National Parks

Considered one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, Costa Rica’s main attraction is its incredible wealth of flora and fauna. Within its borders, an exceptional park system represents thirteen per cent of the national territory.

As a reflection of a strong commitment to preservation, Costa Rica boasts twenty national parks, eight biological reserves, and a wealth of other protected areas that have captivated ecotourists for decades.

A passage

The Braulio Carrillo National Park was established on April 15, 1978. It is the largest park in the central zone of the country, and measures 117,757.12 acres. Many of the streams that provide water to the Central Valley originate inside the park. For this reason, it plays a major role in the protection of hydraulic resources.

The park’s name comes from the third head of state Braulio Carrillo, who governed from 1837 to 1842. He promoted coffee as a major crop, and came up with the idea of connecting the Central Valley with the Caribbean region. His goal was to make transport of the crop to European markets easier.

In 1977, construction of the current San Jose-Guapiles highway began. Thanks to lobbying by environmental groups the area was declared a National Park, primarily to avoid settlement in the area of steep slopes, high mountains, and heavy forests.

Most of the park is primary forest. In contains about 6,000 species of plants, half the total for the entire country. The avifauna includes more than 500 species, including resident and migratory birds.

Historical heritage

Santa Rosa National Park is located 22 miles North of Liberia, Guanacaste. Four miles from the entrance, visitors will find the Casona Santa Rosa Historical Museum, a camping area and the administration of the Guanacaste Conservation Area (ACG).

The Casona was declared a National Monument in 1966, and in 1971, along with the surrounding areas, was named a National Park. The Santa Rosa Hacienda finds itself as an important part of the country’s history. In March, 1856, the most important battle against American invaders, called filibusters, took place.

Several beaches are part of this national park. Naranjo Beach,7.5 miles away from the administrative area, is surrounded by mangroves. The beach can be accessed on a four wheel drive vehicle during the dry season, and hiking during the rainy season.

In the same direction of Naranjo beach, 10.5 miles from the administration area, is Nancite beach. This is one of the most important nesting sites on Central America’s Pacific coast for the Olive Ridley Turtle. Given the ecological characteristics, access to Nancite is restricted. Other beautiful beaches are White Beach, 10.5 miles from the camping area. Santa Elena Bay and El Hachal Bay, both 3 miles from the camping area.

Santa Rosa preserves the most important portion of Dry Forest protected in Central America. High temperatures and a long dry season characterize this forest, that transforms itself during the rainy season.


Costa Rica has long been famous among bird watchers. With almost 850 species of birds, more than in all of North America, packed into an area half the size of the state of Kentucky in the United States, it’s obvious why the country is so popular.

The country’s travel agencies provide experienced nature guides who make any bird watching expedition an educational experience . It’s easy to move around from one habitat to the next. Visitors can go from rain forests, to mangrove swamps, beaches, cloud forest, or rivers. The best part is that many of the different environments are usually a very short distance apart.

The country’s exemplary system of national parks and protected areas are the perfect places for birdwatching, but practically anywhere you look in Costa Rica, you can spot varied avian species.

However, those interested in bird watching will be able to see the resplendent quetzal, in the cloud forests of Monteverde, the Santos region and the Central Volcanic Mountain Range. The equally spectacular scalert macaw, can be found on the Osa Peninsula or in the area around the Carara Biological Reserve.

The highest peak

Chirripo National Park is on the Talamanca mountain range, Northeast of the town of San Isidro de El General. It occupies 126,000 acres and is part of La Amistad Pacifico Conservation Area.

The highest peak in Costa Rica, Chirripo mountain is here. At 1,164.34 feet above sea level, the upper reaches of the park are exposed to chilly winds, frost, drizzles and wide temperature variations. The lowest temperature registered at Chirripo, the coldest in the entire country, was -9° C.

One of the most interesting geomorphologic findings are the molded and varied glacier formations, such as U-shaped valleys, glacier terraces and lakes. They are evidence of the passing of large masses of ice about 126 miles long, approximately 25,000 years ago.

National parks:

  • Guayabo Natural Monument
  • Arenal
  • Barra Honda
  • Cahuita
  • Corcovado
  • Guanacaste
  • Juan Castro Blanco
  • Manuel Antonio
  • Ballena National Marine Park
  • Las Baulas National Park
  • Palo Verde
  • Rincon de la Vieja
  • Tapanti
  • Tortuguero
  • Volcan Irazu
  • Volcan Poas
  • La Amistad
Biological reserves:

  • Carara
  • Guayabo Island, Negritos Islands and Pajaros
  • Hitoy Cerere
  • Caño Island
  • Lomas Barbudal
  • Cabo Blanco Absolute

National Wildlife Refuges:

  • Montes de Oro Protected Area
  • Barra del Colorado
  • Gandoca Manzanillo
  • Golfito
  • Ostional

A word of advice: in spite of its biological diversity, many animals living in Costa Rica are hard to observe because of their migratory or reproductive habits, because they are nocturnal or because the forest is too dense to see them clearly. Move quietly and sharpen your observation skills in order to better appreciate the wealth of the area.

Coco’s Island:

Nature and History, Intertwined

Isla del Coco (Coco’s Island) is located in the Pacific Ocean, 332 miles Southwest of Cabo Blanco. This national park was established in 1978, and was then declared a Humanity Heritage Site by Unesco, in 1997. Anyone traveling to the island must request permission from the Isla del Coco Marine Conservation Area.

The island was discovered in 1526, and in the 17th and 18th centuries it served as a hide-away for pirates along the Pacific coasts of Spanish America. There are stories of hidden treasures, such as the Lima Booty, consisting of tons of gold bars and sheets of gold that covered the domes of churches. There’s also talk of William Davie’s treasure, supposedly hidden in 1684; and Benito ”Bloody Sword” Bonito’s treasure, hidden in 1819.

These fabled riches have attracted over 500 expeditions of treasure hunters, including an official one from the government of Costa Rica that claimed the island in 1869.

Always green

Coco’s island is considered a natural laboratory for the study of the evolution of species. An evergreen, dense forest covers the island’s rugged terrain, which is frequently cloudy and showered by heavy rains.

Scientists have identified 235 species of plants and 90 fungus species. Also known are 362 species of insects, of which 64 are endemic; five species of reptiles, two endemic terrestrial species; 97 species of birds, twelve resident, three endangered and three endemic; 60 species of corals; and more than 250 species of fish. There’s also an abundance of white-tipped sharks, the gigantic hammerheads, yellow fin tuna, parrot fish, mantes, and horse mackerel.

National Parks

1. Santa Rosa National Park
2. Rincón de la Vieja National Park
3. Ostional National Wildlife Refuge
4. Las Baulas National Park
5. Cabo Blanco Strict Nature Reserve
6. Barra Honda National Park
7. Palo Verde National Park
8. Guayabo, Negritos & Pájaros Islands Biological Reserves
9. Peñas Blancas Wildlife Refuge
10. Carara Biological Reserve
11. Manuel Antonio National Park
12. Caño Island Biological Reserve
13. Corcovado National Park
14. Golfito Biological Reserve
15. La Amistad International Park
16. Chirripó National Park
17. Hitoy-Cerere Biological Reserve
18. Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge
19. Cahuita National Park
20. Tortuguero National Park
21. Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge
22. Braulio Carrillo National Park
23. Poás Volcano National Park
24. Irazú Volcano National Park
25. Guayabo National Monument
26. Tapantí National Park
27. Cocos Island National Park
28. Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
29. Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge
30. Piedras Blancas National Park

Guayabo National Monument
Location: It is to be found in the slopes of the Turrialba Volcano, in the province of Cartago, 19 Km. Northeast of the city of Turrialba. Importance: It is the country’s most important and the largest archeological sight discovered to date.

Arenal National Park
Location: It is located in the country’s Northern Region, in the Northern sector of the Tilarán mountain range. Importance: It is an refilling area whose waters drain the Arenal reservoir and are later used in the production of hydroelectric energy, and in the agricultural projects of the Moracia irrigation district.

Barra Honda National Park
Location: The Barra Honda Park is located in Guanacaste Province, 22 Km. Northeast of the city of Nicoya. Importance: It posses an extensive system of caves all independent one from the other: Nineteen of them have been explored up to now.

Braulio Carrillo National Park
Location: Located in the Central Volcanic range, to the Northeast of the Central Valley. It includes the Barva Volcano, the Bajo de Hondura and the Cacho Negro Peak. Importance: This park is located in one of the country’s most rugged areas. Most of the landscape is made up of tall mountains densely covered with forest and crisscrossed by countless crystalline rivers. In it lie two dormant volcanoes: Cacho Negro and Barva.

Cahuita National Park
Location: This most popular spot is located in Limón Province in the Atlantic seaboard. Importance: It’s main attractions are it’s off – white beaches studded with thousands of coconut palms, its white – colored sea, and its protective coral reef.

Corcovado National Park
Location: It is located in Puntarenas Province, Pacific seaboard, to the Southeast of the Osa Peninsula. Importance: The park protects a large number of species at risk of extinction, such as felines and crocodiles. It also shelters some species of birds, which are endemic or have restricted distribution.

Chirripó National Park
Location: Located in the Talamanca mountain range, straddling the provinces of Limón. Cartago and San José. Importance: This is the tallest mountain in Costa Rica, with an altitude of 3,819 m. It proudly displays small valleys of glacial origin that were carved by the action and movement of ice masses some 25,000 to 30,000 years ago. The vegetation of the paramo can be appreciated.

Guanacaste National Park
Location: The province of Guanacaste, 36 Km. North of the city of Liberia. Importance: Its forests showcase a great ecological diversity: very humid – tropical, cloud and tropical dry forests are found within its confines.

Juan Castro Blanco National Park
Location: Located in Alajuela province, East of Ciudad Quesada. Importance: 50% of the area is covered with mixed primary forests, with some patches of regenerative forest. The vegetation is extraordinarily varied. It is important because of the role it plays in the conservation of the forest, in soil maintenance and the conservation of the springs that later become the rivers that irrigate the San Carlos plains.

Manuel Antonio National Park
Location: It is located 7 Km. South of the city of Quepos, on the Pacific seaboard of the province of Puntarenas. Importance: Its white – sand beaches, such as Espadilla, South of Manuel Antonio, are its main attraction. It includes 12 islands mostly bare of any vegetation and located a short distance of the coast.

Ballena National Marine Park
Location: It is located in the Osa County, Puntarenas province, on the Pacific seaboard, between Punta Uvita and Punta Piñuela. Importance: This park protects sandy and pebbly beaches, cliffs, islands, rocky reefs, the Punta Uvita “tómbolo” and coral reef, which represent a most important habitat for the reproduction of marine life and the maintenance of its diversity.

Las Baulas National Marine Park
Location: Located in Playa Grande in Puntarenas province, 35 Km. from the Belén crossing. Importance: This small reserve was created to protect the turtle nesting beach of Playa Grande. Every year, thousands of leatherback sea – turtles, the planet’s largest reptile, crawl onto at night and bury their eggs in its warm sand. There is also an extensive mangrove swamp, which is an excellent area to see birds.

Palo Verde National Park
Location: Located in Guanacaste province, between the Bebedero and the Tempisque Rivers. Importance: This national park is made up of a mosaic of diverse flood – plains habitats. Rivers and a row of calcareous hills board it. Palo Verde’s natural hydrologic system provides the most adequate conditions for the area to harbor the most important concentration of aquatic birds and waders in the country and in the whole of Central America.

Rincón de la Vieja National Park
Location: One of the volcanoes on the Guanacaste mountain range, straddling the provinces of Guanacaste and Alajuela. Importance: It is probably the largest area where the Guaria Morada, the orchid which is Costa Rica’s national flower, can still be found in the wild.

Santa Rosa National Park
Location: Located 36 Km. North of the city of Liberia, the capital of the province of Guanacaste. Importance: The old house and the stone corrals served, on the 20th of March of the year 1856, as the setting for the Battle of Santa Rosa, the greatest military episode in this peace – loving country’s history.

Tapantí National Park
Location: Located in the Province of Cartago, Orosi district. Importance: It encompasses two habitats: A low mountain rain forest and a pre – mountainous rain forest.

Tortuguero National Park
Location: It is located in the Atlantic seaboard of Limón province, 84 Km. Northeast of the city of Limón. Importance: The Green turtle’s most important spawning area in the whole West Caribbean. Among the vegetation, the “yolillo” palm and the “kativo” tree are the most common and can often be seen by the side of both the natural and the artificial canals.

Volcán Irazú National Park
Location: It is located 31 Km. Northeast of the city of Cartago. Importance: This active volcano, with a long history of dramatic eruptions and eruptive cycles, is easily reached from the city of San José.

Volcán Poás National Park
Location: It is located 37 Km. North of Alajuela, on the Central Volcanic range, on the Alajuela – San Pedro de Poás route.

La Amistad International Park
Location: On the Talamanca mountain range. It is considered the most extensive untouched tropical – forest – covered mountain system in the whole country. Importance: It is one of the parks that comprises the area of greatest biodiversity in Costa Rica, and it is the largest virgin forest in the country, where an extraordinary large number of habitats coexist: ferns and mixed forests, product of the differences in altitude, soil, climate and topography.

Isla del Coco National Park
Location: Pacific Ocean, 548 Km. of Nicoya’s Cabo Blanco in the province of Guanacaste. Its point closest to the continent can be found is 5°3’34” North Latitude and 87°18’6″ West Longitude. Importance: Isla del Coco Patrimony of mankind and National Park, its importance transcends the national boundaries to become an international legacy. Its greatest pride are the marine resources. 235 species of plants have been identified in the island, 70 of which are endemic; 57 crustaceans, 118 marine mollusks, 200 fish, 351 insects and 18 coral species.

Piedras Blancas National Park
Location: the Esquinas forest is in southern Costa Rica. Importance: is one of the last unprotected lowland tropical rainforests on the Pacific coast of Central America, was declared a national park by presidential decree.

National Reserves

Carara Biological Reserve
Location: It is located on the Pacific coast, along the shores of the Grande de Tárcoles River, Southeast of the city of Orotina, Puntarenas province. Importance: Carara displays a high diversity of plants, predominantly evergreens. It has several ecosystems, such as: swamps, a lagoon, a gallery forest, secondary and primary forests.

Guayabo Island, Negritos Islands and Pájaros Island Biological Reserves
Location: Guayabo Island is located some 8 Km. South of Puntarenas. There are two Negritos Islands, one East of the other one and are separated by the Montagué Canal. They are located at only 500 m. of the Gulf’s East coast, about 13 Km. Northeast of Puntarenas. Importance: They were established as biological reserves in order to preserve plentiful populations of marine birds, its flora and fauna and to guarantee that so much natural beauty could be permanently enjoyed.

Hitoy Cerere Biological Reserve
Location: It is located in the foothills of the Talamanca mountain range, Southeast of the Estrella Valley, 45 Km. from Limón. Importance: the area is crisscrossed by an infinite number of very pebbly rivers decorated with rapids and cascades, some of which are tens of meters high.

Caño Island Biological Reserve
Location: It is located in the Pacific Ocean in front of Corcovado National Park, 15 Km. out to sea from the San Pedrillo post. Importance: It is archeologically most significant, because it was used as a pre – Columbian cemetery. The area’s most important attraction is its marine resources. The ecosystems forested by the reefs provide the organic platforms for the maintenance of a great diversity of marine organisms, such as reef – dwelling fish, mollusks crustaceans and echinoderms among others.

Lomas Barbudal Biological Reserve
Location: It is located 15 Km. Southeast of Bagaces, in Guanacaste province. Importance: This spectacularly beautiful reserve is washed by permanent rivers and a great number of springs.

Cabo Blanco Absolute National Reserve
Location: It is located in the province of Puntarenas, in the Southeastern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Importance: It provides a refuge for marine birds and it offers one of the most beautiful scenery in the Pacific coast.

Monteverde Biological Reserve
Location: It is located in the northern plains. Importance: The Monteverde area in Costa Rica is world famous for its cloud forest. There are now two reserves, the original Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and the new Santa Elena Rain Forest. In these forests you can enjoy the cloud forest climate and hike the trails amongst the varieties of plants and magnificent epiphytic laden trees, there have been over 450 bird species seen in the Monteverde area. The native birds are joined at certain time of the year by those which migrate through from North America. The resplendent quetzals with their long tails feed at various locations in the area and one can at times hear the “bong” of the bell birds. These areas sit astride the continental divide at an altitude a bit above 5000 feet. They protect and provide habitat for hundreds of species of plants and animals.

Natural Refuges

Montes de Oro Protected Area
Location: Puntarenas province. The reserve is located on the Southern watershed of the Tilarán mountain range, Northeast of the city of Esparza. Importance: Peñas Blancas, part of the Aguacate Mountain Group, is an area of very rugged terrain made up of volcanic rocks.

Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge
Location: It is located on the border between la Barra del Colorado and the Caribbean coast in the province of Limón. Importance: It is made up of a swampy area almost totally devoid of ligneous vegetation, with marginal soils not apt for agriculture or cattle ranching. Nonetheless, it posses a very high tourist potential.

Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge
Location: This refuge is located in Talamanca. County on the Caribbean coast of the province of Limón. Importance: It protects the wildlife, particularly those species threatened with extinction or with very reduced populations. It protects the only natural large mangrove oyster bank in the coastal reef.

Golfito National Wildlife Refuge
Location: It is located in the Western area of Río Claro, in the province of Puntarenas. Importance: Its location on the lower Esquinas River basin favors the always – green conditions of the forest, converting this into the only area in the Costa Rican Pacific coast.

Ostional National Wildlife Refuge
Location: Santa Cruz County of Guanacaste province, in the 200 meter wide band of beach between Punta India and the mouth of the Nosara River. It includes the village of Ostional. Importance: It protects the area’s wildlife, which includes the Lora and the Baula turtles, as well a large variety of marine birds.

Curú National Wildlife Refuge
Location: The refuge is located almost in front of Tortuga Island and it occupies a portion of terrain which is 200 m. wide measured horizontally from the high – tide mark between Points Quesera and Curú. Importance: This refuge has been established for the purpose of conserving one of the last segments of forest with fauna that are left in the Southeast of the Nicoya Peninsula.

Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge
Location: It is located in the Guatusos plains, in the Northern part of the province of Alajuela. Importance: It protects one of the most important humid areas in the territory, considered of international importance as its serves as refuge for a large number of migratory bird species, species at risk of extinction and commercially important species.

Penas Blancas Wildlife Refuge
Location: is an area of very rugged terrain made up of volcanic rocks from the Aguacate Group. Importance: Most of the refuge is covered by forests that have been altered to some extent, although the original forest mass can still be found in the remoter areas and in the river canyons. The vegetation in the lower areas, towards the south, consists of tropical dry forest. Towards the north and upper areas grows a promontane moist forest.

Costa Rica Travel: Travel Information & Tips

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