Costa Rica is well known for its incredible biodiversity, wide protected areas, and tropical weather. It is home to lush jungles, active volcanoes, raging rivers, breathtaking waterfalls, and thriving cities. Costa Rica contains a total of 28 national parks, three of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. To preserve the country's lush nature and rich animal population, around 28 percent of the land in Costa Rica is designated as a park or reserve.
The sheer abundance of outdoor retreats and destinations is both alluring to adventurers, and overwhelming to plan. That's why we've compiled a list of the top 10 parks to visit in Costa Rica!
Carara National Park
Carara is famous for being the home of one of Costa Rica's most recognizable bird species, the scarlet macaw. While seeing this tropical beauty is a rare occurrence in most of the country, macaw sightings are almost certain at Carara National Park. There are also over 400 different bird species flying around the canopy.
The Tarcoles River Crocodile Bridge is another renowned site within the area. Travelers are astounded by the size – some reaching 16 feet long – and a number of wild crocodiles in their natural habitat.
There are four primary hiking trails in Carara National Park, the Universal Access, Quebrada Bonita, Araceas and Meandrica. The trails are well kept, with numerous platforms and bridges, as well as access to rest areas. They're all quite flat and easy to hike, making this a great park for those who are new to hiking or want to budget time to “stop and smell the roses.”
Cahuita National Park
This little yet gorgeous park - only 10 square kilometers in size – is one of Costa Rica's most popular national parks.
Cahuita has a variety of ecosystems but is best known for its stunning beaches and crystal blue waters. Wandering along its sandy coastlines is like stepping into the wild, as the rainforest spills onto the beach, undisturbed and untamed, while iguanas bask in the sun and monkeys flit around the forest canopy.
There are several wonderful coral reefs just offshore for you to explore, and the vibrant underwater colors bursting up make for an amazing snorkeling experience.
Irazu Volcano National Park
Named after the volcano that dominates the park, reaching 3,432 meters above sea level, this park is known for its five craters and breathtaking views. The volcano is still active but has not erupted since 1994. The park's primary features are the Crater Principal and the Diego de la Haya Crater, which has a green lagoon in the center. Its summit provides breathtaking panoramic views, and above the clouds, pristine blue skies stretch for as far as you can see.
The views are spectacular on a clear day, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. Wandering about its lunar terrain gives you the impression that you are on another planet, and the unique green lake tucked in its crater further adds to that impression.
Piedras Blancas National Park
Piedras Blancas National Park is located in Costa Rica's southern zone, just off the Osa Peninsula. The forest is covered in lush Jurassic vegetation and is home to several rare plant and animal species. Piedras Blancas is an important wildlife corridor since it connects to Corcovado National Park and is one of the few remaining habitats for jaguars in Costa Rica. If you really want to experience Piedras Blancas National Park, stay at Playa Nicuesa Lodge. The lodge has a direct view of the park!
Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park
At 6,286 feet above sea level, Rincon de la Vieja is the tallest and most active volcano in Costa Rica. Its name, which translates as "Corner of the Old Woman," is based on a mythology about a native princess whose lover is tossed into the crater by her enraged father. She spends the rest of her life exploring the volcanic slope, armed with the ability to heal. People looking for medicinal treatments come to "the corner of the elderly woman" to heal themselves. The Rincon de la Vieja Volcano last erupted in 2011, although geothermal activity beneath the surface is still active, with vents, geysers, fumaroles, hot springs, and mud baths dotting the landscape. The routes are beautiful to walk along since they run through hardened lava fields, hot springs, and waterfalls, which add to the grandeur of the volcanic region. Wildlife abounds in this unique ecosystem, with tapirs, pumas, and jaguars among those who call the park home.
Arenal Volcano National Park
This park’s namesake comes from the most active volcano in the country, Arenal. Lava fields have scorched and scarred the earth because of previous eruptions, and the region beneath its crater is desolate and parched.
The rich nutrients emitted by the eruptions have helped to produce a stunning tapestry of colors that encompasses the rich fauna and plants that can be found here. As a result, the area is ideal for hiking, and with almost 850 bird species in the area, birdwatchers will enjoy this park as well.
The higher you climb the volcano's slopes, the better the view of the surrounding countryside, and sparkling below, the beautiful Lake Arenal, which shimmers in the sunlight.
Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero National Park is a unique attraction because it can only be reached by plane or boat. But that doesn't stop it from being the third most popular in the country!
Tortuguero's humidity and wetness guarantee that animals and flora thrive within its boundaries, despite its tropical character. The gorgeous scenery on display is lovely to behold, with trees and flora popping out at you from every conceivable angle. Animals abound, with manatees, crocodiles, and sea turtles swimming freely right off its shores. Tortuguero is well-known among turtle aficionados for the diversity of sea turtles that return to the beaches each year to lay their eggs.
Visitors can observe monkeys, toucans, and other wildlife up close and personal while exploring the rainforest.
Corcovado National Park
Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica's largest park, has been dubbed "the most ecologically intensive area on Earth" by National Geographic. It encompasses approximately half of the stunning and pristine Osa Peninsula. Its popularity among scientists and ecologists is unsurprising given that it comprises one of the world's last remaining tracts of lowland tropical rainforest. It also serves as a haven for elusive wildlife such as the Baird's Tapir, Harpy Eagle, and the endangered Jaguar. Visitors can observe monkeys, toucans, and other wildlife up close and personal while exploring the rainforest's pathways and walks.
Poas Volcano National Park
This is your chance to get up close and personal with this incredibly active volcano, which last erupted in 2017. The gigantic Poás, at an elevation of 2708m, is encircled by 7540-year-old lava, and tourists can stare right into the 260m-deep crater, which features a beautiful turquoise lake at its center.
Visits are now limited to a maximum of 20 minutes. Before visiting, check the park's opening status; temporary closures have been known to occur due to ash and gas emissions.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Forbes magazine named Manuel Antonio National Park among the most beautiful parks in the country in 2011. Visitors will fall in love with everything the park has to offer with its gorgeous beaches, green jungle, and sparkling blue waters.
Its breathtaking surroundings will heal your soul, and soaking in the crystal clear waters while admiring the captivating beauty of the shoreline will make you never want to leave this tranquil refuge. The amazing landscapes on display are equally enjoyable to explore, with many pathways and routes winding their way through the deep vegetation.
Whether you’re a fan of bright sunny beaches, lush green rainforests, or steep rugged mountains, the Costa Rican national parks truly have something for everyone.
Ready to take a trip to see Costa Rica's best national parks? Head over to our Costa Rica Hiking Special Trip!
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