From dripping cloud forests to bubbling volcanic fumaroles. Warm ocean currents harboring whales, turtles, and dolphins to swaths of mysterious wetlands teaming with reptiles and bird life…. Costa Rica has it all.
Over one-quarter of the country’s wild terrain is nationally or privately protected. More than any other country in the world. Among the approximately 160 designated areas are national parks, marine parks, conservation areas, absolute reserves, reserves, and refuges. Many independent property owners have embraced Costa Rica’s noteworthy conservation efforts and partitioned portions or their own lands as protected areas as well.
Adobe Rent a Car and Costa Rica’s National Parks
Visiting the national parks of Costa Rica should be on the top of your list of things to do. The best way to see as many parks in the country as possible is to rent a car, grab a map, and explore. In fact, there are more than 30 nationally-protected parks and reserves to choose from.
Adobe Rent a Car has 16 offices strategically located throughout the country for your convenience. Wherever you decide to visit, rest assured that there will be a friendly Adobe agent nearby.
Remember that most national parks charge a fee to enter and are closed on Mondays. Some parks close for days or weeks so that the natural environment can regenerate, for infrastructure repairs, or for security reasons such as volcanic activity.
Check the SINAC (National System of Conservation Areas) website for park hours and entrance information. SINAC is a branch of Costa Rica’s Ministry of the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications and is responsible for overseeing the country’s conservation areas.
No matter what your trip itinerary entails, there’s likely to be a national park nearby. Although renting a 4WD vehicle isn’t 100% necessary, it’s highly recommended. Costa Rica’s diverse terrain and intense weather can create rugged road conditions. Especially once you’ve left the main thoroughfares and enter the backcountry.
The following list of national parks highlights a few of the local favorites. It is organized by region.
Poas Volcano National Park
Poas Volcano is one of the most frequently visited parks because of its proximity to San José and beautiful surroundings. The drive there is less than one hour from the Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO). Tours to the volcano often combine a stop at a picturesque coffee plantation and are popular day trips.
Arenal Volcano National Park
The iconic Arenal Volcano is the centerpiece of this enormous 290 square mile park. The area is home to two-thirds of the country’s 12 life zones and is teeming with wildlife. Visitors will find a huge variety of things to do in and around the park. Mineral-rich hot springs, canopy tours and zip lines, waterfall hikes, horseback riding, and even fishing or kayaking on the nearby Arenal Lake are a few of the possibilities.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
At approximately 5,900 feet (1,800 m), Monteverde’s cool and misty mountains attract nature enthusiasts and birders from around the world. The park is located on the continental divide between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and has animal and plant species from both regions. Despite its relatively small 40 square miles, Monteverde harbors close to 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity. Among the thousands of species of wildlife are at least 500 types of birds, including the coveted Resplendent Quetzal.
Los Quetzales National Park
As its name implies, Los Quetzales National Park is home to a large population of the brilliantly plumed birds. It also protects hundreds of animal and plant species found nowhere else in Costa Rica. The cool and often rainy landscape covers an area of rain and cloud forest between 6,500 and 9,800 feet (2,000-3,000 m) in the Talamanca Mountains. Rare creatures such as the Baird’s Tapir, jaguars, puma, collared peccaries, and tayras call the park home. Los Quetzales is a perfect stopping point for visitors heading to the southern Pacific beaches.
South Atlantic Coast
Cahuita National Park
This pristine coastal and marine park is a poster child for classic Caribbean paradise. Bordering the small beachfront town of the same name, Cahuita National Park harbors both terrestrial and marine habitats. These include colorful coral reefs, a shipwreck, mangroves, calm turquoise waters, and palm-fringed white-sand beaches. The idyllic haven is one of the few parks that doesn’t charge an entrance fee. Instead, visitors are asked to make a donation before entering.
Central Atlantic Coast
Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero’s remote location doesn’t hinder curious vacationers from visiting its fascinating waterways and rugged beaches. In fact, the only way to get there is by air or boat. The entire region is a densely forested network of rivers, canals, and mangroves bordering the Atlantic shoreline. Green, Hawksbill and Leatherback turtles visit the sandy shoreline to lay their eggs every year and have made the area famous. Other native creatures, including manatee, river otter, caiman, monkeys, and waterfowl, among numerous others.
Southern Pacific Coast
Corcovado National Park
Corcovado National Park was hailed as “the most biologically intense place on earth in terms of biodiversity.” by the National Geographic Society. The giant park encompasses a large portion of the Osa Peninsula on the remote southern Pacific Coast. It is home to 13 distinct ecosystems and protects one of the last stretches of Pacific old-growth wet forests in Central America. Scientist, ecologists, and environmentalists frequent the region to study the pristine flora and fauna. Visitors can only enter the park from one of the numerous ranger stations and must be accompanied by a licensed guide.
Marino Ballena National Park
Located on Costa Rica’s Whale Coast (Costa Ballena), just north of the Osa Peninsula, lies the picturesque Marino Ballena National Park. The park protects both coastal and marine habitats and is home to one of the largest coral reefs on the Pacific Coast. The idyllic Marino Ballena beach is famous for its immense whale tail-shaped sand bar that juts into the Pacific at low tide. Whale sightings are also common as numerous migratory species frequent the waters, including Humpbacks and their young.
Central Pacific Coast
Manuel Antonio National Park
In 2011, Frommer’s listed Manuel Antonio National Park as one of the most beautiful parks in the world. Despite its small size, the coastal, or “transitional zone” environment harbors a surprisingly large number of animal, bird, and reptile species. Visitors often crowd the parks well-maintained trails and scenic beaches during the weekends, so it’s best to visit during the week if possible.
Carara National Park
Popular among birders for its large population of scarlet macaws, Carara National Park is a close drive from San José. The park is also home to lowland rainforest ecosystems and numerous exotic species such as crocodiles, monkeys, and sloths. Day trips to Carara often include a stop at the Tarcoles River Bridge where visitors can glimpse hordes of giant crocodiles sunning themselves in their natural habitat.
Northern Pacific Coast
Santa Rosa National Park
Known as much for its historical significance as its biodiversity, Santa Rosa National Park is also a national monument and Unesco World Heritage site. The lowland coastal habitat is located near the Nicaraguan Border in northern Guanacaste Province. The area is characterized by its dry deciduous forests, savannahs, marshlands, and mangroves, as well as miles of pristine, and often deserted, beaches.
Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park
The otherworldly landscape and bubbling hot springs at Rincon de la Vieja National Park enchant visitors year round. The park is conveniently located only 22 miles (36 km) from the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) and the Adobe Rent a Car Liberia office. Visitors are encouraged to hike the well-maintained trail system to witness the volcano’s fascinating geological features. These include fumaroles, pools of boiling clay, and steam vents. The nearby Tenorio Volcano National Park is equally worth a visit. It is renowned for the enchanting Rio Celeste River that originates beneath the volcano and has an unusual turquoise color.