Photographing Playa Ballena in Costa Rica
January 30, 2022 | Landscape Photography, Travel | by Michael Breitung
Just a few miles south of Uvita lies a wild beauty, Playa Ballena. After we had to cancel our original plans to visit Drake Bay on very short notice, we decided to spend a week in a beautiful cabin close to this wonderful beach instead. Up until now this was the highlight of our Costa Rica travels. Not only did we have this beach nearly for ourselves, I also found some great vantage points for seascape photography.
Playa Ballena, same as Playa Uvita and Playa Colonia, which I covered in the last article, is part of the Marino Ballena National Park and thus you usually have to enter via the ranger station and pay an entrance fee. In addition to that you can also enter it, if you stay in one of the rental accommodations along the beach.
This is what we did and it is currently also the only way to access the beach. As we learned upon arrival, the Playa Ballena section of the national park is currently closed to the public because of some ongoing construction at the ranger station.
You can bet that this made our stay even more special, because during the whole week we saw only a handful of other people at the beach. This made the beach feel wild and remote, although it's located just 5 minutes from Uvita by car.
How To Get to Playa Ballena
Since we were already staying in Uvita, we took a taxi to our cabin, which costs between 5 and 10 USD depending on the driver. Since we had planned to cook for the week, we organized a taxi that first took me to BM supermarket to buy groceries and then picked up my girlfriend and our luggage to drive us to Playa Ballena. This whole service was 12 USD. If you have a rental car, this is obviously much easier.
If you are heading south by bus and don't plan a stay in Uvita , which you should not miss either, you'll likely be on one of the Tracopa busses headed towards Ciudad Cortes. You can tell the driver to drop you at Ballena Bistro or close to the place you are staying along the Costanera Sur raod.
Where To Stay at Playa Ballena
There are not that many accommodations close to Playa Ballena. We booked a cabin at Llama del Bosque via Airbnb. As usual with Airbnb, the location marked there was not correct. So it's always good to check, if a place is marked on Google Maps or ask the host for coordinates before booking, just to be sure.
Llama del Bosque is actually located along the road that leads to the ranger station from Ballena Bistro. It's surrounded by a beautiful garden and trees, in which you can spot howler monkeys from time to time. We also had a toucan in the trees in front of our bedroom one day. And very important, the cabin has its own access to Playa Ballena via the old airfield. It's just a 300 meter walk to the shore.
As you can see in the photos and at the end of the video below, we enjoyed this accommodation a lot. A big plus was also the afore mentioned Ballena Bistro. Although we cooked ourselves most of the time, it was nice to have a delicious burger from time to time. It's definitely a place to check out.
Also worth mentioning: If you are looking for a larger accomodation even closer to the beach, you can directly contact our host Natalia. She will make sure you have a great stay at Playa Ballena.
Photographing Playa Ballena
With one week to explore the area I could take my time to find the best vantage points for photography and then return multiple times until I got the best conditions. Same as in Uvita, I found that sunrises at Playa Ballena usually don't deliver magical light because of the clouds lingering around the inland mountains. Sunsets on the other hand seldom disappoint.
As for the tides, I liked photographing Ballena beach both during low and high tide. Low tide offered more options, because I was able to get to more areas of the beach and also to the adjacent Playa Arco. During high tide the sea was more dynamic, which allowed me to capture waves splashing on the shore.
Photographing Playa Arco
Playa Arco is a beach that can only be explored at low tide, so it's important to study the tide tables. We went there a couple of times to enjoy the vast expanse this beach offers. It can be accessed from the northern end of Playa Ballena. There you will find some rocks to the left and some thick looking vegetation to the right. Through the bushes and palm trees is the way to go. Once behind the first layer of greenery there's actually a pretty good path that takes you to Playa Arco in less than five minutes.
One evening I was there with perfect conditions during golden hour. To the south thick clouds were looming in the sky while a gap opened to the west to light up the beach and cliffs for a few minutes. I captured this moment in a timelapse that I included in the video below.