National Parks of Costa Rica



National Parks Northwestern Region



Santa Rosa National Park

Telephone: (506) 2666 50 51

  • Size: 49’515 ha
  • Foundation: 1972
  • Admission: $10/15 (non-residents; land/marine admission).
  • Open daily. Opening of the Museum of La Casona: 8 am-4 pm. The park is open 24 h.
  • good, marked trails
  • Dry season: January - March
  • Wildlife: coati, coyotes, peccaries, tapirs, sea turtles

Santa Rosa lies west of the Interamericana, 36 km north of Liberia and 4 hours northwest of San José (easily accessible with a 4x4). Founded in 1971, this park protects one of the last remaining patches of tropical dry forest. There are excellent trails from 1 to 22 km length and great opportunities for wildlife photography around the waterholes. Some of the best hikes are the beach trails to Naranjo and Nancite. The Naranjo trail is 6 km long; there are picnic tables and camping is allowed in the area. Playa Nancite is a little smaller (1 km) and there is also a camping site (near the Quebrada Herradura). Nancite is the biggest nesting beach of olive ridley sea turtles in Costa Rica. Both beaches are virtually deserted and belong to the most beautiful on the Pacific side. They are 22 km from the administrative office and you should best do this tour on a 2-3 day hike.

There is the possibility to camp in the park, or alternatively you can find a place in Liberia or at one of Guanacaste’s beach resorts.

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Guanacaste National Park

Telephone: (506) 2666 50 51

  • Size: 700 km2
  • Foundation: 1991
  • Admission: $ 10 (non-residents)
  • Open daily, 24 hours.
  • Good, marked trails
  • Dry season: January - March

17 km off the Interamericana, accessible over a dirt road by 4x4 car. The turnoff to the park is at Cuajiniquil, 42 km from Liberia. The Guanacaste National Park was founded in 1989 to protect and increase the forests around Orosi and Cacao volcanoes. The conservation of this area is also important because it is an important migration corridor: during dry season animals move through the higher regions to the Atlantic coast.

The park has three sectors: the sector of Cocoa volcano with good views on the surroundings, the sector Maritza where you can see pre-Columbian petroglyphs, and the sector Pitilla with Orosi volcano standing in the middle of the rainforest.
There are three ranger stations with restaurant and showers at each sector’s entrance.

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Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Waterfall, Rincon de la ViejaHot Mud, Rincon de la ViejaTelephone: (506) 2200 03 99 or 666 47 40

  • Size: 14’083 ha
  • Foundation: 1973
  • Admission: $ 10 (non-residents)
  • Open Tuesday to Sunday, 8 am-4pm
  • good, well-marked trails
  • Dry season: January - March
  • orchids (cattleya skinneri), black guan

20 km northeast of Liberia. Coming from Liberia on the Interamericana, turn right after about 10 km to the park entrance (from there you will need a 4x4 vehicle). Rincón de la Vieja is a thermal paradise: there are geysers, hot springs, mud pots and an active volcano. It is also famous for its birdwatching (over 200 species have been reported in this area) and the variety of orchids and other epiphytic plants. Due to high humidity many species of wild orchids can be found. There are good trails, all starting from the ranger stations. The most popular hike is to the summit of Rincón de la Vieja, passing mud pots, hot springs and geysers (hornillas). It is better accessible from the Las Espuelas Ranger Station (7 km, 9 hours hiking time – see description below).

For a stay in the region we recommend: the Cañon de la Vieja Lodge, Aroma del Campo and Borinquen.


Ascension to the crater of the volcano Rincon de la Vieja:

Expect around 8 hours for ascent and return on a steep and rocky ground. Inquire with the forest rangers before undertaking this hike. It is forbidden to camp in the park, especially on the crater’s slopes. Carry appropriate equipment with you: good walking shoes, warm clothes, sunscreen and sufficient water.
Elevation gain: 1160 metres (from 640 m above sea level to the summit on 1800 m).
Time and difficulty: a trail of 8km leads to the summit of the main crater, over the "Von Seebach” crater. The rise becomes increasingly difficult and rocky as you advance. Expect to walk at least 8 hours for the 16km round trip.
Some specialized guides may be available at the entrance of the two sectors. But it is much better to book the service in advance. Expect to pay a minimum of $ 60 for a guide to accompany you for 8 hours. We can book this service for you.
Other hiking possibilities in the region: 10km to the Cangrejo cascades, a less steep ascent than to the crater (in the morning). Followed for example by a small excursion of 3km to Las Pailas (in the afternoon).

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Arenal Volcano National Park

Lake ArenalTelephone: (506) 2461 84 99

  • Size: 12’140 ha
  • Foundation: 1991
  • Admission: $ 10
  • Open daily from 8am to 4pm
  • Dry season: December - May
  • Hiking: scarce walking trails, good spots for volcano watching

Arenal National Park lies in the northwest of Alajuela province. Its main hub, La Fortuna is easily accessible on good roads. The park was created in 1994 to protect the watershed for the hydropower facilities at Lake Arenal. While weather conditions are often detrimental to wildlife observation, this is particularly a great spot for volcano watching. Arenal and Cerro Chato are bordered by Lake Arenal, an artificial lake with the largest hydroelectric dam in the country. Primary forests of clouds and rain shelter the local wildlife.

Volcan ArenalSince Volcan Arenal erupted in 1968 and its west flank blew open with an explosive “pyroclastic” eruption its frequent activities can be regularly observed. Arenal is a stratovolcano of 1657 metres altitude. The term “stratovolcano” refers to the layers of lava flows and pyroclastical material that make up its conic shape. Arenal’s activity is due to its location on a subduction zone between tectonic plates (one of the plates shifts beneath the other, turning into magma deep inside the earth’s mantle, which is exhausted with explosive eruptions). A hike to the summit is not recommended (and illegal) due to its high activity and continual eruptions. The hikes of Los Tucanes and Las Heliconias are only pleasant with good weather, as you won’t see much otherwise.

Activities and Facilities:

There is visitor information at the ranger station on the trail leading to the Cerro Chato and at Arenal Observatory Lodge. Many walks or activities in the region: "canopy tour," walk on suspension bridges, discovery of Arenal National Park, ascent of Cerro Chato, relaxing in the hot springs, horse riding and, of course: night observation of the "Monstro”!

For a stay in Arenal we recommend especially Linda Vista del Norte and Arenal Observatory Lodge for their view on the lava flows.

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Monteverde Biological Reserve & The Children’s Eternal Rain Forest Preserve

MonteverdeTelephone: (506) 2645 51 22

  • Size: 22’000 ha (Monteverde) + 22’000 (Children’s Reserve)
  • Foundation: 1972/1988
  • Admission: $ 14 (non-residents)
  • Dry season: December - May
  • excellent, well marked trails
  • Wildlife: quetzals, tapirs, butterflies, orchids, magnolias


This reserve complex is located about 150 km northwest of San José in the Tilarán Mountains. From the Interamericana turnoff at Tilaran (kilometre-marker 149) you have to follow a bad dirt road of 35 km to Monteverde/Santa Elena.

The roots of Monteverde Reserve go back to 1951, when a group of Quakers arrived in the area, realising the importance of forest preservation. In 1972 the Powell scientist couple purchased land with local resident Wilford Guindon and thus founded the initial territory of 328 ha. Today, this has expanded to an area of 22’000 ha, which connects to the 19’000 ha of the Children’s Rain Forest Preserve. The latter reserve was set off by a visiting primary school teacher from Sweden. Worried about the state of the unprotected forest around Monteverde, she began raising funds with her students. After the idea spread internationally thousands of hectares have been acquired.

Skywalk, MonteverdeThe park lies in a fabulous cloud forest, which is often rather crowded (off season, May-September – is a better time to visit). One of the main attractions of the park’s fauna is the magnificent quetzal, a bird revered by the indigenous peoples of Central America. There are more than 500 tree, 200 fern, 400 bird, 100 mammal and 120 reptile and amphibian species to be found here! Due to the humidity of the region there is a variety of over 300 orchid species.


The Monteverde Reserve probably offers the best trails of Costa Rican National Parks and they are well-marked. There is also the possibility of doing canopy tours or discovering the forest from suspension bridges in the canopy. The three main trails are Sendero Río, Sendero Pantanoso and Sendero Bosque Nuboso, all starting from the information centre on the Monteverde side of the park.

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Tenorio National Park

  • Rio Celeste Waterfall, TenorioSize: 12’718 ac
  • Foundation: 1996
  • Admission:
  • good trails, not always easy to find
  • Dry Season: December - May
  • Wildlife: tapirs, toucans


Located near the small town of Bijagua in Guanacaste, this is one of the newest parks in Costa Rica. The extraordinary thing about Tenorio are its thermal rivers, particularly the magnificent Rio Celeste – so called because of a chemical reaction that creates a sparkling light blue colour in the water. There are hot springs and underwater fumaroles, but swimming is not officially allowed. Lately, the tapir population has been recovering and one can hope for increasing numbers of these impressive animals.

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Barra Honda National Park

Telephone: (506) 2685 52 67

  • Size: 2’296 ha
  • Foundation: 1974
  • Admission: $ 10 (non-residents)
  • Open daily from 8 am to sunset
  • Dry season: January - March

28 km southeast of Santa Cruz, on the northern side of Nicoya Peninsula. The specialty of Barra Honda is its extensive cave system, most of which are only accessible for experienced spelunkers.


Spelunking: For amateurs, visits to the Terciopelo cave can be arranged (book at least one week ahead), which is accessible by a rope ladder. The caves are of limestone and were formed by water reacting with carbon dioxide, thereby shaping the interior formations. Terciopelo cave contains many unusual formations (“popcorn”, “shark’s teeth” etc.) and starts with a spectacular 15 m drop. You have to have experience and adequate spelunking equipment for the other caves. Nicoa cave contains human remains from pre-Columbian times; the reason for these burials have not yet been quite understood.

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Cabo Blanco Biological Reserve

Telephone: (506) 2642 00 93

Cabo Blanco, on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula is best accessible by a trail from Montezuma and Cabuya. There are many threatened species living here (as the crested guan and brocket deer).

The Reserve was initiated by the Swedish Wessberg couple in 1955 who were aware of the dangerous effects of deforestation when they moved here. They began raising funds to buy forest property and in 1963 the land was made a reserve by a government degree.


Beautifully located on the southern tip of Nicoya, there are trails to discover the flora and fauna. Swimming is possible on two beautiful beaches: Playa Balsitas and Playa Cabo Blanco.

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Curú Wildlife Refuge

Telephone: (506) 264101 00 and 641-0590 / Fax: (506) 641 03 94


Curú is a small, semi-private reserve at Playa Tambor on the southeast side of the Nicoya peninsula. It was initiated by the Shutz family who owns the finca in the back of the reserve. As the waters started to be overfished, the family appealed to the Wildlife Directorate to establish a protected zone of 50 metres on the beachfront (which is usually public ground in Costa Rica). This refuge was established to protect the forest and the South coast of the Peninsula of Nicoya. The park is home to many animals: Capuchin monkeys, peccaries, coatis, raccoons, white-tailed deer, iguanas, coyotes and red macaws.

Activities and Facilities:

Solar-powered bungalows ($ 35 per person per day, incl. 3 meals and entrance to the refuge), horse rides: $ 10 per hour, guide service on request. Contact us for further info.

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Diriá National Park

Telephone: (506) 2680 19 30

  • Size: 5’360 ha
  • Foundation: 1991
  • Admission: $ 6 (non-residents)
  • Dry Season: December - May

160 km northwest of San José. The reserve is easily accessible by a track from Santa Cruz towards Retallalo in the south. A premontane moist forest with patches of dry tropical forest, offering a diverse variety of orchids. It is located on an elevation with the Cerro Vista al Mar (983 m) being the highest point. Many rivers have their source in this area.


Two pleasant hiking trails lead to the pretty “Brazil” waterfall.

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Guayabo, Negritos, Los Pajaros Islands Biological Reserves

  • Size: 150 ha
  • Foundation: 1976/1982
  • Admission: no fee
  • Dry Season: January - March
  • Wildlife: brown pelicans, frigate birds, peregrine falcons

Three islands located off the Gulf of Nicoya, which are important nesting areas for seabirds. The passage is usually undertaken by lancha from Puntarenas. Note that access to the park is restricted.

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Las Baulas National Park & Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge

Telephone: (506) 2653 04 70


This protected zone is accessible directly from the beach resort town of Tamarindo.

Las Baulas covers the area of Playa Grande to Punta Hermosa, which is one of the most important nesting places for leatherback turtles. Up to 800 female turtles can be best seen from November until March.


The Tamarindo refuge is basically an area of mangrove forests, just off the town’s main beach. There are some walking tracks around the reserve, but the best access is by boat. You can rent tours or paddle through the crocodile swamp with a sea kayak (to be rented in town). Guided tours (English/Spanish) by forest guards are available. Note that there are admission quotas.

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Lomas de Barbudal Biological Reserve

  • Size: 2’614 ha
  • Foundation: 1986
  • Admission: no fee
  • Dry season: January – March

About 10 km southwest of Liberia, the reserve is easily accessible by a trail from the Pan American between Liberia and Bagaces. The Biological Reserve can also be combined with and reached from Palo Verde National Park. Lomas de Barbudal has an impressive variety of insects (it is therefore advisable to visit during dry season – for less bites). The particularity of the reserve are the 250 species of bees – almost a quarter of the known species in the world!


Mountain biking is possible on the old roads through the reserve, but check for permission at the visitor centre before biking off.

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Palo Verde National Park

Palo VerdeTelephone: (506) 2671 12 90

Located on the north side of the Nicoya Gulf, at the mouth of Rio Tempisque. The park is best accessible from the turnoff at Bagaces on the Interamericana.view on palo verde The OTS field station (with sleeping opportunity) is 7.5 km from the entrance. Apart from primary forest zones, Palo Verde includes the beautiful fresh and saltwater marshes and mangrove swamps of Rio Tempisque lowlands. Many migrating birds stop over here (peak season: January/February), so this is a great place for birding.

Activities and Facilities:

Birdwatching is the main attraction here, but the park is also frequented by many white-tailed deer, agoutis, monkeys (Capuchin), peccaries, coatis… The OTS is a centre Research is the ideal (but rustic) for a stay. Contact us for your reservation.

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Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge

Cano Negro National ParkTelephone: (506) 2460 00 55

  • Size: 10’157 ha
  • Foundation: 1984
  • Admission: $ 10 (non-residents)
  • Open daily 8am to 4pm
  • Dry Season: January - April
  • Wildlife: cormorants, roseate spoonbill, spectacled caimans

Located close to the Nicaraguan border crossing of Los Chiles. The refuge is accessible by a trail either from the road to Los Chiles or by a track from Upala. 4 X 4 strongly recommended in both cases. Caño Negro is popular with nature lovers and particularly birdwatchers, due to its lake of 800 hectares, which attracts many birds. The lake fills up in the rainy season and turns into a small pond during dry season. The refuge lies beside a part of the Rio Frio, which is also home to many crocodiles and freshwater turtles. It was established to protect important wetlands for migratory birds and is a true paradise for ornithologists. To travel by water is the best way to explore this park. Some local operators offer boat tours.

We recommend a stay in the region the Cañon de la Vieja Lodge, a 10 minutes’ walk from the park entrance. The lodge also organizes visits to the park by boat and with excellent guides. Contact us for reservations.

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Juan Castro Blanco National Park

Telephone: (506) 2460 56 15

  • Size: 14’447 ha
  • Foundation: 1992
  • Admission: $ 10 (non-residents)
  • Open daily, 8am to 4pm
  • Dry Season: December – April

Juan Castro Blanco is a small park in the vicinity of the Central Valley’s cities. It is difficult to access and offers some short unmarked footpaths through the reserve. Mainly it was constructed to protect the watershed of the surrounding cities, so it is not specialised for ecotourism. About half of the park consists of primary rain and cloud forest and there are two volcanoes on the preserve: Volcano Platanar (2183m) and Provenir (2267m). The rivers called "Aguas Zarcas" are formed by numerous hot springs spas. This is also a habitat for the legendary quetzal. Only unmarked trails run through the area.

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