Barra Honda National Park
Last Updated: Apr 05, 2013
Barra Honda is Costa Rica's only subterranean park. Its myriad caverns are carved out of the soft limestone of ancient coral reefs forced upward by tectonic faults. Erosion and rain took over from there, shaping small subterranean chambers and caves over a period of 70 million years.
Location : 25 miles east of Nicoya
Area : 5,671 acres
Hours : 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
Telephone : 2659-1551
Entrance Fee : $10.00
Barra Honda National Park was created in 1971 to protect the area’s calcareous caverns. To date, speleologists (scientists who study caves) have partially explored 42 of the park’s caves; only 19 caves have been fully explored. Though researchers have discovered many treasures – pre-Columbian relics, animal species specially adapted to cave life, incredible stalactite and stalagmite formations – they believe that many more underground riches have yet to be revealed.
Unlike many cave parks throughout the world, Barra Honda has not been developed for wide-scale tourism. As a result, park guests are treated to a genuine caving experience: delicate stalactite and stalagmite formations, untouched terrain and exhilarating cave climbs. In fact, because of vertical entrance shafts which require special spelunking equipment to enter, Barra Honda’s caves are exceptionally well preserved. This rugged nature makes sneakers or boots a requirement at Barra Honda.
Barra Honda’s famous cavern trio – Santa Ana, Fer de Lance and The Trap – make up the park’s most spectacular and most popular caves. Santa Ana Cave, the park’s deepest, descends almost 800 feet underground. Fer de Lance (Terciopelo) Cave is home to Barra Honda’s most beautiful limestone formations, including The Organ, which produces soft, melodic tones when tapped. The Trap (La Trampa) contains the largest and steepest descent at 170 feet as well as the park’s largest chambers. All three caves hide fantastic exhibits of limestone rock, stalactites and stalagmites, that formations best described by their common (and amusing) names: fried eggs, popcorn, curtains, soda straws, sharks teeth, chalk flowers, needles, mushrooms and more.
If you're not up (or down) for this sort of underground adventure, you can sit back and enjoy the sensational views of the Gulf of Nicoya with wild plum, gonzalo alves, tempisque, gumbo-limbo, and wild cotton trees growing on the forest-covered hills. Here, the white-faced monkey, black vulture, yellow grasshopper, coyote, common long-nosed armadillo, white-tailed deer, raccoon, and white-nosed coati make their homes. The caves are open to visitors only during the months of December through April, but hiking and sightseeing are possible year-round.
Caving and hiking are Barra Honda’s most popular activities. Spelunkers and cavers should be physically fit – caving at Barra Honda combines rope ladders, rock climbing and belaying – and advance reservations are always required. Inexperienced cavers should contact the Barra Honda Ecologist Guides Association (2659-1551) at least one week in advance – a guide will accompany you at all times during your cave explorations. Guides charge approximately $25 for a group of four; equipment rental costs $20 per person.
Above ground, marked hiking trails wind through the park, weaving up to the top of Cerro Barra Honda, one of the most spectacular lookout points in the province of Guanacaste. Make sure to speak with park rangers about trail conditions before heading out, and always take plenty of water along for the hike. Guide services are available.
Rustic cabins with bunk beds and camping facilities ($2 + $10 entrance fee) are available at the ranger station. Water, toilets and showers are available to campers. Contact: 2686-6760 for camping information. Spelunking gear is also available for rent at the ranger station.
From San Jose, drive northwest on the Inter-American highway. Follow signs to the Tempisque River Bridge (Puente de la Amistad) and cross the river; about ten miles later, you will see signs for Barra Honda National Park. When you enter the park, drive one-half mile up from the gate on a gravel road to the ranger station. (Gate closes around 5 p.m.; four-wheel drive not required.)