Costa Rica Travel - Best National Parks of Costa Rica
Costa Rica, a tiny country by any yardstick (just about the size of West Virginia) holds 5% of the world’s biodiversity; almost 25% of its land is protected by wildlife parks or game reserves, each of which offer a different kind of experience; some showcase magnificent wildlife viewing, while others provide scenic displays of tropical volcanoes and waterfalls.
There are around 27 national parks and many more small reserves throughout the country. No matter where you visit in Costa Rica, there is more than likely a national park nearby. A Costa Rican travel expert would be invaluable while designing a tailor-made trip around these parks and reserves, but here are our top picks to get you started.
Corcovado National Park
Located in a remote area of the Osa Peninsula, the Corcovado National Park is a land of raw, untouched rainforest, home to the country's most exotic wildlife, and one of Costa Rica's premier highlights. Ask the folks at National Geographic: they claim this place to be 'one of the most biologically intense places on the planet.' And there is no argument here, as the reserve boasts around 13 different ecosystems, and a whole 2% of the world’s biodiversity.
What’s more intriguing is that the park is the last remaining Pacific lowland rainforest of sustainable size, which makes it an ideal playground for the region’s densest population of tapirs, jaguars, and scarlet macaws.
Arenal Volcano National Park
While the Arenal Volcano doesn’t emit smoke anymore, it still manages to pack a punch. One of the most recognized parks and popular travel highlight of Costa Rica, the Arenal spans 290 square miles, and the conservation area covers eight of the 12 life-zones (similar plant and animal communities) of the country. And if you visit the park on a clear, sunny day, you will understand why this sight of the volcano is one of the finest and most famous in Costa Rica. From adventure activities to natural hot spring excursions, the park is a happy hunting ground for adventurers.
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The area surrounding the volcano also provides great opportunities for white water rafting, horseback riding, hiking and much more. Don’t forget to walk across the hanging bridges in the Arenal National Park (also a key highlight of Costa Rica) along with hiking the famous Cerro Chato and taking a quick dip in its clear blue lagoon. The park also houses 850 species of exotic birds, making it an ideal spot for birdwatchers.
Tortuguero National Park
Famously named after a turtle, or tortuga, the Tortuguero National Park is a truly unique destination to plan an itinerary around, as it is one of the most prolific locations for endangered species like the Green, Hawksbill and Loggerhead turtles, not to mention, an important breeding ground for the endangered Jaguar. The national park, one of the key highlights of Costa Rica, also offers a wide range of other species, with over 300 birds, 110 types of reptiles and 50 different kinds of amphibians.
Surrounded by a lush rainforest bordering the Caribbean Sea, there is more water (52,000 hectares) than land (31,000 hectares) in the park. A speed-boat or a kayak is your best bet to get around through the huge network of canals and waterways, to see the distinctive flora and fauna of the park that occupy 11 different habitats. A kayak is recommended over a speedboat, as it allows you access to many more nooks and corners of the extensive mangroves (and without disturbing the fauna).
Manuel Antonio National Park
If you’re looking for a place where you can find lush tropical rainforest, pristine white sandy beaches, clear lagoons, adventure sports and wildlife, all rolled into one, then all trails will lead you to the Manuel Antonio National Park, another highlight of Costa Rica. No wonder it is widely regarded as one of the finest must-see attractions of Costa Rica. You can dedicate an entire day to tour this park after a 2.5 hour road trip from San Jose Airport.
Get hold of a naturalist guide to show you around the park; follow all marked trails that cover the very best of this smallest of national parks in Costa Rica. An upswing in tourist activity has driven some wildlife away from the area, but there are several mammal and repitle species like basilisks, iguanas; if you're lucky, you will bump into the famed monkeys of the region, the Howler monkeys, Capuchin monkeys, White-faced monkeys, and the endangered Squirrel and Titi monkeys – all of these call Manuel Antonio Park home!
Palo Verde National Park
Located along the banks of the Tempisque River, the Palo Verde National Park is often overlooked, mainly due to its remote location in the tropical dry forests of the Guanacaste province. But in reality, the park is a wetland wonder, blessed with native wetland birds like Roseate Spoonbills, Egrets, Wood Storks, and Herons. During the wet season, the park comes alive as the marshes swell and attract wildlife including several thousand bird species! having said that, the dry season, which falls between January and April is ideal for wildlife viewing due to better visibility and easy access to the river bank.
This remote reserve stretches over more than 45,492 acres of land that boasts lagoons, mangroves, limestone outcrops, grassland and forests. In addition to that, the park is also one of the last remaining havens of neotropical dry forests.
Monteverde Cloud Forest
In addition to its national parks, Costa Rica also has a robust chain of private reserves such as the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a prominent highlight of Costa Rica. Lively and beautiful, the reserve is known for its scenic walks, canopy zip-lining, rich biodiversity (about 2.5% of the entire world), natural beauty and native wildlife.
The reserve is also a hot-spot for nature/adventure nuts (zip-line, canopy walks and much more). What’s more interesting is that 100% of the proceeds from the entrance fees go towards educational and research programs. It’s also a great place for kids and adults like to learn more about the Continental Divide, a line that runs from Canada to Argentina and decides which ocean water will drain into, the Atlantic (or the Carribbean in this case) or the Pacific.
Marino Ballena National Park
Sitting perfectly on the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica, the Marino Ballena National Park is predominately an oceanic park, covered by 5375 hectares of water and only 110 hectares of land. Named after a Humpback Whale, the park is best known for whale watching from July to October, and then from December to March.
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Apart from whale sightings, this youngest park in Costa Rica also provides opportunities for visitors to unwind on its beaches, soaking in the beautiful scenery on offer. The reserve is also famous for a Whale Tail formation, caused by the union of two separate beaches.
Volcan Tenorio National Park
Located 30 miles from Liberia, The Volcan Tenorio National Park is a new addition to Costa Rica’s national park ecosystem. The path leading towards the park is a bit off-beat, perfect for adventure lovers looking for exciting hiking trails.
The reserve famously houses the Tenorio Volcano and the clear blue waters of Rio Celeste Waterfall, which makes the place a unique blend of distinct volcanic geology, lush cloud forests full of native fauna, and slopes covered with beautiful savannah grasslands. And due to the constant volcanic activity in the region, you can even see geysers shooting into the air, and hot springs oozing from the ground below.