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7 Best National Parks in Costa Rica

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In Costa Rica, a "walk in the park" means putting your trekking shoes on and rediscovering one of the truest paradises in existence. Visions of green will fill your senses, thanks to the lush tropical fringe that extends from both ends of the country. Comprised of more than 25% of protected natural areas, this jungle escape is home to abundant biodiversity that can only be found in Central America.

Visiting Costa Rica is nothing less than a colorful experience. It is the reflection of a strong Hispanic culture paired with the land’s thriving vegetation and amazing geography. Below are seven of the best national parks in Costa Rica (in no particular order) that will surely put you in awe of nature’s fertile gifts in this part of the world.

#1 Tortuguero National Park

Little turtle hatchling in Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica
A tiny hatchling heads towards the sea in Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park is aptly named for its cause of protecting endangered sea turtles (tortuguero in Spanish) and its conservation efforts in providing a nesting site for varieties of the green sea turtles. Protecting more than 190 sq. km of natural habitat, this region is made up of swamps, lagoons and marshlands, which often feed off the non-stop precipitation, making it one of the wettest regions in the country.

Location: Limon Province

Wildlife you can sight: Blue jeans frog, boa constrictor, American crocodile, chestnut mandible, toucan, great green macaw, fin whale, green turtle, hawksbill sea turtle, jaguar

Best time to visit: March to October is the designated season for the breeding of green sea turtle. Leatherbacks lay their eggs from February to July.

Possible activities: Trekking, hiking, boating, turtle watching

Highlights

Lowlights

  • Getting to the park can be inconvenient, but there's a small airport north of the village which you can use to visit the region.
  • Navigating through the park can only be done via boats.

#2 Manuel Antonio National Park

Capuchin in Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica
A family of Capuchin monkeys spotted in Manuel Antonio National Park

One of the best national parks in Costa Rica is the Manuel Antonio National Park. Spanning just over 6.8 sq. km of land, don't let its small size fool you; it is home to the country’s many endangered species and more than 50,000 marine hectares to revel in. Explore the lagoons, mangroves and white sandy beaches where you can spot more than 100 species of mammals and birds.

Location: Jacó

Wildlife you can sight: Sloth, capuchin monkey, squirrel monkey, howler, coati

Best time to visit: May to November

Possible activities: Surfing, swimming, rafting, ziplining, rappelling

Highlights

  • There are 4 beaches inside the park — Espadilla Sur, Escondito, Manuel Antonio, and Playita; all of which have pristine beaches.
  • See Cathedral Point between two playas

Lowlights

  • Petty theft is common; make sure to guard your possessions

#3 Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Listed as one of the top national parks in Costa Rica is Rincón de la Vieja, which combines the beauty of stunning volcanic landscapes and pristine forests. Active peaks stretch through the Guanacaste Mountains, with nine contiguous craters making up the entire park. This unique environment offers a sanctuary for diverse flora and fauna.

Location: Guanacaste

Wildlife you can sight: Sloth, tapir, puma, jaguar

Best time to visit: November to April

Possible activities: Ziplining, hot springs, kayaking, hiking, boat tours, camping

Highlights

  • Visitors can relax in the sulfuric hot spring 3 kilometers from the ranger station
  • Adjoining waterfalls with swimming areas provide a picture-perfect trail
  • Bubbling mud-pools are further down the hot springs, and you can see Rincón de la Vieja's majestic peak from here.

Lowlights

  • Watch out for the Von Seebach crater, which still vents stream and volcanic spurts
  • For those who are camping, pack beforehand as food is not available on the site

#4 Corcovado National Park

Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica
Cocovado National Park's large area provides a home to many native species.

Perhaps the star of all Costa Rica's natural conserves is Corvocado National Park, stretching over a mammoth almost 420 sq. km, just about a third of Osa Peninsula. Gape at the abundance of its biodiversity and complex ecosystems, giving life to 500 tree species and 400 species of birds.

Location: Puntarenas Province

Wildlife you can sight: Armadillo, tapir, bananaquit, brown pelican, oropendola, peccary, dolphin, fishing bulldog bat, aracari, humpback whale

Best time to visit: January to April

Possible activities: Marine observation, hiking, snorkeling, boating, horseback riding, kayaking

Highlights

  • See green turtles, 140 species of mammals, and 116 species of reptiles in the area.
  • A tiny landing strip in Sirena allows you to arrive by air.
  • Four ranger stations are available in the area.

Lowlights

  • Muddy, rugged trails are all over the park; wear good shoes when trekking.
  • Be aware of the tide schedule; some marine animals may not be spotted during the high tide.
    Be cautious of the crocodiles in the mangroves.

#5 Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

A hanging bridge in Monteverde National Park in Costa Rica
Walking on the sky bridges of Monteverde National Park is the best way to experience the park.

Tall tropical foliage festooned with bright orchids, ferns, and moss give this cloud forest reserve a mythical reputation. Monteverde, appearing like a woodland straight out of a fairytale, is one of the best national parks to visit in Costa Rica for eco-tourism. The 105 sq. km of 6 ecological zones is largely made up of virgin forest, which is a haven for flourishing wildlife.

Location: Cordillera de Tilarán

Wildlife you can sight: Jaguar, tapir, ocelot, quetzal, umbrella bird

Best time to visit: December to March

Possible activities: Horseback riding, cheese factory tour, butterfly garden, nature walks, hiking, ziplining, bird watching

Highlights

  • Stop at the Monteverde Cheese Factory where past Quaker families who established the reserve thrived by producing dairy goods.
  • Find inns and shops in Santa Elena, located on the reserve's mountaintop
  • Explore the view from suspended bridges, where you can see the ground gilded with orchids, bromeliads and other flora.

Lowlights

  • There are no restrooms found on the trails.
  • Some trails can take more than an hour to complete; make sure you're wearing good rubber shoes and a light jacket, especially when hiking on higher elevations.

#6 Poas Volcano National Park

Volcano Poas in Costa Rica
The Poas volcano is an active crater that has been known to erupt occasionally.

Home to Costa Rica's largest family of active volcanoes, Poas National Park has attracted thrill seekers and nature lovers alike, thanks to its magnificent topography and ecological museums. Tourists can walk near the main crater and see the jade colored Botos Lake. The park is flowing with lush vegetation and small number of wildlife, still enough to inspire you.

Location: Alajuela

Wildlife you can sight: Quetzal, hummingbird, toucanet, sparrow, marmots, coyotes

Best time to visit: January to April

Possible activities: Hiking, ziplining, horseback riding, museum visits, nature walks, butterfly garden

Highlights       

  • The Botos Trail hike leads you to Botos Lake which is frequented by many birds and other wildlife.    
  • See coffee farms and butterfly gardens around the park.       
  • There are geysers that shoot up to 250 meters high.

Lowlights     

  • Smoke and sulfuric air is emitted near the crater.
  • Due to the recent multiple eruptions from the volcano, the park’s accessibility is uncertain. Visitors will have to find out for themselves before planning a visit. 

#7 Arenal Volcano National Park

The Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica
The Arenal Volcano stands majestically, reaching out to the clouds.

Boasting incredible views, challenging hiking spots and a plethora of wildlife to keep you company, Arenal Volcano National Park combines the best of Costa Rican adventure in one place. The 120 sq km area is home to one of the world's most active volcanoes, giving you a glimpse of steaming cinders and lava emissions guzzling from its side.

Location: La Fortuna

Wildlife you can sight: Armadillo, resplendent, quetzal, jaguar, deer, toucans, parrot snake and fer-de-lance

Best time to visit: June to September

Possible activities: Hot springs, safari float, ziplining, rappelling, hiking, rafting

Highlights

  • Discover a lush bounty of fauna and lagoon-filled craters as you dip into one of its hot springs at the end of the day.

Lowlights

  • Pining for a photo? Take heart, chances are the clouds might obscure the sight of the volcano.
  • Steer away from the exclusion zone as there is a chance of running into concentrated toxic fumes and eroding rocks from the area.
best national parks in Costa Rica
An overview map of Costa Rica showing the locations of the 7 best national parks.

The best national parks in Costa Rica give you a chance to admire the country from all angles. When visiting, make sure to be respectful of your surroundings. These highly-popular areas are more than just tourist spots, but prized gems that play a great role in the conservation of the planet.

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