National Parks of Costa Rica



National Parks Southern Pacific Region


Carara Biological Reserve

carara national parkTelephone: (506) 2383 99 53

The reserve lies only 126 km (2.5h) from San José. As it is easily accessible from the road to Orotina, this makes even a good day trip. An interesting reserve for those with biological fascinations as there are many endangered species in this region. You can find scarlet macaws (this is one of the biggest reserves they live in) and particularly the American crocodiles on the river Tarcoles are a spectacular sight. The area around the river is optimal for birding, early morning being the best time.

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Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National ParkTelephone: (506) 2777 41 22

  • Size: 1’624 ha
  • Foundation: 1972
  • Admission: $ 10 (non-residents)
  • Open Tuesday to Sunday, 8am to 16pm. Limited access (600 pers. /day)!
  • Dry Season: December - March
  • Hiking: good, well marked trails
  • Wildlife: sea turtles, brown pelicans, trogons, hawk-eagles, anteaters, coatis, sloths, ocelots, monkeys

60 km west of San José, 6 km south of Quepos. Despite its tiny size Manuel Antonio is one of the most frequented National Parks. Nonetheless, it offers an extraordinary range of wildlife: next to hawk-eagles, sea turtles and anteaters, you can find three of Costa Rica’s four monkey species (squirrel, howler, white-faced). The park includes tropical forest, sand beaches and a rocky peninsula where marine wildlife is protected.


There are many kilometres of walking trails – probably the most convenient in the country – and immediate access to beaches, where swimming and pickinick are allowed. The best (and most popular) beach is Playa Manuel Antonio, which is safer to swim than Playa Espadilla. In the coastal areas there are many tide pools where you can observe some of the sea life (such as crustaceans, sponges or some of the 78 fish species living in the area).

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Peñas Blancas Wildlife Refuge


  • Size: 2400 ha
  • Foundation: 1985
  • Dry Season: January - April

The refuge can be found near the town Miramar in Guanacaste (turn off at Santa Rosa on the Panamericana). It mainly consists of secondary forest but there are also some patches of primary forest to be found in the river valleys. Due to this, wildlife is not very widespread yet (but there are howler monkeys, peccaries and other common mammals).

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Ballena National Park

Dominical, near BallenaTelephone: (506) 2786 71 61

  • Size: 200 ha (land), 5’374 ha (marine)
  • Foundation. 1992
  • Admission: $ 6 (non-residents)
  • Open daily, 8am to 4pm
  • Dry Season: January - March
  • Wildlife: sperm whales, melon-headed whales, dolphins

The park is located about 95km southeast of San José, 2km South Uvita. It is easily accessible over the new Highway No. 34. Ballena National Park is among Costa Rica’s younger National Parks and was created to conserve the rich marine resources of the region.


There are a number of beaches (but the sea can be rather rough) and snorkelling opportunities.

Diving is good at Isla Ballena and Rocas Las Tres Hermanas. But the activity this park is best known for is whale and dolphin watching. Due to an ocean rich with plankton many whales come to feed in this area. If you go out by boat you will often be accompanied by an escort of cheerful dolphins. Note that this is a marine park, so its focus lies on the ocean. There are not many trails through the park area.

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Corcovado National Park

Secondary Rainforest, CorcovadoTelephone: (506) 2735 50 36

Covering a good part of the Osa Peninsula, Corcovado is accessible by boat from Drake Bay, 4x4 taxi from Puerto Jimenez, or by plane to the Sirena ranger station. Corcovado is the most species-rich park in Central America and one of Costa Rica’s last untouched wilderness areas. There are over 500 tree species, around 8’000 insect, 400 bird, 140 mammal and 117 reptile species. Many critically endangered animals can be found here (jaguar, tapir, scarlet macaw) and all of the country’s four monkey species are present. The landscape is rich and varied, containing marshes, swamps and montane forests as well as mangroves, several waterfalls and beaches. There are many kilometres of magnificent trails through primary and secondary forest. Note that the climate is hot and humid; not everyone might be in the shape to walk longer distances. Also, some trails can become almost impassable during rainy season. The rich fauna includes biting insects such as, mosquitoes, chiggers and ticks, against which you should well protect yourself (repellent, long trousers).

corcovado, punta llorona

Activities and Facilities:

There are three ranger stations from where the trails start (and where accommodation is possible), Sirena being the central one. Access is not easy, and you either have to walk or take a plane to Sirena. Another option are day tours offered from lodges at Drake Bay. One of the most scenic trails that we recommend is the Sendero Los Patos. However, you need to undertake longer walks through Corcovado well equipped (food, map, compass, tent, etc.). To hire a guide is strongly recommended, if only to point out the wildlife to you.

To visit the region around Drake Bay we recommend: Punta Marenco Lodge, Jinetes de Osa and La Paloma Lodge. Contact us to arrange bookings.

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Golfito Wildlife Refuge

Telephone: (506) 2783 56 73

  • Size: 2’809 ha
  • Foundation: 1988
  • Admission: $ 10 (non-residents)
  • Open daily, 8am to 4pm
  • Dry Season: January - March

Created to protect the area’s watershed, this refuge is directly accessible from the town of Golfito. Wildlife is hard to spot in this particularly wet rainforest, but if you have to spend time in Golfito it is a nice way to spend your day. Just walk out of town in any direction and you enter the park, where a number of trails are available. Camping is permitted after application with the MINEA. A research centre and pleasant eco-lodge located in the heart of the refuge is funded by the Austrian government.
For a stay in the region we recommend Las Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, which also organises guided tours in the park.

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Isla Del Caño Biological Reserve

Telephone: (506) 2735 52 82

  • Size: 6’100 ha (incl. maritime part)
  • Foundation: 1976
  • Admission: $ 10 (non-residents)
  • Dry Season: January - March

Beach at Isla del CanoIsla del Caño is an island reserve 10 km off the coast of Corcovado National Park, only accessible by boat from Drake. It is the tip of a 40 million year old underwater mountain. Its steep cliffs are surrounded by a rocky shoreline and few beaches. The name Isla del Caño comes from the Spanish word "caño" which means "pipeline". Mariners came frequently to fill up on fresh water from the waterfalls that descended in the Pacific, as if they were "channelled".

The five coral reefs and the water’s richness in plankton make this Costa Rica’s prime scuba diving site. Visibility is not always perfect but the range of sea life to be found here is amazing. There are also small archaeological sites including a pre-Columbian cemetery and some of the famous spheres.


Tours are available from Sierpe and Drake Bay. The proposed activities are snorkelling/diving and a small exploration of the island (there is one trail of 4 km leading trough Isla del Caño).

Easy and well marked trails lead to the sites and offers beautiful views of a portion of the island.

Ask us for further information.

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Esquinas National Park

  • Size: 5000 ha
  • Foundation: 1991
  • Dry Season: January - March

Esquinas National Park can be found northwest of Golfito, between the Golfo Dulce and the Panamerican highway. It was declared a protected zone in 1991 and its size was increased with international help, chiefly from Austria. Michael Schnitzler, a violin player from Vienna, founded the “Regenwald der Österreicher” to buy over 25 square kilometres of the Esquinas forest.

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Terraba Sierpe National Wetlands (Mangrove Forest Reserve)

  • Size: 22’000 ha
  • Foundation: 1994
  • Admission: free of charge
  • Dry Season: January - March
  • Hiking: one walking trail through secondary forest (Isla Violin Trail)
  • Wildlife: mangrove hummingbird, herons, kingfishers, roseate spoonbills, ibises

Situated on the mouth of Rio Sierpe, on the west side of the Osa Peninsula. The protected zone is the largest mangrove forest of the country and protects the river mouth delta and wetlands between the rivers Terraba and Sierpe. Most visitors pass by here to get to their lodges at Corcovado. But the mangrove forest itself is home to a range of species and is worth a closer inspection. Particularly birdwatchers appreciate the tours in the early morning (and see them as a real alternative to Tortuguero, where tours can get a bit crowded). There are ibises, herons, roseate spoonbills and the rare mangrove hummingbird to be spotted. Of course, the unavoidable crocodiles and caimans can also be seen here.


Numerous operators offer boat tours through the mangroves starting from Sierpe. Contact us for closer information.

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Isla del Coco National Park

Telephone: (506) 2258 76 43

  • Size: 2’400 ha (land), 97’200 ha (marine)
  • Foundation: 1978
  • Admission:
  • by boat per day: less than 15 min: $ 25; 15-29 min: $ 35; 30-44 min: $ 45; 45-50 min: $ 75; 51-100 min: $ 150 - more than 100 min: $ 300
  • by aircraft per day: less than 5 passengers: $ 50; less than 10 passengers: $ 100; more than 10 passengers: $ 200
  • Open daily, 8am to 4pm
  • Dry Season: January - March
  • Wildlife: endemic animals: Coco flycatcher, Coco finch, Coco cuckoo, lizards; sharks, whales

Isla del Coco is Costa Rica’s gem, often compared to Galapagos island. It has a rocky coast with steep cliffs (up to 180 m) and the island’s interior is covered with dense premontane rain forest abounding with epiphytes. Lagoons and rivers feed numerous spectacular waterfalls. Situated about 550 km southwest of the mainland it is home to many endemic species. In earlier centuries it was used as a stopover by buccaneers to stock up on fresh water, coconuts and meat. There are 235 plant, 85 bird and 350 insect species found on the island; of these, 70 plant, three bird and two lizard species are endemic (meaning that they are only found on this island). It is assumed that the lizards – Coco Anole and Coco gecko – arrived on the island on rafts of vegetation.


The island is an internationally renowned paradise for scuba diving and most visitors undertake the journey to dive the fabulous reefs, home to 18 coral species, various crustaceans and molluscs as well as over 200 kind of fish (among which are hammerhead and white-tipped sharks and whales). Boats anchor at Bahía Wafer and Bahía Chatham (picnic area and showers). Hiking trails can be found on the island, but access is restricted.

A minimum stay of 2 weeks is required for this journey. Contact our travel agents if you are interested in this boat tour.

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