The national park system in Costa Rica is truly remarkable. Starting in the mid 20th century, the Costa Rican government made a decision to protect vulnerable natural environments, and the country’s rare flora and fauna. As a result, over 25% of Costa Rica is composed of protected land. Tourists interested in hiking, volcano trekking, ziplining, and animal observation can do so in 28 different national parks. Below, we have listed the seven most popular parks in Costa Rica, along with great activities to do in each place.
Manuel Antonio National Park, Puntarenas Province
Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, located in the Northern region of Puntarenas, is Costa Rica’s most popular national park thanks to its immense biodiversity. Biologists estimate that the park has 109 different species of mammals and 350 species of birds. Established in 1972, Manuel Antonio was created to protect wildlife from residential and commercial developments, as well as to ensure local Costa Ricans would have continued access to the rainforest. Playa Manuel Antonio, the park’s beach, is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Costa Rica thanks to its white sand and turquoise water.
Visitors to the region usually stay in the nearby towns of Manuel Antonio and Quepos. Manuel Antonio is a very quiet ocean-side town offering plenty of lodging options- from luxury hotels to rustic eco-lodges. Visitors to Quepos can expect a bustling harbor town famous for big game sport fishing.
Arenal Volcano National Park, Alajuela Province
Travelers from around Costa Rica head to Arenal Volcano National Park to see what was once the country’s most active volcano, with approximately 41 eruptions a day. However, in the past several years the volcano has entered a new resting phase, putting an end to flowing lava and rock explosions that once made the park famous. Although Arenal Volcano’s activity is now limited to billowing smoke, travelers to the National Park can still witness old lava flows or bathe in thermal hot springs. After a long day of hiking, many visitors opt to soak in a relaxing warm bath surrounded by jungle and a view of the volcano. Other activities in the park include ziplining, animal observation, hiking across aerial bridges, and exploring the Venado Caves. Make sure to spend time on Arenal Lake, which is one of the park’s most famous landmarks. Located at the base of Arenal volcano, the beautiful lake is the perfect place to go kayaking, paddleboarding, or even take a dinner cruise. Due to the lake’s centrality in the National Park, visitors can admire the lakefront while they go about their other activities.
Corcovado National Park, Puntarenas Province
Located in the Osa Peninsula, Corcovado National Park is the most significant tourist attraction in the South Pacific region. The park is home to a tremendous amount of rare wildlife, including giant anteaters, the harpy eagle, jaguars and ocelots. For an interesting experience, opt to take an organized tour of the forest’s 40 different frog species, including the poisson arrow variety.
Visitors can choose to camp inside of the park, stay in an eco-lodge, or visit on a day trip from a nearby town. For this reason, Corcovado park offers an enjoyable experience for a wide variety of visitors- from experienced hikers to first time campers.
Tortuguero National Park, Limon Province
The area of Tortuguero is best known for the Green-turtle nesting that happens between the months of July and October. During this time period, Green turtles, Leatherbacks, and Hawksbill turtles come to the national park to lay their eggs. For this reason, the park and nearby town of Tortuguero are very eco-friendly, with few roads and rustic accommodations. Although the park encompasses 47,000 land acres and 129,000 maritime acres, Tortuguero National Park is also a remote location that can be difficult to reach. The town of Tortuguero is located approximately 5 hours from the city of San Jose and visitors must access the park by boat or plane. Travellers that visit during the off season can still observe wildlife as they hike and cruise through the park. Although the park offers an incredible eco-tourism experience, visitors should be aware that rain is common most days and beaches are not an ideal place to swim due to strong currents.
Rincon de la Vieja National Park, Guanacaste
The most popular National Park for visitors in Guanacaste is Rincon de la Vieja. This park sits amid 34,800 acres of protected territory and is home to an active cinder volcano. Along the way, guests at the park are able to experience six different life zones, ranging from cloud forests to fresh water lakes. After a long day of hiking, head to a refreshing waterfall for a swim or relax your muscles in a hot spring.
Santa Rosa National Park, Guanacaste
An important park in Costa Rica’s conservation history, Santa Rosa Park was created in 1966 to protect some of the last remaining tropical dry forests in the world. Santa Rosa National Park is an excellent destination for overnight trips, with nearby eco-lodges and a beachfront campground. One of the park’s unique attractions is the two turtle nesting sites on Naranjo and Nacite beaches. During certain times of the year, sea turtles arrive in massive groups to lay their eggs in the sand.
Braulio Carrillo National Park, Heredia Province
Located between the capital of San Jose and city of Limon, Braulio Carrillo National Park is spectacular in both its size, accessibility, and diversity of wildlife. Interestingly, the National Park is set around one of Costa Rica’s major roadways, the Guapiles Highway. This position allows visitors to easily exit their car and trek among the many different trails that run through the 44,000 hectares of park. Due to the sheer size of Braulio Carrillo, there is an immense amount of diversity with over 500 species of birds and 150 species of animals. The park is also home to one of the rarest and most spectacular birds in Central America, the Quetzal. Due to the change in elevation, hikers can experience seven different diverse habitats of flora and fauna, ranging from mountainous rainforests to oceanside beach. This park is a great place to go for hikers of all levels, as there is easy access to trails of various difficulties located all along the highway.
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