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National Parks in Costa Rica

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Costa Rica has amazing natural resources and a rich biodiversity that very few places on earth enclose. The uncanny variety and extravagance mother nature offers here, make it an extraordinary and unique wonderland for nature lovers.

Most of this incomparable natural richness can be found in Costa Rica’s National Parks. These are areas highly protected by the government in an effort to preserve the flora and fauna this little country has been blessed with.

Below is a quick summary per province of 20 of the most popular national parks in Costa Rica that will make your trip a magical one.

National Parks in Guanacaste

Tenorio Volcano National Park

Tenorio Volcano National Park
Tenorio Volcano National Park

This park is a conservation area of ​​great biodiversity and natural value. It has large territories of virgin forest, thanks to the restricted human intrusion which has allowed the conservation of vital natural habitats for the preservation of endangered species, such as the tepezcuintle, the tapir and the puma. 

Within its territory is the massif of the Tenorio volcano, made up of several cones and five main craters. Rio Celeste and its beautiful waterfall constitute one of the great tourist attractions of the park due to its incomparable and unreal turquoise tone.

  • Distance from Coco: 2.5 hours.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 2 hours and 40 minutes.
  • Interesting things to do in Tenorio Volcano National Park: wildlife sightings, bird watching and hiking along Rio Celeste.
  • Visiting hours: Everyday from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm.

Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park

Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park
Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park

Rincon de la Vieja National Park has the largest and most active volcano in Guanacaste. In the park, you’ll get to see two volcanoes, 32 rivers, and streams, an incredible variety of flora and fauna, impressive landscapes, and waterfalls.

You will get to know a dry forest, a humid one, a very humid one, and a cloudy one in just two hours, in the middle of a volcanic environment.

  • Distance from Coco: 1 hour and 24 minutes.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 1 hour and 46 minutes.
  • Interesting things to do in Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park: visiting a freshwater lagoon, waterfalls, hot springs, and boiling volcanic mud pits. You can go hiking, horseback riding, enjoying hot springs, swimming, picnicking, and camping.
  • Visiting hours: Tuesday to Sunday, from 8 am to 3 pm. Closed Mondays.

Palo Verde National Park

Palo Verde National Park
Palo Verde National Park

Palo Verde National Park is one of the most biologically intense places in Costa Rica. It comprises more than 15 different natural communities, including the lowland deciduous forest, the evergreen forest, the flooded forest, the deciduous forest of limestone hills, grasslands, and mangroves. 

The wetlands represent 50% of the park area and are a sanctuary for thousands of waterfowl, both resident and migratory, and have the highest concentration of waterfowl and wading birds, both native and migratory. It is one of the best for bird watching in Central America.

  • Distance from Coco: 1.5 hours.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 1 hour and 42 minutes.
  • Interesting things to do in Palo Verde National Park: Bird watching, visiting Palo Verde Lagoon, and taking a boat ride to Pajaros Island (Birds Island).
  • Visiting hours: Every day from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Santa Rosa National Park

Santa Rosa National Park
Santa Rosa National Park

Santa Rosa National Park conserves the most important sample of protected dry forest in Central America. This is the only place in the world where there is a natural population of the Ateleia herbert-smithii tree, one of the few legumes in the world. 

The park has 10 distinctive habitats, among which are: oak forests, evergreen forests, marshes, deciduous forests, coastal forests, bedsheets, and mangroves. Inside the park is the Casona de Santa Rosa Historical Museum, with antiques, information, and samples from the entire Guanacaste Conservation Area. 

It was created as a National Monument since it has been the scene of several historical battles.

  • Distance from Coco: 1 hour and 15 minutes.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 1 hour and 40 minutes.
  • Interesting things to do in Santa Rosa National Park: visiting the Historical Museum La Casona de Santa Rosa, hiking trails, picnicking, and camping.
  • Visiting hours: Wednesday to Monday from 8:00 am to 3:30 pm. Tuesday is closed. You must book your visit 24 hours in advance at https://reservaciones.acguanacaste.ac.cr/ or to the email: reservations.santa.rosa@acguanacaste.ac.cr.

Barra Honda National Park

Barra Honda National Park
Barra Honda National Park

Barra Honda National Park protects an important geological resource which is a large system of independent caves with formations of stalactites and stalagmites. 

Regarding the caves, only 50% of them (around nineteen) have been explored by scientists, including Terciopelo, which is the only one open to the public. 

Besides the caverns, there is a deciduous secondary forest and 290 hectares of evergreen forest which allows the sighting of loads of flora and fauna.

  • Distance from Coco: 1.5 hours.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 1 hour, 28 minutes.
  • Interesting things to do in Barra Honda National Park: visiting Terciopelo Cavern, hiking, bird watching and sighting of mammals.
  • Visiting hours: Every day from 8 am to 4 pm and the hours for the use of the caverns are from 8 am to 2 pm.

Las Baulas Marine National Park

Las Baulas National Park provides protection to populations of leatherback sea turtles that come to nest at Playa Grande, Playa Ventanas and Playa Langosta. 

The leatherback is the largest species of sea turtles in the world and is currently in danger of extinction, hence the importance of this national park. 

This is also a site of world importance for the Estero of Tamarindo and its mangrove forest, in addition to other smaller but equally beautiful estuaries such as the San Francisco and Ventanas estuaries. Its mangroves are of great importance as habitats for waterfowl and breeding areas for different marine and forest species.

  • Distance from Coco: 1 hour and 8 minutes.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 24 minutes.
  • Interesting things to do in Las Baulas Marine National Park: night tour to watch the nesting of turtles, day tour to explore the Tamarindo estuary, horseback riding through the high areas of the park, surfing and swimming in Grande Beach, snorkeling or superficial scuba diving in Carbón Beach.
  • Visiting hours: Every day, from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm Except for the turtle spawning season (October-February), which is allowed to stay on the beach until 5:00 pm.

Diriá National Park

Diriá National Park protects the aquifers of the region that make up a large basin, from which the Diriá, Enmedio, Tigre and Río Verde rivers are born. 

The Diriá Forest is made up of 4,000 hectares of dry forest and, in its highest part, humid tropical forest. 

Various types of habitats can be identified such as deciduous forest, riparian forest, and evergreen forest. 

There is a great wealth of flora and fauna, birds being one of the most abundant species in this area from which at least 134 different species have been identified.

  • Distance from Coco: 1 hour and 25 minutes.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 1 hour and 20 minutes.
  • Interesting things to do in Diriá Volcano National Park: hiking trails, bird watching, camping, and more.
  • Visiting hours: Every day from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.

National Parks in Alajuela

Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal Volcano National Park
Arenal Volcano National Park

The Arenal Volcano National Park is one of the most visited destinations in the North Zone, the giant Arenal Volcano represents one of the most beautiful volcanoes whose shape is immaculate. 

The national park has several trails throughout an extensive and authentic rainforest, which allows the observation of much of the flora and fauna present as well as the remains of lava flows.

  • Distance from Coco: 3 hours.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 3 hours and 30 minutes.
  • Interesting things to do in Arenal Volcano National Park: hiking, rappelling, visiting hot springs, horseback riding, canopy, kayaking, canyoning, and kitesurfing, among other activities.
  • Visiting hours: Every day from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Poas Volcano National Park

Poas Volcano National Park
Poas Volcano National Park

Poas Volcano national park has one of the most spectacular volcanoes in Costa Rica. Poas volcano has great natural wealth, standing out among the most important parks for national and international tourism. 

It contains considerable energy potential, product of water and geothermal resources. Its main crater is a spectacle and is considered one of the largest in the world, allowing its visitors to observe a large number of fumaroles that indicate its permanent activity.

  • Distance from Coco: 4 hours and 37 minutes.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 5 hours.
  • Interesting things to do in Poas Volcano National Park: hiking and bird watching,
  • Visiting hours: Every day from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.

National Parks in Puntarenas

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park

This national park offers one of the most beautiful and biodiverse areas in the world. 

It contains trails surrounded by wildlife in the middle of the very humid tropical forest as well as pristine beaches and coral reefs, combining the best of both and resulting in the definition of natural paradise. 

In the Manuel Antonio National Park, flora and fauna in danger of extinction coexist with a mangrove swamp, marine environments, islands and a 14-hectare lagoon.

  • Distance from Coco: 4 hours and 42 minutes.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 5 hours.
  • Interesting things to do in Manuel Antonio National Park: Jungle night walk tours, hiking, bird watching, forest canopy, water rafting, tubing, and more.
  • Visiting hours: Every day from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm, except on Tuesdays.

Corcovado National Park

Corcovado National Park
Corcovado National Park

The Corcovado National Park is a wonder of nature that you cannot miss as it contains 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity. 

Named as “the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity” by National Geographic, this park promises not to disappoint nature enthusiasts. 

In its extensive territories, unique ecosystems, and the biological diversity of the last virgin natural area in all of Central America can be observed.

  • Distance from Coco: 6 hours and 54 minutes by air.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 4 hours and 51 minutes by air.
  • Interesting things to do in Corcovado National Park: hiking, camping, boat tours, whale sightings as well as encountering many animals in danger of extinction. PS: To visit the Corcovado National Park it is mandatory to hire the services of a guide, since you’re not allowed to visit it on your own.
  • Visiting hours: Every day from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Carara National Park

Carara National Park
Carara National Park

Carara National Park has the only transitional forest in the Central Pacific, presenting an impressive diversity of flora and fauna. 

The Park was created to facilitate research and scientific studies, as well as to promote environmental education. 

This wild area allows the study of the structure and functioning of tropical ecosystems and the relationships between them. It is the first national park that has universal access trails since 2013 for people with physical and visual disabilities so that they can enjoy nature.

  • Distance from Coco: 42 minutes.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 3 hours and 27 minutes.
  • Interesting things to do in Carara National Park: Birdwatching, hiking.
  • Visiting hours: Every day from 7 am to 4 pm.

Piedras Blancas National Park

Considered by many to be one of the best birding parks in the country, Piedras Blancas National Park is an important gathering point for many birds from North and South America. 

Within what visitors can see in the Piedras Blancas National Park are: very humid tropical and premontane pluvial forests, lowland forests, rivers, streams, mangroves, lakes and lagoons that are home to various species of mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians.

  • Distance from Coco: 7 hours.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 7 hours and 30 minutes.
  • Interesting things to do in Piedras Blancas National Park: snorkeling, kayaking, paddle, swimming, hiking.
  • Visiting hours: Everyday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Only 1% of all the forests left on the planet are classified as cloud forests and Monteverde is one of them. 

This reserve is home to about 450 species of birds, 120 species of amphibians and reptiles, 490 species of butterflies, 100s of mammals (some such as the tapir, jaguar and ocelot that are in danger of extinction), 2,500 species of plants, and 200 species of ferns just to provide a few numbers that can emphasize the amazing biodiversity found here. 

The reserve has 7 trails and it is recommended that visitors use the services of naturalist guides.

  • Distance from Coco: 4 hours.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 3 hours and 17 minutes.
  • Interesting things to do in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: hiking, zip-lining, canopying, night bird watching tour, coffee tour, horseback riding, bungee jumping, visiting the Hummingbird Gallery, the cheese factory, the serpentarium, the Butterfly Garden and more.
  • Visiting hours: Everyday from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Ballena Marine National Park

Ballena Marine National Park
Ballena Marine National Park

It is the first marine park in Central America, and occupies the eighth position as the best place for whale watching in the world, according to National Geographic. 

Some species that can be found in the park are: the humpback whale, the spotted dolphin, the bottlenose dolphin, the manta ray, the hammerhead shark, among others. 

The Marino Ballena National Park comprises a terrestrial and a marine portion. The terrestrial one is made up of the beaches of Uvita, Colonia, Arco, Ballena and Piñuela, while in its maritime area there are the rocks Three Sisters, Roca la Viuda, Isla Ballena and the Tómbolo or Cola de Ballena.

  • Distance from Coco: 5 hours and 47 minutes.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 6 hours and 23 minutes.
  • Interesting things to do in Ballena Marine National Park: hiking, snorkeling through beautiful coral reefs,  visiting a tombolo in the shape of a Whale’s Tail, whale watching (from December to April or from July to November); and you can also see resident dolphins throughout the year, bird watching in Whale Island and Tres Hermanas Rocks.
  • Visiting hours: Everyday from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm.

National Parks in Limon

Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park is one of the main tourist icons of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast because it is internationally recognized for protecting the most important green turtles nesting beach in the Western Hemisphere. 

It is located far from the city, and it is formed by an extensive network of rivers and canals, therefore access to it is only possible through small boats. 

Tortuguero National Park is a paradise for research and ecotourism.

  • Distance from Coco: 6 hours.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 6 hours and 40 minutes.
  • Interesting things to do in Tortuguero National Park: Tours through natural landscapes, ecological guided tours, boat tours, kayak and canoe tours, camping and guided hiking, and more.
  • Visiting hours: Every day from 6:00 am to noon and from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm.

La Amistad International Park

La Amistad International Park is one of a kind in Central America, it is considered the first Binational Biosphere Reserve in the world due to its shared location between Panama and Costa Rica. It displays signs of repeated glaciations, and its geological confinement has prompted remarkable territory diversity in the park. 

La Amistad International Park contains Chirripo, which is the highest hill in Costa Rica. 

The different trails showcase the typical fauna and flora of a cloud forest and allows visitors to see an indigenous cemetery, and it also has a bird observatory.

  • Distance from Coco: 6 hours and 33 minutes.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 6 hours and 55 minutes.
  • Interesting things to do in La Amistad International Park: hiking, camping, bird watching, and wildlife sightings.
  • Visiting hours: Everyday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Cahuita National Park

Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park

Cahuita National Park protects the best preserved coral reef in the Costa Rican Caribbean coast. It contains various marine ecosystems and all the flora and fauna of a very humid tropical forest. 

Beautiful white sand beaches, an abundant marine life and a turquoise sea promise to impress its visitors. 

What most tourists enjoy about this park is how both the jungle and the beach can be enjoyed in one place.

  • Distance from Coco: 7 hours.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 7 hours and 47 minutes.
  • Interesting things to do in Cahuita National Park: snorkeling, surfing, hiking, swimming, and wildlife sightings.
  • Visiting hours: Every day from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.

National Parks in San Jose

Braulio Carrillo National Park

Braulio Carrillo National Park
Braulio Carrillo National Park

Braulio Carrillo National Park is one of the largest protected areas in Costa Rica with 50,000 hectares. 

This park is home to half of the plant species in the country. It has high mountains covered with dense and exuberant forests, as well as innumerable rivers forming beautiful waterfalls. Within the park there are 2 dormant volcanoes: the Barva and the Cacho Negro. 

As in all national parks in Costa Rica, the trails allow visitors to enjoy the unique sounds emitted by large numbers of native birds and be delighted by the magic mother nature offers.

  • Distance from Coco: 4 hours and 36 minutes.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 5 hours.
  • Interesting things to do in Braulio Carrillo National Park: Canopy, cable car tour, hiking, visiting the frog farm, serpentarium and butterfly farm, staying the night at bungalows.
  • Visiting hours: Every day from 8:00 am to 3:30 pm.

National Parks in Cartago

Irazu Volcano National Park

Irazu Volcano National Park
Irazu Volcano National Park

The Volcan Irazu National Park contains the highest volcano in Costa Rica. Although the weather is usually cloudy, on clear days it allows its visitors to enjoy both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, a large part of the national territory, and, with a telescope, even Lake Nicaragua. 

The park represents an area of ​​great hydrological importance since several rivers are born from it that feed the basins of rivers that are very relevant in Costa Rica, such as the Chirripó River, Reventazón River, Sarapiquí River and Grande de Tárcoles River.

  • Distance from Coco: 5 hours and 22 minutes.
  • Distance from Flamingo: 5 hours and 43 minutes.
  • Interesting things to do in Irazú Volcano National Park: hiking trails.
  • Visiting hours: Every day from 8:00 am to 3:30 pm.

Most Famous National Park in Costa Rica

The most famous national park in Costa Rica is Manuel Antonio National Park.

Best National Park in Costa Rica

The best national park in Costa Rica is Corcovado, famous for being one of the most biodiverse places on earth.

Enjoying nature to the fullest is a luxury that visitors to Costa Rica’s national parks can have. The sustainable ecotourism that this country has, allows a magical experience and full enjoyment of a diversity of natural wonders where the most amazing and rich flora and fauna converge.

Related Articles:

5 Day Trips to National Parks in Guanacaste

FAQs About National Parks in Costa Rica

What percentage of Costa Rica is national parks?

Costa Rica has safeguarded about 28% of its territory for natural parks and natural reserves.

How many national parks are in Costa Rica?

There are 30 national parks in Costa Rica.

Are national parks free in Costa Rica?

National parks are not free in Costa Rica as the entrance fee is mostly used to maintain the parks. The only day entrance is free is August 24th, as it is Costa Rica National Park Day. 

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