Santa Rosa National Park
Last Updated: Jun 16, 2015
Santa Rosa National Park is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Costa Rica. Established in 1971, this 91,926-acre park protects Central America's largest remaining section of tropical dry forest, as well as several turtle species, including the nesting Olive Ridley.
Location : 22 miles north of Liberia
Area : 91,926 acres and 192,660 maritime acres
Hours : 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
Telephone : 2666-0630
Entrance Fee : $10.00
The park’s high scrub grasses and acacia thorn trees resemble the African savannah, but the reserve’s wildlife is purely Costa Rican. More than 250 bird species have been recorded within the park’s borders, joined by 60 bat species, 4000 butterfly and moth species and 115 mammal species, including peccaries, armadillos, coyotes, monkeys, raccoons and coatimundis.
At the tail end of the rainy season, particularly during evenings between August and November, visitors may see Olive Ridley turtles on Playa Nancite by moonlight. September and October are the busiest months for both tourists and turtles. A permit from the rangers is necessary to visit these protected sites.
Santa Rosa’s Pacific beaches, in addition to being important turtle nesting sites, provide some of the best surfing in Central America. Ollie’s Point and Witch’s Rock, forever immortalized in the cult flick Endless Summer 2, are located just off the park’s shores. Only experienced surfers are recommended to surf here.
Santa Rosa National Park is famous not only as a place of beauty, but also as one of great historical significance. Costa Rica has been invaded three times by foreign armies, and every time, the would-be invaders were defeated within Santa Rosa National Park’s current boundaries.
The best known of these victories was The Battle of Santa Rosa on March 20th, 1856. On that date, 9,000 Costa Ricans met the notorious and detested "Filibusters," an army of foreign pirates and adventurers led by William Walker. A small Costa Rican army won the final fight against the Fillibusters at La Casona, a ranch house located in Santa Rosa.
Today, a rebuilt La Casona is preserved as a national monument, dedicated to the memory of the men who risked and lost their lives fighting for Costa Rican freedom. The building also functions as a modest museum, displaying photographs and artifacts belonging to peasant farmers who once worked these lands.
The most recent battle at Santa Rosa is detailed on bronze plates displayed in the park. These tell how, in 1955, Costa Ricans drove out an invading Nicaraguan army led by dictator Anastasio Somoza. Somoza's tank, burned and battered, sits on the site where the invading Nicaraguans abandoned it: in a ditch beside the road, just beyond the entrance to the park.
During the dry season (mid-December through April), trees lose their leaves, and many of Santa Rosa’s streams and small lakes dry up. This provides excellent wildlife viewing opportunities as animals gather around remaining water sources. The rainy season is greener, allowing animals to hide in the dense vegetation (bring your binoculars!).
Temperatures are warm and drier than average year-round.
Camping: You can camp ($2 + $10 park entrance fee) in the dry forest or near the park’s famous waves. Santa Maria, Playa Naranjo, Playa Junquillal, and the Santa Rosa ranger stations provide potable water, toilets, showers and grills. Contact: 2666-5051
Hiking: Several well-groomed hiking trails weave and wind through Santa Rosa National Park, allowing access to some of its greatest treasures. El Sendero Indio Desnudo is ideal for wildlife watching and plant identification – many of the park’s most distinguished and common trees line its path for easy viewing. Another short trail leads up to the Monument to the Heroes, where guests enjoy path-side waterfalls, beautiful views and an interesting dose of Costa Rican history. Talk with a park ranger about your specific interests, and walk the path that is best for you.
Bird and Wildlife Watching: Bird and wildlife watching is best conducted during the dry season (December-April), when animals are forced out of hiding to look for water. Visitors that arrive during the green season will not be disappointed, as August through October is the nesting period for the Olive Ridley sea turtle. During nesting season, more than one million turtles, many weighing 100 pounds each, nest nightly, depositing approximately 11 million eggs.
Surfing: Playa Naranjo, one of Santa Rosa National Park’s most famous beaches, is home to some of the best waves in Costa Rica. Witch’s Rock, which lies just offshore, creates strong currents, bringing steady, high waves ideal for experienced surfers. See more North Pacific Surf Breaks.
The park is divided into three sectors, containing a total of eight ranger and biological stations: Santa Rosa, Nancite, Santa Elena, Naranjo, Murcielago, Islas and Junquillal stations and the ACG (Guanacaste Conservation Area) office.
Sector Santa Rosa: Home to La Casona historical museum (open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.), as well as a camping area with picnic tables, grills, potable water, showers and restrooms. The Nancite station is part of the Santa Rosa Sector, and is a main site for turtle nesting. The only way to reach Nancite beach is by walking from the Naranjo station, located in the Santa Elena sector. The Nancite Biological station offers rustic facilities for researchers, and is heavily protected and accessed only with prior approval.
Sector Santa Elena: This sector covers the central part of the peninsula and includes the Santa Elena station and the Naranjo station. Naranjo beach, home to big surfing waves, is located within this sector. There is a campground here with picnic tables, restrooms, showers and charcoal cook stoves. Please note that there is no potable water.
Sector Murcielago: The northwestern part of the Santa Rosa peninsula is known as the Murcielago, or Bat sector. The Islas station is part of this sector and is located on an island that is part of a series known as the Bat Islands, which are accessible only by boat. There is camping at the Murcielago station, which offers rustic facilities and potable water. The Junquillal station, a reforestation laboratory, is not on the Santa Rosa Peninsula, but slightly to the north.
There are many trails in Santa Rosa. Walking to Sendero Nature Reserve provides a good look at life in the tropical dry forest. Near La Casona, you'll find the Naked Indian Trail (Sendero Indio Desnudo), named for trees covered in peeling bark. Ask a park ranger for customized recommendations – choose from beaches, dense tropical dry forest and lookout points that provide views of all the park’s treasures.
Flora & Fauna:
Santa Rosa is home to over 750 species of plants, including 240 species of shrubs and trees such as live oak, shoemaker, gumbo-limbo and Guanacaste, Costa Rica's national tree. The most common evergreen trees are the locust, chicle, oak, Tempisque and bitterwood.
More than 115 species of mammals have been identified in the park, including howler and white-faced monkeys, armadillo, white-tailed deer, white-nosed coatimundi, collared peccary, raccoon and the spiny pocket mouse. 50-60 bat species make their home here, and during dry season nights, brave visitors are able to explore their caves.
Also at home in the park are approximately 250 species of birds, including magpie jays, orange-fronted parakeets, elegant trogons, rufous-naped wrens, crested caracaras, great curassows, common black hawks and long-tailed manakins. One hundred types of amphibians and reptiles can be seen here along with 10,000 types of insects, including more than 4000 species of butterflies and moths.
Several well-known beaches are located along the park’s Pacific Coast. Naranjo beach is a nesting site for the Olive Ridley, leatherback and Pacific green sea turtles and home of the famous surf break, Witch’s Rock.
Playa Nancite is a gray sand beach, and nesting site of the Olive Ridley turtles, a species that nests only in Santa Rosa and at Ostional Wildlife Refuge near Nosara. Nancite beach is surrounded by jaragua grasslands.
Playa Blanca is a small white sand beach where you can swim peacefully, though beginning swimmers should always be cautious. It is one of the most isolated beaches in one of the least visited areas of the country.
The main entrance to the park is 22 miles north of Liberia, and is accessed by following the signs from the Interamerican Highway. Upon entering the park, pay the entrance fee and grab a map, then continue 3.5 miles to the administration center where you can check road and weather conditions and get your permits for camping or turtle watching.