not understand rip currents, do not go out of your depth in the water while swimming.

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Stay safe, understand rip currents


Beyond the water and mountain activities, there are some fantastic day trips that can be made like the trip to the Dota region in the high mountains of Talamanca, to see the Resplendent Quetzal in its natural habitat. That’s two hours from sea level to over 2200 meters (over 7,000 feet) and from hot tropical beaches to cool cloud forests. It’s less than two hours to visit the Boruca indigenous village high in the mountains above the Tarcoles River (best indigenous art in Costa Rica) or on Thursdays and Fridays, in less than an hour, you can visit the largest farmer’s market in the southern zone in San Isidro de General, the center of the world for 250,000 people from Dota to the Panama border.

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Some time ago is today at Boruca village


Given all of the options available and the fact that you will probably have less than twenty years for your holiday, you will have to make some hard choices.  Here's a list to get started with:

jungle atv tours on streamDarn! It's a jungle out there


For those among you who are more inclined toward motorized transport than horseback, Jungle ATV fills the bill. With both single quads and dual seat 4X4 ATV’s you have the option to explore where and how you wish.  This is a very scenic tour that takes you over several mountain ranges and into the deep jungle providing amazing ocean & valley views, stream crossings, coffee & banana plantations and a bamboo forest that you won’t believe.  


There are at least a dozen beaches within a five to twenty minute drive from Uvita; each distinct from the others and every one beautiful.  Each beach has its own personality and flavor. All are for the public use and have public access (a legal requirement in Costa Rica), but those that are part of the National Park System or are maintained by the local community, will collect entrance fees. In general, all beaches are best frequented up to 3 hours after low tide. NOTE: National Parks closed on Mondays.

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Some days our beaches are almost empty except for some extra prettiness a frequent visitor may bring

San Martin Beach

Location: A few km north of Uvita.  Park near the highway and walk down the rocky road. Description: Lots of rocks with interesting inter-tidal pools where you will find lots of tiny ocean life in a microcosm. A pretty beach around low tide. Very secluded.

Roca Verde Beach

Location: North towards Dominical. Turn left at Roca Verde Restaurant and park there. Bar/Restaurant Roca Verde is a great place for lunch or an ice cold beer after coming in off the beach

Dominical Beach

Location: North towards Dominical. Turn left into the village of Dominical and pass through town until you hit the water. Park anywhere along the beach.  Description: Very long, picturesque and popular with surfers. Good for boogie boarding and surfing. Not a swimming beach due to the currents - better swimming beaches are in Uvita.

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Dominicalito Beach and fishermen's harbor

Dominicalito Beach

North towards Dominical. Turn left at sign for “La Parcela Restaurant”.
Description: Nice around low tide. Photogenic and a good sunset watching spot. Many fishing boats leave from here, as it is a natural harbor.

Guapil Beach

Location: North towards Dominical. Go over the bridge at Dominical, heading toward Quepos. Turn left past the gas station (2 km. from bridge). When at Hacienda Baru, it is good to park in their parking lot and go on the walking trails to the beach. No worries about your car in their parking lot.  Description: Very long with palm trees lining beach. Totally uncrowded. You can drive on road adjoining the beach.

Playa Pinuela

South from Uvita. Near a good seafood soda. Look for the sign. Being part of the park system, they charge an entrance fee.  Description: Popular with locals.

Hermosa Beach

Location: North towards Dominical off highway with two entrances at north end, clearly marked and easily accessible. This is only one of two beaches with lifeguards as well has snacks and beach stuff for sale. It’s not nearly as deserted as it used to be but it’s a whole lot safer.  Description: This is the 4 mile-long beach seen from the Rancho and Las Rocas. Great for walking and surfing. Now, with lifeguards, it has become a more popular beach and there are fruit stands, and other people selling things at stands.

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The famous lifegaurds of Playa Hermosa

Playa Linda (AKA 2 Towers Beach)

Very private beautiful beach north of the Dominical bridge with police check point past Dominical. You will see large bushes on right with lots of white flowers and then up ahead 2 cell phone towers on left. Turn left onto this dirt road and follow til there is a turn to right or left. To the right is usually less crowded if there is anyone there at all. Not many gringos know about this beach and during the week, you will probably be the only ones there. There is a guy (Tico) that sells cold coconut milk (aqua pipa) on the beach. Buy some even if you don’t think you like it. He cleans the beach, picks up the dead palm fronds and generally maintains the area better than a national park. He is worth whatever you give him. 

Puerto Nuevo Beach

North towards Dominical highway from Uvita. Entrance is a litte bumpy when you leave the highway and unless you have a 4WD with high clearance, we suggest that you leave your car up by the road and walk down the slope to the beach. Description: Very pretty with its palms, rocky point and large rock poking out of nowhere. Hardly ever anyone there.

Playas Uvita and Bahia

Location: The main beaches in Uvita. There are signs pointing to "Ballena National Park". Coming from Dominical area t urn after 2nd B M supermarket at Cabinas Gato and continue straight down the paved road to the entrance to the beach.   Description: This is part of the Ballena Marine National Park (pronounced "bah-YAY-na" and means "whale"). Don't miss this classic spot as this is where you access the "Whale's Tail" sand split. A very enjoyable outing is the walk out to the point 1/2 mile offshore towards the end of low tide. The best return to shore is when the water is lapping at your feet, giving you the sense of walking on water. Here are the gentlest waters in the area offering good safe swimming for the entire family. Fantastic sunset-watching opportunities as well. There is a small fee at park entrance. This money goes to help the local community as they provide the upkeep, restrooms, and showers.

Playa Colonial

Just north of Uvita. After turning right off of main highway, turn left at the first intersection (Tienda Dona Julia on far right corner - pay phone in front). Continue along this road all the way to the beach. An entrance fee applies here, too (if someone is at the gate).  This is the southern extension to the Bahia/Uvita beaches. Wide and usually gentle, especially around low tide. Often locals give horseback rides here along the beach for reasonable prices. Surfers like it here, too and some have claimed this is the best beach for body surfing.

Ballena and Arco Beaches

South of Uvita just after The GoatHouse. Sign says Playa Ballena. They might charge an entrance fee, so don't be surprised.  Beautiful beaches. Go at low tide. While Ballena seems like the typical long rather shade less beach, it is really Arco Beach that is the hidden jewel. From the parking lot walk about 1 km north along Ballena beach until it seems like it dead ends into a small cove which will be filled with water at high tide. Continue walking straight into the woods and cross over the low ocean bluff using the trail. A very short walk later will bring you to the privacy of Arco Beach and its fun cave - one of the prettiest beaches in Costa Rica. Bring a snack or a picnic if low tide comes at that time of the day as you won't want to leave!.

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Jolly Roger Bar - best wings on the planet?
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Cool caves at low or high tide

Playa Ventanas

Location: South from Uvita. Turn right onto newly made road which takes you all the way to the beach now. You need to go through a small stream, so may need to go into 4WD if stream is high. Famous for the sea caves kayakers cruise through.This beach is a beautiful bay surrounded by tall trees.  A must see at LOW TIDE.  Entrance fee.  Although not as intriguing as it once was before the road was built, one can still enjoy the tunnels at low tide when the water is only ankle deep. At high tide they become “blow-holes” and offer high drama.


Here again, our unique geographical position and diversified terrain makes the Ballena Coast one of the best areas in Costa Rica for bird watching.  With over 900 species of birds in Costa Rica (according to the Audubon Society) In the past ten years our area, the Fila Costeña, has participated in six CBCs and identified more than 425 species of birds between the coast and the Tinamastes ridge.  

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A Toucan tree that day

Add to that the high altitude cloud forests of the central mountain range, less than two hours away, and you have the possibility of spotting dozens more.   In fact, a local “birder,” Brian Nice identified 139 species while sitting on his porch!

With Hacienda Baru Wildlife Preserve less than 20 minutes away and encompassing over 800 acres of wetlands, primary forest and rainforest, the bird-watching possibilities are enormous.  If one chooses not to “go it alone” with a day pass, Hacienda Baru offers both lowland bird hikes (secondary forest and mangroves) and rainforest birding tours, where the dense forest provides unlimited hiding places, and birding here is definitely hard work.  A guide is definitely recommended.  With a little luck, you will be rewarded with sightings of some of the more elusive birds such as: trogons, motmots, antshrikes, manakins, tinamous, curasows and others.  Besides the local (within 15 minutes) bird watching possibilities,

Manuel Antonio National Park  and La Cusinga Lodge (north of Uvita) offer even the most avid bird watcher more potential thrills than can be had in almost any country in the world.    

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Pretty obvious I am not a surfer?


So you don’t want to take the time nor suffer the potential trauma to learn surfing don’t worry. You can still take advantage of the steady surf on the Costa Ballena (Whale Coast.)

Plenty of places have boogie boards for your use and with a little practice, you can be sliding down the face of some great waves in no time.


Not everything to do here involves intense physical activity, mortal danger or finely honed motor skills. Sometimes you just want to drive around and explore the area and maybe absorb a bit of the local culture. Some ideas . . . 

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Perez zeledon aka San Isidro

Farmers’ Market at San Isidro de General

Every week from early Thursday morning until about noon on Friday, hundreds of farmers (agricultures) come to San Isidro to sell their goods in the largest indoor facility in the Southern Zone.

Find amazing tropical fruits and vegetables and even if you are not interested in purchasing, the locals will be happy to give you samples and tell you how it is used/eaten. If you are looking for something in particular and you can’t seem to find it, ask any of the sellers in any of the stalls. They will take it upon themselves to help you and will lead you around while asking the other vendors when it might be found.

Never, in any venue have we found more people with more willingness to help. I suppose that it is both the natural Costa Rican philosophy of “que toda se queda bien” or “that everything turns out well” as well as the normal tendency of the campesinos, (country people) to help each other to “get by.”

Boruca indigenous village

The Borucans are the only tribe never to be defeated by the Spanish conquistadores in part because they live the area of the southern valley of the Terraba River with the main village high in the mountains overlooking the fantastic views of the valley.

Known primarily for their “fiesta de los diablitos” at the end of the year, this tribe has been celebrating the struggle between themselves and the Spanish for hundreds of years. Dressed in hop-sacks and corn husks and wearing fierce “devil” masks, they struggle day and night for three days with one of the villagers, selected anonymously by a few of the tribal leaders, to wear the mask of the bull, representing the Spanish conquistadores.  This is their biggest tourist attraction.

When I asked a few years ago, how the tourist response was, I was told, “Great, this year we had twelve tourists!” This gives you the idea that this trip may be a bit off the normal tourist route.

Your visit is something you may remember your whole life where you may get a personal demonstration of their centuries old weaving and mask making.

Probably, the tribe is best known for elaborate carving and painting masks to symbolize those worn during their festival de los diablitos. It’s a day that you will long remember and something to “tell the kids back home.”

This drive should be done only in a 4WD and not in the afternoons of the rainy season.

Kayaking with Jorge in Sierpe

This is the real hidden gem of this web page and a must visit for everyone in the area. If you would like the tide and current to do most of the work, try the jungle kayaking along the Sierpe River. Launching from Perla del Sur (ask for Jorge) according to the high tide (that’s right, the tide affects the current of the river) your private guide will “put in” several miles upstream from the center of the village of Sierpe and you will spend the next couple of hours easily drifting downstream through dark jungle and bamboo stands, teeming with wildlife; amazing birds, three species of monkeys, Boa Constrictors, and Crocodiles. You will feel so darned “jungle explorer” Remember to dress the part so the pictures you send home show how amazing you really are. It’s also remarkably affordable! Comibe this with Boruca and or the extraordinary stone balls of Finca Seis and you have a big day trip you will never forget.

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We find the best shots kayaking in the mangroves of Sierpe


You can find small panga fishermen and guides on the main beach here in Uvita or check around the area with your hosts who may "have a guy". Our hosts (the famous Daryl from the formerly famous Shelter from the Storm who wrote most of this stuff told us one day “I’ve got a guy..” Captain Isidro, a local fisherman with a twenty-two foot panga (boat) with an awning will take you out “inshore fishing” (four or five kilometers from shore) for mackerel, rooster fish, snapper, tuna and lots of fish that are smaller than fifty pounds. With a full day, he also provides lunch! He has really nice fishing tackle, baits the hook, tells you when you have a bite and, once near the boat, he grabs the line, pulls it in and in 90 seconds you have fillets! Also, if you get tired of just fishing, he will stop so you can go snorkeling, or as happened to him once, if a whale surfaces near your boat, he’ll just pull in the lines and go whale watching (but that’s a whole different category in “stuff to do.” Some of the most amazing deep sea fishing in the world can be had off the South Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Since we have no protected marina (yet) on the Ballena Coast, most of the deep water boats have moved to the Marina Pez Vela in Quepos, about a 40 minute drive

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Out on a Whale watch one September


If all you want to do is take a walk in the woods there are plenty of places to do it around here.  If you are looking for something easy, there is always Hacienda Baru, a private wildlife preserve that encompasses hundreds of acres from the mangroves, through secondary forest and into the heart of dark primary growth with trees hundreds of years old; all this with trails and rudimentary steps, to help you survive.  No rope, no, machete, no compass necessary.  Just pick up Jack Ewing’s book, Paths of Discovery, and you can’t go wrong.

You can also hike to Nayauca Waterfalls (that’s the same one we talked about earlier) along a wide path gradually ascending to a fantastic set of falls where you can swim and impress the folks at home with your selfies. The entire hike is about 12 kilometers but it is shaded much of the way.  Take water in any case.

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A photographers dream Kayak trip


Ocean, Mangroves and river kayaking; we’ve got it all here. If you want the action of open water, take the “waves and caves” tour at Playa Ventanas. Paddle around amazing rocky promontories carved by centuries of wave action. Surf the incoming tide or paddle through arches and tunnels filled with sea life. Rather rigorous. Much easier and, although less exciting are kayak tours through the mangroves where you’ll encounter wildlife that you just won’t see anywhere else. Our guests have had great comments regarding both Pineapple Tours and Dominical Surf Adventures, both in Dominical. There may be others but our experience with them has been so positive, why go anywhere else?

See also day trips with Jorge's kayaking adventures in Sierpe - the very best photoggraphy of your trip.


There was a time only twenty years ago or so, that we were thrilled to hear the occasional live music when the occasional itinerate musician passed through town and played to pay his bar tab.  These days however, The Ballena Coast is third after only New York City and Bourbon Street for the number of music venues. Maybe a slight exaggeration but pretty close. 

A perennial favorite since 1991 is Roca Verde with live music every Thursday and Friday nights.   

In Ojochal we have The Bamboo Room with live music every night at sunset.  The genre changes depending on the night but there is something for everybody. 

The Flutterby House is a popular bar and restaurant located steps from the beach in the Marino Ballena National Park; primarily frequented by a younger crowd, it is considered one of Uvita’s “social hubs” and offers some of the best entertainment in the area, 

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A local delicacy, whole fried fish

Who could forget The Bar Jolly Roger up in the hills of Escaleras.  Well known for its 35 varieties of chicken wings and burgers so big that I can’t finish one, they also have live music five nights a week, Monday through Friday.  On weekends the attraction is “sports” on their multiple screens placed all over the bar.  Oh yeah.  I have to mention the 15 or twenty brands of tequila available for those times when you have a taste for salt and lime and need something to go with it.  Best chicken wings in the hemisphere.


Speaking of “the Indiana Jones experience,” have you ever heard of “Canyoning?” That combines rappelling and waterfalls to such a degree that , described as “quite rigorous,” we have never done it personally. After using these legs for seven decades, I’m not sure that they have enough left in them to do six waterfalls from 20 feet to almost 100 feet high and still walking down a sometimes raging river from one to the other.

The tour starts at the Costa Canyoning Base Camp where you are introduced to your guides and the equipment you’ll be using (safety harness, descending gear and helmet). From Base Camp it’s a 15 min. 4x4 ride through the Magical Bamboo forest and then up the ridgeline to the top of the canyon. There you will receive thorough safety instructions before starting your adventure.

When you reach the first waterfall (which is 7 meters, or 21 feet high) you will be taught the fundamentals and proper techniques of rappelling. Then you are on your way – with 5 more waterfalls to go! The largest of the falls is 27 meters, or 90 feet! The canyon ends at the Uvita River where there are some pristine swimming holes for jumping & sliding or relaxing and reflecting. When you 've had your fill our Canyon Cruzer will pick you up and take you back to the Costa Canyoning Base Camp where you'll receive our famous "Pura Vida Picnic" (beer included)!

In addition to Costa Canyoning, there are also hiking tours (again, for the strong of leg) to the top of Diamante Falls, a 600 foot cascade (!!) the tallest in Costa Rica. These tours also including rappelling from 90 to 150 feet! If that’s your thing, this is the place to do it. 


Where do we start? Everywhere . . .


If you are a “serious” snorkeling aficionado, the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica is not the best place in the world to do it. Due to the terrain and the fact that water runs downhill our hundreds of mountain streams carry lots of the mountain all the way to the ocean during the rainy season and then the wave action (that makes the area so popular with surfers) stirs it up near the coast. Therefore, don’t even think of stepping off the beach and swimming to a coral reef.

There are some options for the casual snorkeler for an enjoyable day. Daytrips to Caño Island can be a wonderful adventure, not only for snorkelers but just for the opportunity to get out on the water. Our preference for tour operators is out of Sierpe, about an hour south. There are other excellent operators (such as Bahia Adventures and Dolphin Tours) much closer but Jorge of Perla del Sur in Sierpe is so easy to work with and less expensive than the local tour operators as well as giving you the bonus of having an actual dock (!) from which to depart. In addition to the snorkeling on the island (two locations punctuated with a little rest time on the beach) you will be treated with a trip down the Sierpe River where you will have a good chance to see exotic birds (some, not able to be seen in our specific area) as well as three species of monkeys, crocodiles and boa constrictors hanging from the mangroves; a very cool trip.

Once in the water, you will find that unlike the Caribbean, where you swim with thousands of brightly colored small fish, here you will find hundreds of larger fish that will create a “tunnel” as you swim through their midst. There will probably also be sea turtles and other species as well. A late lunch on the beach on the mainland of the Osa Peninsula concludes the tour and then an hour and a half ride back to the Perla del Sur restaurant where you disembark. You can also go snorkeling at Roca Ballena (Whale Rock) and Las Tres Hermanas (The Three Sisters) within the Ballena National Park with Captain Isidro (remember him in the part about “fishing?) in his panga. The rocks are just far enough out to avoid the discoloration from the entering rivers and streams and, being within the protected area, are teeming with sea life. Well worth the trip.


The Ballena Coast has two whale watching seasons; the first and most popular (with both the whales and the tourists) being from late July until Mid-November and the second from January through March. The first season coincides with the Southern Hemisphere whales arrival in late July and the second with the arrival of the Northern Hemisphere whales after their trip from Alaska, somtime in late December. An interesting point from National Geographic is that of the eleven spots on the globe that feature gatherings of whales, The Bay of Coronado (here) is the only spot where northern and southern hemisphere whales ever have the chance to meet and “Exchange DNA.”

During the anual Whale and Dolphin Festival in early September, thousands of tourists arrive for the spectacular shows that these magnificent beasts put on. To serve their growing market many marine tour companies have grown up in the Bahia área. Among these are Dolphin Tours and Bahia Adventures.

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Passive watchers


If you’ve never done it, it is a “must do.” The danger is only perceived but the excitement is real! You will get wet (as is the case with most of the stuff that we’ve already talked about) but it’s worth it. Rafting is of course, a seasonal activity from May through December and varies according to the amount of rain in the mountains. We have several rivers with rapids rated 1 to 4 with “1” being “family friendly” and “4” being “hang and paddle hard!”

Lower Savegre River

The Lower part of the Savegre River is only about 20 minutes from the village of Dominical and features an easy rafting experience of class I and II rapids. From older children to adults, Savegre will certainly impress everyone. The unique vantage from the raft provides an awesome panoramic view of the rainforest, offering ample opportunity to spot tropical plants and animals. The Savegre River is perfect for white water rafting beginners. Though somewhat easier, you’ll experience the great sensation of taking on a beautiful Costa Rican river.

Upper Savegre River

The upper Savegre River offers a bit more of a challenge for beginners to slightly experienced rafters and is one of the cleanest rivers and one with the most crystal-like waters in Central America; only a 30 minute drive from Dominical and surrounded by both forests and beautiful African palm plantations. A rafting trip in the Savegre is one of the best experiences that you may enjoy during your vacation and it is recommended even for families and/or rafting beginners, as its waters are classified as types II and III, so it gives you the pleasure of a perfect combination of excitement and safety. The river has very calm sections in between rafting areas, so this will enable you to appreciate the beauty of its banks, especially its wildlife, as you will see a great variety of tropical birds, such as tick birds, toucans, tiger birds, parrots, parakeets, and other exotic birdsIn the middle of your trip you will stop to hang out at a waterfall while having lunch or simply swim and feel the water falling against your back.

Naranjo River

A little further from Dominical, the Naranjo River is the natural southern border of Manuel Antonio National Park. The section you will explore goes from the town of Villanueva in the mountains to the Llamarón Bridge on the road from Quepos to Dominical. On these 8 miles of whitewater you will run rapids like “La Piñata”, “El Cesar” & “Robin Hood” running the first 5 miles of continuous action. On the second half of the run, the river opens up on the Pacific flat lands giving you the opportunity to enjoy the view of many species of birds like the Ringed King Fisher, Tiger Herons and the White Ibis. With a little bit of luck you might be able to see one of the river otters or crocodiles that live on the river.

Coto Brus River

Last, and my personal favorite, is the Coto Brus River Class III & IV Coto Brus River has some powerful class III and IV whitewater rapids. Now this river is about an hour and a half drive from Shelter From the Storm but well worth the drive. Beginning in the mountains near Coto Brus and San Vito, far from the typical centers of tourist activity The Coto Brus River does not attract as many rafters as other whitewater rivers in Costa Rica, making it ideal for people looking for a smaller number of rafts tagging along. From our experience traveling the world and living in Costa Rica, the best spots, the ones that you will remember forever, the ones that make one feel like a “traveler” and not a “tourist” are those that are a little “off the beaten path” where you can leave


 In our area you have a choice of two zip-line experiences; each very different than the other. This is not to say that in both cases you will not be suspended from a cable and flying through the canopy from tree to tree, but that is where the similarity ends. Hacienda Baru Wildlife Preserve has eight lines running through the primary growth part of the property with the trails leading to each of the platforms bordered by interesting “jungle stuff.” Your guides, each trained by Jack Ewing, himself, and all with a true affection for the environment around us, will point out mammals, insects and birds on your hike while allowing you to take photos through their spotting scope. The fee for the zip-line includes a day-pass to the preserve that you might use to wander the trails from the mangroves through the secondary and into the primary forest. I guarantee that by the end of the day you will have a greater appreciation of the world around you. Osa Mountain Canopy Tour, on the other hand, makes no pretense to being an ecological tour. It is a “thrill ride” with eleven lines; the longest a half kilometer long. It’s high and it’s fast. The second largest in Costa Rica, this tour runs though some wild jungle and the walk from tower to tower can be a bit more rigorous than at Hacienda Baru but in the world of zip-lining, you get what you work for. It’s truly exciting.

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This page came mostly from the strange brain of our dear friend Daryl Wallace, an early Ballena pioneer, builder of Shelter from the Storm back in the days when the main road in town was dirt and computers had yet to be invented (in Uvita).  He is and was also the leader and inspiration for many (for example the annual Borucan Christmas events of the past) and today the month before christmas you will find him seeking families in the back roads of the area needing help and a laugh.  Daryl and I built this page a few years back to help the more adventurous find some of the hidden gems of the Ballena Coast.  Let us know if you have updates.
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