The National Parks of Costa Rica
Over a million hectares of Costa Rica (a fourth of the national territory) are natural reserves. Around 300'000 visitors visit these tropical preserves each year.
We compiled vast informations about most Costa Rican National Parks and Reserves. More than 40 parks are covered in this section. You will find relevant information, such as location, size and the wildlife you are most likely to encounter here. This will help you to get an idea of the best locations to visit while traveling in Costa Rica.
If you want to add further information about Costa Rican National Parks, please contact us!
|Click on the map. Or search for parks in the alphabetic index
Almost all national parks have at least a few maintained trails. Some parks (Corcovado, Monteverde and Santa Rosa) have excellent trail systems. If you are interested in ecology and wildlife we suggest to hire a guide: this will greatly enhance your experience and the chances of actually spotting animals!
Our Advice: Visit the parks early in the morning to avoid crowds! Wildlife (particularly birds) can best be viewed early, before it gets too hot.
National Park Opening hours:
National Parks are open all week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In Costa Rica there are different protected forest areas. The Environment Act No. 7554 of October 4, 1995, article 32, stipulates the following classification:
- National Parks (Parques Nacionales)
National Parks are established to conserve outstanding natural zones by maintaining representative examples of regions species and communities in danger of extinction. Scientific studies and environmental research is supported. Recreational and educational facilities are permitted, but not hotels.
- Biological Reserves (Reservas Biologicas)
Biological Reserves have less scenic and recreational value than National Parks. Any activity that jeopardizes the biological equilibrium is forbidden. The main goal of these reserves is to protect and conserve natural processes to be able to undertake scientific research of unaltered nature.
- Forest Reserves (Reservas Forestales)
Forest Reserves are designed to protect natural resources for future use. This is a temporary category, which is valid until a clear development plan for the use of the area is set up.
- National Wildlife Refuges (Refugios Nacionales de Vida Silvestre)
Wildlife Refuges are committed to the protection of defined species and therefore their size varies depending on the habitat needed by the respective species. Sometimes private land is included into these areas. The definition is quite unclear, though, and this is the least protected area, as there are many possibilities to dodge around the regulations.
- Protected Zones (Zonas Protectoras)
- Biological Corridor (Corredor Biologico)
Biological Corridor describes the connection of two ore more protected habitats. It is an important part of rebuilding the ecosystem, as animals in need of large territory.
- National Monument (Monumento Nacional)
Guayabo, the largest archaeological site is Costa Rica’s only National Monument.
Costa Rica’s 161 National Parks and Refuges organised by the SINAC (Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservacion). They are divided in 11 regions (see map) and cover over a fourth of the national territory.
To facilitate the management SINAC has divided the country into 11 distinct geographical areas. The protected areas represent nearly 26% of the Costa Rican territory or 1’304’306 hectares. Further, there are buffer zones where agriculture is permitted under certain conditions, and protected land (320,886 hectares, 22 "reservations") for the indigenous populations (Malekus, Chorotegas, Huetares, Cabecares, Bribris, Teribes, Guaymies).
Since the early 1960s Costa Rica has pursued a policy favouring the conservation of nature. Despite of still having one of the highest deforestation rates, these actions to promote "green tourism" were doubly rewarded: the country became an ecological world leader and tourism has become a major economic pillar, before agriculture. Costa Rica announced its intention to become the first carbon dioxide neutral country in 2030.
The big success of ecotourism in recent years has some environmental downsides: some hoteliers and other "tourism industrialists" are solely led by immediate profitability (which entails deforestation, construction without respect for the law, bad or lack of wastewater treatment). They act unscrupulously, in defiance of the laws (and of any environmental awareness). Unfortunately, it is not easy to find one’s way through all the names and labels that should guarantee a strictly sustainable tourism… may everyone be vigilant!
During their stay most visitors go to at least one national park, the average duration being two days. The possibility of excursions and hikes in these parks belongs to Costa Rica’s main tourism assets: rainforests, cloud forests, dry and wet forests, transition regions of different altitudes ranging from lowlands to highlands up to 3820 m, a wide variety of volcanoes, caves, lakes and lagoons, rivers and canals, pre-Columbian relicts, islands and marine parks.
The rates of admission to the National Parks may seem high, but this is the price to pay for the protection of nature.
Almost all national parks have at least a few short maintained trails. Many of them are used for utilitarian purposes and are almost unmarked. Inform yourself beforehand on the quality of trails and do not wander off by yourself if you are not familiar with the area. To hire park rangers or guides is strongly advised. Some parks, however – as Corcovado, Monteverde and Santa Rosa – have excellent trail systems. If you are interested in the biology of the parks guides can provide you with helpful information.
The rainy season is said to be better for visiting Corcovado National Park, as there is more wildlife to see during the day. But the access is more limited during this time due to muddy trails. Also, a higher number of biting insects will make long hikes a little less pleasant. Popular parks like Manuel Antonio or Monteverde may be wetter during rainy season, but it is a good time to avoid crowds and therefore enjoy the parks more by yourself.
The National Parks Administration has decentralised its management by creating 11 regional entities with their own offices and research centres, also offering vocational training and environmental awareness.
- Interested in more? View our National Park links