National Parks in Costa Rica

Information about Costa Rica’s national parks, and the opportunities to visit beaches, rainforests, volcanoes and cave systems…

Around 25 percent of Costa Rica is protected by the National System of Conservation Areas. Visitors to the country’s national parks can experience tropical dry, wet, and rain forests, marine life and beaches on both Pacific and Caribbean coasts and volcanic landscapes.

Beaches

Manuel Antonio Park: Located near the city of Quepos, Puntarenas, on the Pacific coast. Part of the Central Pacific Conservation Area, this is Costa Rica’s smallest national park although it is also one of its most visited. It is a popular location for ecotourism due to its diverse range of plant and animal species.

There are four beaches within the park – Manuel Antonio, Espadilla Sur, Teloro, and Playita. The beaches are popular tourist destinations due to their white sand, tropical foliage and coral reefs.

The dry season is from December through March.

  • Tel: 2777 2100

Tortuguero National Park: Situated within the Tortuguero Conservation Area on the north-eastern Caribbean coast, in the province of Limón. The area receives very high rainfall; the three driest months are February, March and September.

The park’s main attractions include the freshwater canals running parallel to the coastline, which are home to an abundance of wildlife. There are tour boats in operation on the canals; alternatively visitors can explore them by hiring a kayak or canoe.

Another great attraction is the turtle migration to lay eggs on the beach. The leatherback sea turtle’s nesting season is from February to July, and the nesting season of the green sea and hawksbill turtles runs from July to October.

The park is only accessible by plane or boat from Moín near Puerto Limón, and most visitors therefore choose to travel as part of a tour or package.

  • Tel: 2710 2929
    Open: 08:00-18:00 (Night entrances must be with an authorized guide or group)

Marino Ballena National Park: Located on Costa Rica’s South Pacific coast in the Coronado Bay, this national park is one of the most biologically diverse marine habitats in Costa Rica. The main attraction is the migration of the humpback whales to the area between August to October and December to April. There is a vast amount of marine wildlife in the region – bottlenose dolphins, turtles and green marine iguanas can be observed as well a wide variety of birds nesting in the rocky cliffs, small islands and mangrove forests.

The beaches in the park are Playa Uvita, Playa Arco, Playa Ballena, and Playa Piñuela. The park contains two coral reefs and is a popular snorkeling and scuba diving destination. Camping is permitted in the park.

  • Tel: 2743 8236
    Open: 08:00-16:00 every day

Las Baulas Marine National Park: Located in Costa Rica’s northwest region, on the Nicoyan Peninsula on the Pacific coast. The park is named after the leatherback sea turtles, or Baulas as they are known in Spanish. The turtles come here in huge numbers during the months of November to April to mate and lay their eggs on the Playa Grande. Visits to the beach to see the turtles must be made as part of a tour with a certified guide only.

The park has four beaches, Playa Grande, Playa Langosta, Playa Ventanas and Playa Carbon.

Many other species of plant and animal wildlife are commonly spotted, including mangroves, dolphins and birds

  • Tel: 2686 4967

Cahuita Marine National Park: Located on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica in Limón Province, close to the town of Cahuita. The park is a popular snorkeling and scuba diving destination and its coral reefs and sunken ships are a major attraction. Camping is allowed in the Puerto Vargas sector of the park. There is a wide range of birds and other wildlife in the park, and many hiking trails are available.

The park has two beaches, Playa Blanca and Playa Vargas, which run for almost nine miles along the Caribbean coast. Playa Vargas, at the southern tip of the park, is also an important nesting site for leatherback sea turtles.

  • Tel: 2795 3170

Rainforests

Monteverde National Park: Located in the provinces of Puntarenas close to the town of Santa Elena. The park’s tropical rainforest habitat is home to around 2,500 species of plants and animals, and is a popular tourist attraction. It is known as a cloud forest because of the constant fog caused by its high altitude. As a conservation area, the park is well protected and the number of people visiting at any one time is limited.

There are a number of biological reserves within the park that provide opportunities for ecotourism. The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is run by the Costa Rican government, in partnership with the Santa Elena Community, and is a not-for-profit organization.

Corcovado National Park: Situated on the Osa Peninsula in the south-western region of Costa Rica, and part of the Osa Conservation Area (Area de Conservaciðn de OSA – ACOSA). This is the largest of Costa Rica’s national parks, with over 103,000 acres of tropical rainforest. Due to its huge biodiversity, the area is very popular with tropical ecologists as well as tourists.
There are a number of ranger stations where basic overnight accommodation can be arranged and camping facilitated. Reservations should be made through ACOSA in Puerto Jiménez on the east coast of the peninsula. Proof of reservation is required at each station. The park is remote and difficult to reach, and is therefore best visited in the dry season (December to April).

  • Tel: 2775 1210
    Open: 07:30-12:00 and from 13:00-17:00 (ranger stations)

Carara National Park: Located in the Central Pacific Conservation Area, about 30 miles west of San José. Situated in the transition zone between the wet rainforest of the southern Pacific and the dry tropical forest of the northwest, Carara National Park is home to many of the plants and animals found in both habitats.

It is a particularly appealing location for bird watchers, as the park is home to a significant and diverse range of bird species; notably the large population of Scarlet Macaw.

  • Tel: 2416 7068
    Open: 08:00-16:00 every day

Palo Verde National Park: Located in the Tempisque Conservation Area in the province of Guanacaste. It has two distinct eco-systems – with both endangered tropical dry forests and extensive wetlands.

The freshwater marshland is an important feeding ground for around 60 species of resident and migratory water birds, and these are a major tourist attraction. The best time to visit for bird watching is during the dry season, between January and April, when the water levels have receded and the birds are more tightly concentrated around the remaining water sources.

Camping is allowed at the park and the Biological Station operated by the Organization for Tropical Studies also offers basic dormitory style accommodation for tourists.

  • Tel: 2695 5180
    Open: Every day from 08:00-16:00

Chirripó National Park: The mountains and forests of Chirripó National Park make it a very popular destination for hikers. Mount Chirripó is Costa Rica’s highest mountain, with an altitude of 3,820m above sea level. The climb is steep and strenuous and most hikers choose to climb in two stages, sheltering overnight in the dormitory lodge two thirds of the way up. Food and sleeping bags are the responsibility of the hiker. Permits to climb Mount Chirripó must be obtained beforehand. Camping is not permitted in the park.

  • Tel: 2771 3155
    Open: 05:00-17:00

Caves

Barra Honda National Park: Located on the tip of the Nicoyan Gulf, in the northwest region of the province of Guanacaste, the park is part of the Tempisque Conservation Area. The main attractions in the park are the cave systems that run under Barra Honda Peak. Two of the caverns are open to the public – Terciopelo and La Cuevita. As the entrances involve a steep vertical descent by ladder, all visitors must be accompanied by a park guide and must use the special safety equipment provided (children must be over the age of 12 to visit Terciopelo cavern).

The caves are open to visitors between December and April, but hiking and sightseeing are possible throughout the year. A reservation is required to visit the caves.

The Barra Honda Ranger Station has access to a campsite and basic overnight cabin accommodation.

  • Tel: 2686 4967
    Open: 08:00 until dusk

Volcanoes

Arenal Volcano National Park: Located in La Fortuna in the province of Alajuela, the park is part of the Arenal Conservation Area. Arenal Volcano has been active in recent years and is surrounded by vast natural hot water springs. The Arenal Lagoon is a good place to practice water sports, and biking. The park also includes the inactive Chato Volcano, which has a collapsed crater.

  • Tel: 2460 0055 / 2460 1412
    Open: 08:00-16:00 every day (night visits are allowed for authorized groups)

Poás Volcano National Park: Located in the mountains of Alajuela, the park contains a number of active volcanic lagoons, fumaroles and craters. The trails in the park are paved and suitable for wheelchair access.

  • Tel: 2268 6756 / 2268 5962
    Open: 08:00-15:30 every day

Irazú Volcano National Park: The Irazú Volcano National park is located in the province of Cartago. It encompasses the Prusia Forest Reserve, which is a reforestation project with the aim of restoring the area which was destroyed by the last eruptions in the 1960s. There are several craters and hiking trails. Camping is not permitted.

  • Tel: 2268 6756 / 2268 5962
    Open: 08:00-15:30, every day

Rincón de la Vieja National Park: Located north of Liberia in the province of Guanacaste and part of the Guancaste Conservation Area, which is a World Heritage Site. The Rincón de la Vieja volcano is the main attraction in the park, and it is surrounded by volcanic mud pits, fumeroles and craters. There are two ranger stations at Santa Maria and Las Pailas and these provide access to the hiking trails and camp sites.

  • Tel: 2666 0630
    Open: 08:00-16:00 every day (camping areas open 24 hours a day)