Costa Rica’s parks and reserves

Because Costa Rica is home to 6% of the world’s biodiversity, the country has declared 25% of its territory as national parks, protected areas or reserves.

There are 27 national parks, 2 of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Isla del Coco National Park (1997) and Guanacaste National Park (1999).
58 refuges, 32 protected areas, 15 swampy wetlands, 11 forest reserves and 8 biological reserves complete the picture. The Amistad Reserve (1983), shared with Panama, has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Costa Rica, a country blessed by the Gods, protects over 13,000 km² of natural land and marine areas.

Fauna and flora in numbers:

  • 10,000 plants and trees,
  • 850 sedentary and migratory bird species,
  • 205 mammals
  • 35,000 species of insects,
  • 160 species of amphibians,
  • 220 species of reptiles,
  • 1,013 species of fish.

Public and private authorities are responsible for protecting this incredible wealth.
Laws such as the Organic Law on the Environment, the Law on the Protection and Exploitation of Forests, the Law on Fauna and the Law on Parks, are legislative tools that enable real progress to be made in environmental protection.

From the most popular to the most remote

Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal Volcano National Park is located in the foothills of the Tilaran mountain range and the San Carlos plains, 15 km from Fortuna. The region is renowned for its hot springs, horseback riding, suspension bridges and, of course, the national park. A veritable laboratory for the northern part of the country, it supplies 70% of Lake Arenal’s water reserves. In 1968, the colossus awoke, destroying many of the surrounding villages. From 1998 to 2010, lava flows were frequent, but since then only a few fumaroles and harmless eruptions have been observed. Its perfect conical shape stands majestically in the middle of the plain.

Surface area: 12,124 ha land area
Location: Northwest
Biodiversity: Ceiba, turkeys, toucans, hummingbirds, monkeys, coatis, anteaters, pacas, wild pigs…
Price: $15 / person

Amistad International Park – Unesco World Heritage Site

One of the country’s largest parks, one of the most difficult to access and also one of the least well-known. Its topography ranges from 200 m to 3,549 m altitude.

Area: 193,929 ha of land in Costa Rica
Location: Cordillera de Talamanca – Panama border
Biodiversity: 263 amphibians, 400 birds, 500 tree species and over 130 orchids.
Access: restricted
Fee: $12 / person – Guide required

Barra Honda National Park

42 caves, 19 explored and 2 open to the public, in a perfect state of preservation, set it apart from the rest. The deepest cave is 780 m deep.

Surface area: 2,295 ha of land
Location: Northern Nicoya Peninsula
Biodiversity: monkeys, reptiles, coyotes, agoutis, peccaries, raccoons
Access: easy

Price: $12 / person

Cabo Blanco National Park

At the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, this is the first park created in Costa Rica. Just a stone’s throw from Montezuma, Cabuya and Mal Pais. Secondary forest and magical beaches.

Area: 1,172 ha land – 1,790 ha sea
Location: Southern Nicoya Peninsula
Access: Easy to medium
Biodiversity: monkeys, reptiles, agoutis, deer, butterflies, birds
Price: $12 / person

Braulio Carrillo National Park

The park is made up of volcanic peaks and is very difficult to explore. The dense vegetation consists of primary forest, home to some of the country’s richest endemic fauna.

Surface area: 1,607 ha of land
Location: central valley
Biodiversity: 500 birds, 600 trees and plants, 135 mammals
Access: easy to difficult – 2 access points for hiking over 42 km

Price: $12 / person

Cahuita National Park

On the Atlantic side, the park offers the largest coral reef in the country. The marine part of the park is particularly attractive for its richness and ease of snorkeling and diving.

Area: 1,068 ha land – 22,400 ha sea
Location: southern Limon province
Biodiversity: monkeys, reptiles, coyotes, agoutis, peccaries, raccoons
Access: Easy – 2 entrances

Fee: $6 / person

Carara National Park

With its dry North Pacific and humid South Pacific influences, this ecosystem is identical to that of the Amazon. Its proximity to San José and Jaco makes it a much-visited site.

Surface area: 4,700 ha of land
Location: Central Pacific
Access: easy
Biodiversity: monkeys, crocodiles, armadillos, peccaries, sloths, boas, agoutis, kinkajous, margays, ocelots, white-tailed deer and, above all, scarlet macaws.

Price: $10 / person

Chirripó National Park

Mount Chirripó, culminating at 3,820 m, is a favorite with hikers. Climbing it requires a good level of fitness and experience of hiking, but no major difficulties.

Surface area: 50,150 ha of land
Location: South of the Cordillera de Talamanca – San Gerardo de Rivas
Access: easy
Biodiversity: monkeys, reptiles, coyotes, agoutis, peccaries, raccoons

Price: $18 / person – Guide recommended

Tortuguero National Park

The Little Amazon is a series of canals and lagoons between the tropical rainforest and the Caribbean Sea. The park’s beaches are home to thousands of turtles of 4 species.

Area: 26,156 ha land – 50,265 ha sea
Location: Northeast – Caribbean coast
Access: boat or plane
Biodiversity: felines, birds, turtles, manatees, otters, caimans, iguanas, basilisks, howler monkeys, capuchins and atelas.

Price: $15 / person

Corcovado National Park

One of the most biologically dense areas in the world, according to National Geographic. America’s largest primary forest on the Pacific side. A guide is required and must be booked in advance.

Area: 54,538 ha land – 2,400 ha sea
Location: Osa Peninsula – southwest of the country
Access: Land: easy to difficult – Sea: easy
Biodiversity: 500 types of trees and plants, monkeys, reptiles, agoutis, peccaries, raccoons, scarlet macaws, pumas, jaguars, anteaters, 117 species of amphibians and 4 species of marine turtles.

Price: $15 – Guide mandatory

Santa Rosa National Park

From savannah to coastal forest and evergreen woodland, there are no fewer than 255 species of birds, 155 mammals including 70 bats, 10,000 insects and 100 amphibians.

Area: 37,117 ha land – 78,000 ha sea
Location: North Guanacaste
Access: easy
Biodiversity: peccaries, jaguars, olive ridley turtles, armadillos, raccoons, peacocks, black hawks and long-tailed manakins.

Price: $15 / person

Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Divided into different sectors, Las Pailas is the most popular. Its bubbling mud pools are particularly interesting to observe. Three ecosystems make up Rincon de la Vieja National Park: tropical dry forest, tropical rainforest and cloud forest. For this reason, the park is also home to an impressive array of flora and fauna. The park is criss-crossed by 32 rivers.

Land area: 14,083 ha
Location: North Guanacaste
Access: easy

Price: $15 / person

Tenorio Volcano National Park- Rio Celeste

This is undoubtedly the most photogenic park in the country. The color of the Celeste River, surrounded by lush forest, makes for a breathtaking landscape. A river of crystal-clear turquoise waters and a 30 m waterfall that cascades into a pool of the same color offer a magical spectacle.

Surface area: 12,905 ha of land
Location: Alajuela / Guanacaste
Access: easy

Price: $15 / person

Guanacaste National Park

Located in the north-west of the country, close to Nicaragua, the park is dominated by the Cacao and Orosi volcanoes. A biological corridor and migratory stopover, the park is the region’s water reservoir.

Surface area: 32,512 ha of land
Location: North Guanacaste
Access: easy
Biodiversity: ocelots, pumas, agoutis, deer, birds, reptiles

Price: $15 / person

Guayabo National Monument

The archaeological value of the Guayabo National Monument lies in its complex network of aqueducts. Monoliths and petrographs are also ancestral testimonies. One of the world’s most historically significant parks.

Surface area: 218 ha of land
Location: central cordillera
Access: very easy

Price: $6 / person

Irazu Volcano National Park

Just 45 minutes from Cartago and 1h30 from San José, Irazu rises to 3,432 m above sea level. Its acid lake, with its ever-changing colors from grey to turquoise, attracts many spectators.

Surface area: 2,309 ha of land
Location: Central Cordillera
Access: very easy
Biodiversity: common. The focus is on the crater and volcanic activity.

Price: $15 / person

Manuel Antonio National Park

2nd most visited park after Poás, the best-known and smallest in the country. Its 4 easily accessible beaches are like postcards! If you avoid the busiest periods (Sundays, Christmas and Easter), you’ll leave saying to yourself: I’ll be back…

Area: 683 ha land – 55,000 ha sea
Location: Central Pacific
Access: very easy – Quepos
Biodiversity: monkeys, armadillos, raccoons, sloths, toucans, motmots

Price: $18 / person

Palo Verde National Park

The main attraction of Palo Verde National Park is the abundance of birds, many of which migrate from the Americas. They take advantage of the marshes fed by the Tempisque River. A multitude of tropical birds nest on Bird Island, located in the river’s mangrove swamp.

Area: 16,804 ha of land
Location: Arenal Tempisque
Access: easy
Biodiversity: egrets, storks, herons, spoonbills, large ibises, monkeys, white-tailed deer, coatis

Price: $14 / person

Marino Ballena National Park

Peaceful and tranquil, this little-visited park allows you to spend a few days away from the more densely populated tourist areas. The park, essentially marine, is bordered by immense beaches.
Every year, hundreds of whales come here to give birth to their young.

Area: 100 ha land – 5,375 ha sea
Location: South Pacific – Uvita
Access: easy
Biodiversity: monkeys, reptiles, turtles (2 species), dolphins (2 species), whales (3 species)

Price: $7 / person

Poás Volcano National Park

One of the country’s 5 active volcanoes. Its acid lake and immense crater make it a must-see, just 1 hour from the capital.

Surface area: 6,500 ha of land
Location: Cordillera Central
Access: very easy
Biodiversity: high-altitude tropical forest. Hummingbirds, toucans, trogons, weasels, marmots

Price: $15 / person

Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park

Volcanic activity is what makes Rincon de la Vieja so attractive. Towering at an altitude of 1,916 m, its gas fumes can be quite impressive. At the foot of the Rincon, hot springs and pools allow you to observe this perpetual activity.

Land area: 14,083 ha
Location: Northeast Guanacaste
Access: Las Pailas: easy – Crater: difficult
Biodiversity: 257 species of birds, pumas, game, coatis and sloths

Price: $15 / person – Crater closed