Best Parks & Reserves
Last Updated: Jan 31, 2013
Explore lush landscapes and varied ecosystems in Costa Rica’s national parks and reserves. From coast to coast, these recommended locales offer the best in natural beauty and amazing wildlife encounters.
Cahuita National Park
Beachfront rainforest, sandy hiking trails, and guaranteed wildlife sightings are three of Cahuita National Park’s many charms. Keep your eyes peeled for white-faced monkeys, three-toed sloths, and napping iguanas. The Caribbean Sea promises a living coral reef and its own shipwreck, home to parrotfish, sharks, and other marine treasures. Take a turtle tour and watch nesting leatherback and hawksbill sea turtles from March through October.
Schedule: Open daily 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Fees: $8 adults (Puerto Vargas) or by donation (Kelly Creek)
Corcovado National Park
Considered one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth, Corcovado National Park is home to 13 types of forest that protect hundreds of plant and animal species. Miles of hiking trails weave by secluded beaches, along isolated estuaries, and through rugged inland forest. Significant populations of rare and endangered species like the Baird’s tapir, white-lipped peccaries, and at least four species of wildcat thrive in the park. It is home to the largest numbers of scarlet macaws and great curassows in Central America, and is one of only two areas in Costa Rica where squirrel monkeys prosper.
Schedule: Open daily 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; some trails may be closed during the rainy season (April 15-December 15)
Contact: 2735-5036 or 2735-5580
Manuel Antonio National Park
If you’ve ever dreamed of oceanfront rainforest, white sand beaches, and aquamarine water, then Manuel Antonio National Park is for you. Trails wind along protected beaches, pausing at breathtaking lookout points. Guided tours are highly recommended for animal lovers, but if you’re just looking to relax, the park’s pristine beaches can’t be beat. Manuel Antonio is famous for its abundant troops of white-faced and howler monkeys; if you’re lucky, you may spot a squirrel monkey – only 250 remain in the park.
Schedule: Open Tuesday–Sunday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Fees: $10 adults; student discounts available
Contact: 2777-0644 or 2777-5185
Rincon de la Vieja National Park
Rincon de la Vieja National Park’s volcanic terrain and well-groomed hiking trails earn it a spot on every nature lover’s itinerary. Bask in the shadow of Rincon de la Vieja Volcano while exploring waterfalls, volcanic craters, mud cauldrons and natural hot springs. Serious hikers can test their endurance on an 8-hour trek to the volcano’s summit where you may spot Lake Nicaragua from the top. After your hike, relax in lava-heated hot springs or take a horseback ride to some of Guanacaste’s most expansive lookout points.
Schedule: Open daily 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., no entry after 3 p.m.
Contact: 2666-5051 (Guanacaste Conservation Area)
Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
Stroll through epiphyte-drenched cloud forest at the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. Smaller than the neighboring Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the park also sits at a slightly higher elevation, affording it more biological diversity. Take a guided hike and experience the reserve’s rustic trails where bromeliads and tree-dwelling orchids cover almost every surface. The birding is spectacular; resplendent quetzals, great green macaws and more than 30 hummingbird species live in the reserve.
Schedule: Open daily from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Fees: $12 adults; $6 students
Tenorio Volcano National Park
Tenorio Volcano National Park is home to four volcanic craters, soothing hot springs, and natural mud baths, but its real claim to fame is the baby blue Rio Celeste. The park’s most frequented walking trail loops around the park, guiding you to a natural hot spring, cooling river, and the celestial blue waterfall. Wildlife watchers take note: endangered Baird’s tapirs, jaguars, and ocelots are also known to frequent certain areas of the park.
Schedule: Open daily 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tortuguero National Park
One of the world’s most important nesting sites for the green sea turtle, Tortuguero National Park is a top destination for eco-adventurers. Canoe along serene canals in search of tiger herons, caimans, toucans, and even endangered manatees. Between March and October, an evening turtle tour is your ticket to observing leatherback, loggerhead, hawksbill, and green sea turtles nesting on the beach. If you’d like a more hands-on experience, consider volunteering with local turtle protection organizations.
Schedule: Open daily 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Fees: $10 adults, $1 children