Uvita, Costa Rica – Don’t Miss This Ultimate City Guide
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So you are looking for a great place to take your family for a Costa Rica vacation. You want it all- rainforest, beach, wildlife sightings. Uvita is the perfect place for you, and I’ll tell you all about it in this ultimate city guide for Uvita Costa Rica.
Uvita might just be my new favorite place in Costa Rica- and it definitely makes my list of best places to stay in Costa Rica. I visited just a couple of weeks ago with a friend, and we were both enamored with the town and the national park. I was especially wowed by how family-friendly the area is. There are so many fewer people than at Manuel Antonio National Park, the beach is just as pretty, and you can see all the same wildlife.
Uvita is a small town that is more like a bustling village. It’s set on almost 2 miles of white sand beach. It is home to Marino Ballena National Park. Uvita town is set back a little into the jungle, and the main tourist areas are right by the beach. The Costanera, Highway 34, cuts right through town, making it a great stop for people on their way to Drake Bay.
Uvita (not to be confused with Punta Uva, a Caribbean coast beach), is located in the Puntarenas province in the southern part of Costa Rica.
Major nearby towns include San Isidro General, Sierpe, and Quepos/Manuel Antonio (home to Manuel Antonio National Park). Uvita is about 15 minutes south of the popular surf beach Dominical.
Uvita is about 4 hours or 145 miles south of San Jose.
Getting To Uvita
If you are renting a car in Costa Rica (which I highly recommend), then you can take the Costanera (Highway 34) south from San Jose and you will be in Uvita in about 4-5 hours. You can also go on the Cerro de la Muerte highway which is a bit curvier but saves you about an hour.
You can also hire a shuttle from San Jose to Uvita. It’s a fairly walkable town, or you could use taxis to get around once you arrive.
There are domestic flights that take you from the San Jose International Airport to either Qupos (an hour north) or Palgmamar Norte (an hour south).
Finally, you can take the public bus from San Jose to Uvita. You’ll go via TRACOPA from the main station to the south of the city.
Packing For Uvita
Apart from our Ultimate Costa Rica Packing List, if you are going whale watching in Uvita you will want some good shoes for getting in and out of the boat. In rainy season don’t go without a good rain jacket, or a poncho.
We spent most of the day at the beach, and I was glad I had a portable cooler for our drinks and some packable beach chairs to lounge in. If you aren’t wanting to pack quite as much, you can get a gorgeous Costa Rica beach wrap along the way to the beach. They cost about $20.
Things To Do In Uvita, Costa Rica
There is so much to do in Uvita that you might never see it all. Here are a few of my favorite activities to do in and around Uvita:
The Nauyaca Waterfalls have gained a lot of popularity in the past few years. There is an upper and lower fall, and in the dry season the water at the base of the lower falls is a gorgeous aquamarine. It’s also popular to climb the falls and jump off, which is a definite thrill for some.
There are two major tour operators that help visitors access Nauyaca, but only one offers transport. The other you have to hike in. Our Nayuaca Waterfalls guide has all the details.
Whale-watching tours in Uvita are extremely popular. There’s a reason the area is called the whale tail area, and it’s not just because of the beach. From December to April and July to December, humpback whales descend on Uvita, and they are magical to watch. Grab a tour, a friend, and be prepared to be totally wowed.
Walk The Whale Tail
This was my favorite part of Uvita, and the reason I think it’s so incredibly family-friendly. At low tide, which often coincides with sunset, you can walk all the way to the end of the whale’s tail inside Marino Ballena National Park. With the low tide, the water coming in and out makes the beach almost look like a mirror- and it’s incredible.
The waves are not too strong at this time either, making this a great beach for kids. Plus, there are lots of palm trees and shade along this beach, making this a perfect beach for families.
Sierpe Mangrove Tour
If you want epic animal sightings in Costa Rica, the Sierpe Mangrove Tour is a great way to see tons of wildlife in a short amount of time. From scarlet macaws to kingfishers, Jesus Christ lizards to crocodiles, sloths to monkeys, this is the perfect nature watching tour in Costa Rica.
Caño Island Snorkeling Tour
While you can snorkel near Uvita, the snorkeling is much superior at Caño Island. You’ll see everything from dolphins to manta rays. When you reach the island, you’ll love the private beach and hiking trails. You can also book scuba diving tours to the island if that’s more your speed.
Horseback Riding on The Beach
Uvita Beach is the perfect place to horseback ride, as you can be in the rainforest or on the beach on the same ride. Many people love to ride to the Uvita Waterfall too. Keep in mind that if you want a beach-only ride, you’ll want to do that at low tide.
The Uvita Waterfall is known for its natural slide. You can swim in this waterfall, and it’s the only waterfall in Costa Rica with a rock slide you can go down. It’s an adrenaline kick for sure!
There are three Playa Hermosas in Costa Rica, but the one near uvita is the southernmost one. The northernmost Playa Hermosa happens to be one of the best beaches in Costa Rica for kids… but I digress.
Playa Hermosa near Uvita is one of the best black sand beaches in Costa Rica, and it’s also the best free place near Uvita to see the sunset since you do have to pay to get into Marino Ballena National Park.
There are lifeguards on duty here, and it’s a popular surfing beach. Careful of the riptides if you are swimming with young children.
Oh how I adored Playa Dominicalito! My friend and I saved the best for last when we decided to spend the morning at Dominicalito before we headed back to San Ramon.
Here you’ll find gorgeous sand and tons of surfers riding the waves. Trees line the parking area, and there are just two vendors selling cold drinks. If you want food or other services, you’ll have to go elsewhere.
However, the tranquility of Dominicalito is second to none, and I highly recommend you weave a stop here into your travel plans.
Shop For Souvenirs
As you leave the Marino Balleno National Park you’ll find lots of vendors selling Costa Rican souvenirs. Everything from rosaries to beach blankets can be found along the street. You’ll enjoy browsing as you walk to and from the park.
Drink A Microbrew
While there are tons of great breweries in Costa Rica, one of my favorites happens to be right in Uvita. It’s called the Whale’s Tail Brewery, and it serves up some of the most popular beer in the South Pacific. From IPAs to pale ales, the beer at Whale Tail is pretty darn good!
Day Trip To Manuel Antonio
I highly recommend staying in Uvita and doing a day trip with a guide to Manuel Antonio. There are definitely gorgeous beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park, and the opportunity to see wildlife if you have a good guide to go with you and you go early.
Expect to see sloths, monkeys and lots of different birds on your trip. I spent the day lounging on Manuel Antonio Beach and it was divine. Do keep in mind that you can’t take food or drink into the park.
Day Trip To Dominical
Dominical is a sleepy little village near Uvita. It’s worth the visit just for all of the places to eat in Dominical. The beach is a surfer’s paradise, and a great place to learn to surf. Dominical is known for it’s brightly colored souvenir stands along the beach.
I found the beach to be a bit rocky, and there wasn’t much shade. So definitely visit the town, (I loved the Fuego Brewery), but plan to enjoy the beach elsewhere.
Each year more than 10,000 people descend on Uvita for the Envision Festival. Part concert, part spiritual awakening, Envision is the largest festival in Costa Rica.
Where to Stay In Uvita
For a full description of each of the hotels, please see our post on Places To Stay In Uvita, Costa Rica.
- Vista Ballena– set up in the hills, Vista Ballena has gorgeous views
- Oxygen Jungles – high in the rainforest, this is an excellent hotel for couples and younger travelers
- Crystal Ballena – 4 star boutique hotel
- El Tecal – 4-minute walk to the beach, many units have kitchens
- Whale Tail Hotel – simple rooms for 2-4 people, backpacker vibe
- Luz de Luna – simple 2-story building surrounding a small pool
- Canto de Ballenas – simple cabins surrounding a small pool
- Uvita Tropical Beach Hotel
- Manoas – glamping
- La Cusinga – high-end lodge
Where To Eat In Uvita
I found Uvita to be a foodie’s paradise. Everything from traditional Costa Rican food to international cuisine is housed right in town.
- SantaBurguesa – huge burgers and fries. Loved it
- WhaleTail Brewery – pub food and excellent service
- Marino Ballena Hotel – a mix of traditional and international cuisine at great prices with an astounding view
- Rancho de Roger – traditional Costa Rican food with stunning views of the bay
- Sibu Cafe – vegan-friendly restaurant in the heart of town
- La Choza de Alejo – Mexican food
- 5 Maes – “mae” is Costa Rican slang for “guy”- so it’s like 5 Guys Burgers and Fries- except Costa Rican.
Shopping in Uvita
You won’t find a ton of high-end shopping in Uvita, but when you arrive it’s clear Uvita is the main hub for those living in the area, including those living in Dominical. You’ll find large grocery stores, a hardware store, and some clothing stores.
Where is Uvita, Costa Rica located?
Uvita is about one hour south of the popular beach town of Manuel Antonio, and about an hour north of Sierpe.
Which airport should I fly into when flying to Uvita?
You should fly into the San Jose airport, called the Juan Santamaria International Airport. From there you can take a domestic flight to Palmar Norte and drive to Uvita if you want.
Is Uvita family-friendly?
Yes! Uvita is a pretty slow town, with lots of restaurants. There are ample beaches nearby to beach hop and surf. Uvita is incredibly safe for families as well.
Welcome! I’m Christa, a former high school teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. I love all things Spanish and bi-cultural, (especially travel and food!) and you’ll find my observations on life here. Thanks for stopping by
Moving to Uvita with my husband and two daughters (9 & 10). Any suggestions welcomed!!
Oh you will love Uvita! Definitely take your own linens as the linens in Costa Rica aren’t as nice as here, and they are more expensive. Pura Vida! ~Christa