Costa Rica is a stunning country with a vast array of unique ecosystems that are home to a diverse range of flora and fauna. Costa Rica has 28 national parks which have been formed specifically to protect its wonderful landscape. However, they are also a great place to explore unique geographical features and see animals in their native habitats. Although each national park offers something special, we’ve created a list of some of the most beautiful national parks in Costa Rica for you to explore.
1. Guanacaste National Park
The Guanacaste National Park is located in the northern region of the country and lies next to the Santa Rosa National Park. It spans a vast 84,000 acres and includes the Cacao and Orosi volcanoes. Guanacaste was formed largely due to the work of Dr. Daniel Janzen who wanted to create an area large enough for animals such as mountain lions and jaguars to flourish in safety. However, in total there are around 300 species of birds and 120 species of mammals, plus thousands of insects and reptiles, making it a nature lover’s paradise. There’s a vast network of hiking trails across the park, allowing you to explore it at your own pace.
2. Santa Rosa National Park
Adjoining Guanacaste is the Santa Rosa National Park which includes a massive area of both land and sea. It features tropical dry forests and stunning beaches which are the perfect place for animals to thrive. The beaches at Santa Rosa are breeding grounds for several species of sea turtles, including the vulnerable olive ridley sea turtles. The surrounding sea is popular for both surfing and scuba diving, while there are also various hiking trails so that you can explore the land too.
3. La Amistad International Park
One of the best-known national parks in the world is the La Amistad International Park which is divided between Costa Rica and Panama. It features a large section of the Cordillera de Talamanca mountain range as well as a huge swath of tropical forest. La Amistad provides a safe haven for thousands of different species of animals, both large and small. The park is home to monkeys, sloths, tapir, jaguars, and around 600 different species of birds. Many of these animals can be spotted while hiking across the park.
4. Braulio Carrillo National Park
The Braulio Carrillo National Park is located in the central region of the country and includes part of the volcanic Cordillera Central mountain range. One such area is the Barva volcano which stands at 9,534 feet high and features a stunning crater lake on the eastern side. Braulio Carrillo also features several rainforests and cloud forests, both of which are home to a wide variety of different animals. Hiking is the predominant activity available within the park boundaries, and there are a range of trails which consist of different lengths and ability levels.
5. Carara National Park
Another beautiful national park in Costa Rica is the Carara National Park which is located just 30 miles from San José. It consists mainly of rainforests and was formed to protect the area around the River Tárcoles. If you’re a bird lover then Carara is definitely the place to be as it contains around 430 different species of birds, including one of the largest populations of scarlet macaws in the country. Carara National Park is also an ideal place to go hiking as there are two main trails around it, with the shortest route looping around the park and starting and finishing at the Quebrada Bonita ranger station.
6. Palo Verde National Park
Another place that is perfect for birdwatching is the Palo Verde National Park which sees a wide variety of birds congregate at the wetlands and the mangrove islands. Species include green-backed herons, great egrets, roseate spoonbills, black-necked stilts, and snail kites. Incredibly, Palo Verde also features a tropical dry forest which is one of the most endangered ecosystems in Central America. The park can be explored via any of the numerous cycling and hiking trails, or even by a boat trip to mangrove islands.
7. Tenorio Volcano National Park
As its name suggests, the main feature of the Tenorio Volcano National Park is the Tenorio Volcano. It is a stratovolcano which is 6,286 feet high and features two craters. The park also features the Rio Celeste River and its waterfalls. The water is a stunning sky blue due to the sulfur and calcium carbonate from the volcanic activity. There’s also a vast cloud forest in the upper area of the park, while the lower area is mainly covered with rainforests. There are several hiking routes across the park, including one which leads to the summit of the Tenorio Volcano.
8. Cahuita National Park
If you’re looking for a beautiful national park in Costa Rica that includes areas of both the land and the sea then check out the Cahuita National Park in Limón Province. Cahuita features stunning beaches which are also an important nesting area for sea turtles. There’s also a vast 600-acre coral reef which is home to numerous different species of fish and crustaceans and is perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving. The area has several species of marine mammals, including a population of orcas.
9. Poás Volcano National Park
Another volcanic region is the Poás Volcano National Park which spans 16,000 acres in Alajuela Province. The Poás volcano has an 8,848-foot-high active stratovolcano. Depending on the current volcanic activity, it is usually possible to hike to the edge of its main crater. However, there are also two extinct craters in the park with trails that lead right into them where there are stunning crater lakes. There’s also a wide range of animals within the national park, including coyotes, marmots, hummingbirds, and resplendent quetzals.
10. Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park
Located in the Guanacaste Province, the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park is home to two active volcanoes — Santa Maria and Rincón de la Vieja — as well as the dormant Cerro Von Seebach. It is one of the youngest national parks in the country, being established in 2015. Although trails near the summit can sometimes be closed due to volcanic activity, there is a range of different hiking and climbing routes across the park which provide the opportunity to explore various waterfalls and hot springs.
11. Tortuguero National Park
The next beautiful national park in Costa Rica is the Tortuguero National Park which is also one of the most remote. Tortuguero is only located in the northeastern region of the country and is only accessible by boat or plane. It features a vast array of different habitats, including rainforests, swamps, mangroves, and swamps. It is an important area for sea turtles, which nest on the sandy beaches. However, there is also a wide range of other endangered animals that live in the unique area, including manatees and Baird’s tapirs. There are also approximately 440 species of birds that permanently live in the national park, as well as around 130 migratory species that visit.
12. Arenal Volcano National Park
In the central region of the country is the Arenal Volcano National Park. The park is the location of the Arenal Volcano which is one of the most active volcanoes in Costa Rica. It also features the dormant Chato Volcano and Lake Arenal which is the largest lake in Costa Rica. The national park is also popular with birdwatchers as it is home to a vast number of birds, many of which are rare and endangered. Other animals in the area include monkeys, coatis, jaguars, and parrot snakes. There are plenty of nature trails to explore, as well as several lodges and campsites so you can stay overnight.
13. Corcovado National Park
The largest national park in Costa Rica is the Corcovado National Park which is located in the southwestern region of the country. Corcovado features numerous forests, including lowland rainforests and highland cloud forests. It also features 23 miles of beaches and a vast network of rivers with breathtaking waterfalls. The unique habitats in the park support a wide range of animals, both on the land and in the water. The waters along the coast are frequented by hammerhead and bull sharks, with the latter even being seen in the Corcovado Lagoon. There are several campsites within the park as well as some lodges. The best way to explore the park is on foot, with guided tours being advised due to the challenging terrain.
14. Manuel Antonio National Park
Despite being one of the smallest national parks in Costa Rica, the Manuel Antonio National Park is still one of the most popular due to its stunning scenery. It features several charming coves with stunning beaches, while away from the coast are some mighty mountains and dense tropical forests. Activities within the park include scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, and mountain biking.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Stefan Neumann/Shutterstock.com
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