National Parks

Costa Rica‘s national parks are the country’s main attraction. Here you find a short description of each of the 45 parks and reservations. We strongly recommend taking small and less well-known parks into account when planning your trip – you won’t regret it!

North Pacific

Parque Nacional Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa

This park protects both historical sites and tropical dry forest. The Santa Rosa battle was fought here. A group of filibusteres commanded by William Walker were trying to conquer Central America and were coming in from Nicaragua. The Costa Rican troops were defending the country’s independence. This battle took place in 1856 on the grounds of the Santa Rosa ranch. The park protects a wide variety of animals, some of them endangered. Nancite beach is together with Ostional the place where the largest arribadas of olive ridley turtles in all of Tropical America take place.

Parque Nacional Guanacaste

Guanacaste

The Guanacaste National Park forms together with the Santa Rosa Park a megapark of 85,000 hectares that provides migratory routes and shelter for a wide variety of animals. It also protects the last few stands of tropical dry forest, which used to stretch the lenght of the Pacific coast all the way from Mexico and which have practically disappeared. It is a region of great scenic beauty, featuring volcanoes, raging rivers, heavy rains and winds as well as impressing views.

Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja

Rincón de la ViejaThe Rincon de la Vieja National Park was created in 1973 to protect the flora and fauna and watersheds around the volcano. It stands at 1895 meters above sea level . It has an active crater which emits steam and gases of magmatic origin. A very interesting place to visit is the Sendero Las Pailas, a site with geysers and bubbling mud spots. Another attraction of this park is the group of 4 waterfalls.

Zona Protectora Miravalles

MiravallesMiravalles Volcano, the highest of the volcanic Guancaste Range soars 2026 meters above sea level. The summit is usually covered in thick clouds and dense rain. Due to its solfataric activity, evidenced by bubbling mudholes and vents that expel gases and hot steam. The ICE (Costa Rican Institute of Electricity) is using the geothermal energy from this volcano to transform it into electric energy.

Parque Nacional Tenorio

TenorioThis recently created National Park consists of four volcanic peaks and two craters. Its area is covered mostly with well preserved primary forest which gives shelter to a great variety of mammals, for exapmple the endangered tapir that has quite a respectable population here. One of the park’s main attraction is the Rio Celeste (light blue river) which is literally blue due to the emanation of sulfur from the volcano and precipitation of calcium carbonate.

Parque Nacional Arenal

ArenalIt is one of the most famous parks of Costa Rica, featuring the active Arenal Volcano as the main attraction. The Arenal Volcano, that soars 1633 meters above sea level has been active since 1968 and is considered one of the 10 most actve volcanoes of the world. The Arenal Lagoon located just beneath the volcano is of great scenic beauty and generates about 70% of the electricity used in Costa Rica. There are many activities that can be done in the surroundings of the volcano.

Parque Nacional Palo Verde

Palo VerdePalo Verde National Park comprehends over 13,000 hectares of marshes, floodplains, lagoons, meandering channels and pools in the lower basin of the Tempisque and Bebedero Rivers. The marshy lagoons provide feeding, nesting and rest sites for a great variety of birds especially during the dry season including some endangered species like the Jabiru.

Parque Nacional Las Baulas

Las BaulasThis Park was created to protect endangered wildlife, especially the giant leatherback turtle, the largest sea turtle in the world. This turtle, that can measure up to 2,5 meters and weigh around 700 kilos comes here to lay its eggs from November to April.

Parque Nacional Diriá

DiríaThis area was declared National Park in 2004 mainly to protect, restore and in the future manage the remaining forests as well as the watersheds in the area. In the lowlands there are some remains of tropical dry forest. Wildlife is rather scarce due to intervention of mankind.

Refugio de Vida Silvestre Ostional

OstionalThis refuge was created to protect important nesting sites of sea turtles, especially the Pacific ridley and leatherback. Together with Nancite beach, this area was deisgnated the second most important hatchery of sea turtles in the world. They take over the beach in large arribadas that last 4-8 days mainly in the rainy season.

Parque Nacional Barra Honda

Barra HondaThe main attraction of this park is an extensive limestone caverns network. There have been discovered 42 caves until now, but only 2 are open to the public. They are all well-preserved since their vertical entrances are difficult to access. The Terciopelo cave is one of the largest and most beautiful ones, with a large number of stalagtite and stalagmite formations and other capricious forms and figures.

Northern Plains and Lowlands

Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja

Rincón de la ViejaThe Rincon de la Vieja National Park was created in 1973 to protect the flora and fauna and watersheds around the volcano. It stands at 1895 meters above sea level . It has an active crater which emits steam and gases of magmatic origin. A very interesting place to visit is the Sendero Las Pailas, a site with geysers and bubbling mud spots. Another attraction of this park is the group of 4 waterfalls.

Zona Protectora Miravalles

MiravallesMiravalles Volcano, the highest of the volcanic Guancaste Range soars 2026 meters above sea level. The summit is usually covered in thick clouds and dense rain. Due to its solfataric activity, evidenced by bubbling mudholes and vents that expel gases and hot steam. The ICE (Costa Rican Institute of Electricity) is using the geothermal energy from this volcano to transform it into electric energy.

Parque Nacional Tenorio

TenorioThis recently created National Park consists of four volcanic peaks and two craters. Its area is covered mostly with well preserved primary forest which gives shelter to a great variety of mammals, for exapmple the endangered tapir that has quite a respectable population here. One of the park’s main attraction is the Rio Celeste (light blue river) which is literally blue due to the emanation of sulfur from the volcano and precipitation of calcium carbonate.

Parque Nacional Arenal

ArenalIt is one of the most famous parks of Costa Rica, featuring the active Arenal Volcano as the main attraction. The Arenal Volcano, that soars 1633 meters above sea level has been active since 1968 and is considered one of the 10 most actve volcanoes of the world. The Arenal Lagoon located just beneath the volcano is of great scenic beauty and generates about 70% of the electricity used in Costa Rica. There are many activities that can be done in the surroundings of the volcano.

Zona Protectora Arenal – Monteverde

MonteverdeThe protected area of Monteverde was created in 1972 by two scientists and a resident Quaker, who were all concerned about the impact of the colonisation of the cloud forest. In 1975 a watershed reserve founded in the 60′s by the Quaker community was added to Monteverde. Nowadays it is one of the most visited preserves of Costa Rica, being one of its main attraction the Resplendent Quetzal, the holy bird of the Mayas, among many other birds.

Refugio Vida Silvestre Caño Negro

Caño NegroCaño Negro is seasonally flooded forming lakes and marshes that are home to many different species, specially birds. In the dry season the area is reduced to little lagoons, channels and strips of beach inhabited by many different birds, like cattle egrets, wood storks, roseate spoonbills and the largest colony of cormorants. The rivers shelter tortoises, caymans and about 30 species of fish, including the gar, that is considered a living fossil.

Refugio de Vida Silvestre Barra del Colorado

Barra ColoradoBarra del Colorado is located just north of Tortuguero National Park and borders with Nicaragua in the North. Like Tortuguero Barra del Colorado consists of channels, lagoons, rivers, river islands, forests, marshes and small hills. Barra del Colorado is a well known fishing site and famous for tarpon fishing.

Central Region

Parque Nacional Juan Castro Blanco

Water FallThis National Park protects a great number of water resources that are very important for the region both for human consumption, generation of hidroelectric energy and industrial consumption. It also protects primary forest in different habitats with important animal and plant species.

This region was originally protected after the local community protested against a transnational company that wanted to build a sulphur mine, that would have caused great contamination, damaging the important water sources.

Parque Nacional Volcán Poás

PoasThe Poas Volcano National Park is located on the continental divide of the volcanic Central Mountain Range. It is a compound basaltic volcano with 2708 meters above sea level. There are wtwo craters, the main crater measures 1.5 km in diameter and is considered one of the widest in the world. The second crater is now a cold water lake called Botos.

The Poas Volcano has a long story of eruptions that range from emissions of hot vapours and muddy water to blowouts of ash and incandescent rocks. In 1910 an enormous column of ash that was over 8000 meters high was visible from different places around the country.

Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo

BraulioThis park is located only 20 km from San José. It is one of the cloudiest places in the country and consists mainly of steep slopes covered with dense rain and cloudforest. The topography and the extremely high precipitation (4500 mm per year), give place to an infinity of waterfalls. Its location is very important for the protection of groundwater. Most of the sources that feed the Central Valley are located inside this park.

Parque Nacional Volcán Irazú

IrazuThe Irazú Volcano National Park is located on the continental divide northeast of the city of Cartago. The volcano has a long history of eruptions, instilling fear in the religious inhabitants of Cartago and deep concern among the people living in other towns in the Central Valley. The slopes of the Irazu Volcano are very fertile thanks to the accumulation of volcanic materials and plantations of different vegetables can be found here.

Parque Nacional Volcán Turrialba

TurrialbaThis volcano has been asleep for 143 years and it was even possible for the visitors to descend into its crater. During the last months there has been a tremendous increase in the activity and there has been incidents of acid rain, that has damaged the surrounding of the volcano as well as the potato and carrot plantations nearby.

Parque Nacional La Cangreja

La CangrejaAt the end of the 19 th century Puriscal was described as a true “Garden of Eden” for its fertile grounds. But, as a result of bad management of these grounds and other natural resources, the canton lost a big part of this today. However, there still exists a part of this original Garden, the “National Park La Cangreja “. La Cangreja is the last piece of virgin forest in an area that used to extend up to the Peninsula of Osa in the south of Costa Rica. The forest is also the most important water supply for nearby communities and serves as well as a climate stabilization.

Parque Nacional Carara

CararaThis small reserve is located near Orotina in the Tarcoles lower river basin. Its transition forest is home to many different species of animals and plants. Carara is one of the most important nesting sites for the Scarlet Macaw. Towards dusk they can be seen returning to their roosts in the mangrove swamps. From the bridge over the Tarcoles River it is easy to observe immense crocodiles taking the sun on the sand banks.

Parque Nacional Tapantí

TapantíThe Tapanti National Park, Macizo Cerro La Muerte protects large forested areas in the northern Talamanca Mountain region. The Rio Grande de Orosi flows through the park, with many other rivers and creeks joining the main river. It is one of the rainiest regions of the country with an annual average precipitation of 6.500 mm. The abundant water is used for generating electricity and water supply for a large part of the population.

Parque Nacional Chirripo

CrestonesThe difference in altitude that ranges from 1400 meter to 3819 meters above sea level on Chirripó peak together with the variate climate and soil give rise to the largest ecological diversity in the country. About 400 species of birds and 260 amphibians have been identified. The park of “eternal waters” is full of incomparable sites of great beauty, such as the summit of Chirripó peak surrounded by several lakes of glacial origin or the imposing mass of crags known as the crestones.

Parque Nacional Barbilla

BarbillaThis park protects a region where mankind has not altered nature. The area still conserves its natural state due to its hard access location. It is part of the “Reserva de la Biosfera de la Amistad” which was declared by the UNESCO as a world heritage site. It is one of the few places in Costa Rica where 5 feline species can still be found.

Central Pacific

Reserva Natural Absoluta Cabo Blanco

Cabo BlancoCabo Blanco is the oldest wilderness area to be protected in Costa Rica. It was created in 1963. Cabo Blanco protects mainly colonies of seabirds and clumps of rainforests. The largest colony of brown boobies (seabird) lives here with approximately 500 couples.

The waterways, consisting of short, steep and very rocky rivers, provide fresh water even during the severe dry season, a very rare feature in this region and gives a lesson on the importance of protecting natural resources in order to preserve the water supply.

Parque Nacional Carara

CararaThis small reserve is lcoated near Orotina in the Tarcoles lower river basin. Its transition forest is home to many different species of animals and plants. Carara is one of the most important nesting sites for the Scarlet Macaw. Towards dusk they can be seen returning to their roosts in the mangrove swamps. From the bridge over the Tarcoles River it is easy to observe immense crocodiles taking the sun on the sand banks.

Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio

Manuel AntonioThis popular National Park consists of white sandy beaches, cliffs, points, rivers, rainforests and a varied wildlife, such as white faced capuchin, howler monkeys and the endangered squirrel monkey. A typical species is the bright coloured mouthless crab that migrates to the beach at the beginning of the rainy season. The islands and islets just offshore provide an important refuge for seabirds.

Reserva Vida Silvestre Barú

BarúDespite its small area, 212 species of birds have been identified, equivalent to about 25% of all species in Costa Rica, so it’s a perfect spot for birdwatching. The wide Baru Beach is where Olive Ridley and Hawksbill Turtles como from May to November to nest.

Parque Nacional Marino Ballena

Marino BallenaThis National Park was created to protect the coral and rock reefs in Coronado Bay south of Costa Rica. The park has a great wealth of scenic beauty. This sector might also be the southernmost mating site of the Humpback whale, an endangered species. It mates near the Peninsula of Baja California in North America and migrates to tropical and subtropical waters during the winter.

Caribbean

Parque Nacional Chirripo

CrestonesThe difference in altitude that ranges from 1400 meter to 3819 meters above sea level on Chirripó peak together with the variate climate and soil give rise to the largest ecological diversity in the country. About 400 species of birds and 260 amphibians have been identified. The park of “eternal waters” is full of incomparable sites of great beauty, such as the summit of Chirripó peak surrounded by several lakes of glacial origin or the imposing mass of crags known as the crestones.

Parque Internacional La Amistad

CararaThis park is the largest wilderness area in Costa Rica. It covers almost 200,000 hectares of paramo, rainforests and cloud forests. The park protects a wealth of flora and fauna and also the upper and middle watersheds of extremely important rivers. The wildlife is very rich and provides shelter for many endangered species such as the jaguar or the tapir. La Amistad International Park has its counterpart in Panama and forms part of the Amistad Biosphere Reserve which also includes Chiripó National Park, Las Tablas, Hitoy Cerere and 5 Indian reserves.

Hitoy Cerere

ButterfliesThis area is located south of Limon and is composed of very moist evergreen forests and many, many rushing rivers, such as the “Hitoy” that means wooly and refers to the moss that covers almost everything in this park and the “Cerere” that means clear. This park is part of the Talamanca Mountain Range and protects many endangered species. The hot and humid habitat is naturally also home to snakes, frogs and many butterflies.

Parque Nacional Barbilla

BarbillaThis park protects a region where mankind has not altered nature. The area still conserves its natural state due to its hard access location. It is part of the “Reserva de la Biosfera de la Amistad” which was declared by the UNESCO as a world heritage site. It is one of the few places in Costa Rica where all 5 feline species can still be found.

Refugio de Vida Silvestre Gandoca-Manzanillo

Gandoca-ManzanilloThis wildlife reserve is very important from an ecological point of view because it contains the only intact mangrove swamp in the Atlantic, and the primary lowland small rainforest found here is the only one of its kind in the region. The Refugio Gandoca Manzanillo is also the nesting area for several species of turtles. It is a good spot to observe dolphins.

Parque Nacional Cahuita

CahuitaThis area protects one of the most developed coral reefs of the Caribbean coast and one of the most important in Costa Rica. It also protects a small area of swamp forest and beautiful white sand beaches. The reef consists of 240 hectares around Cahuita Point, a site endangered by the built up of silt and other sediments. It also suffered major damage after a very strong earthquake in 1991 that elevated a large part of the Caribbean Coast, leaving the reef exposed, killing the corals.

Parque Nacional Tortuguero

TortugueroTortuguero consists of an infinite number of channels, waterways, lagoons and small lagoons that are fed by the rivers that flow from the rainy Central Mountain Range and by the torrential rains that fall in the area. It is not accessible by car, only by boat or plane. The straight dark-sand shores and the wild surf make Tortuguero an ideal place for the sea turtles to lay their eggs. Actually Tortuguero is the most important hatchery for the Pacific green turtle in the entire western half of the Caribbean. They nest from July to October.

Refugio de Vida Silvestre Barra del Colorado

Barra del ColoradoBarra del Colorado is located just north of Tortuguero National Park borders with Nicaragua in the North. Like Tortuguero Barra del Colorado consists of channels, lagoons, rivers, river islands, forests, marshes and small hills. Barra del Colorado is a well known fishing site and famous for tarpon fishing.

South Pacific

Humedal Terraba-Sierpe

Terraba-SierpeNear the sea, the Terraba and the Sierpe Rivers form a network of channels and islets of great scenic beauty, composed mainly of thick mangrove swamps. This area protects a large number of birds, snakes and mammals that can be easily seen thanks to the navigable channels.

Isla del Caño

Isla del CañoCaño Island is located 16.5 km off the western coast of Osa Peninsula in the Pacific Ocean. The waters surrounding the island are perfect for snorkeling and teem with many species of fish. Some marine mammals that can be seen around the island include the common dolphin, bottle nosed dolphin and the humpback whale.

The existence of stone spheres, tombs with stone statues, golden votive offerings and ceramics suggest that the island was used as a cemetery for important persons during the Precolumbian period.

Parque Nacional Corcovado

CorcovadoNational Geographic has called it “the most biologically intense place on Earth”. It ranges over the western sector of the Osa Peninsula and protects many different habitats such as shallow lagoons, marshes, mangrove swamps, rivers, rainforest, low altitude cloud forest and sandy coasts. They provide shelter to many endangered species, like the jaguar, the tapir, ocelot, giant anteater and the scarlet macaw among others.

Parque Nacional Piedras Blancas

Piedras BlancasPiedras Blancas National Park protects one of the few lowland rainforests left in Costa Rica as well as the Esquinas River basin. Piedras Blancas Nationalpark was created thanks to the common efforts of the Austrian people and the Costarican Government. Thanks to generous donations of the Austrian population to the project “Rainforest of the Austrians’, it has been possible to buy large areas of rainforest, that can now be preserved for the world.

Parque Internacional La Amistad

La AmistadThis park is the largest wilderness area in Costa Rica. It covers almost 200,000 hectares of paramo, rainforests asnd cloud forests. The park protects a wealth of flora and fauna and also the upper and middle watersheds of extremely important rivers. The wildlife is very rich and provides shelter for many endangered species such as the jaguar or the tapir. La Amistad International Park has its counterpart in Panama and forms part of the Amistad Biosphere Reserve which also includes Chiripó National Park, Las Tablas, Hitoy Cerere and 5 Indian reserves.