Costa Rica National Parks


Wherever you travel on your Costa Rica vacation, Costa Rica national parks will be near-at-hand because 25% of this little country is set aside in parks, reserves, or protected zones.

There are way too many Costa Rica parks and preserves (161 in all) to adequately cover in one place and so you are at Volume 1 covering

. . . Arenal National Park

. . . Tortuguero National Park

. . . La Amistad International Park.

Each is a vacation in itself and offers something unique for visitors.

In this section, we’ll cover these major national and international parks and more, including Costa Rica national park attractions.

And, for great Costa Rica family vacations, be sure to visit Poas Volcano National Park, Irazu Volcano National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, the fabulous Osa Conservation Area

Arenal Volcano National Park

There are 25 Costa Rica national parks and another 136 reserves and protected areas. Though all Costa Rica vacations are fun, if you travel to Arenal Volcano National Park you may have the thrill of a lifetime if it erupts.

The most active volcano in the country, this 30,000-acre park is about 80 miles north of San Jose and a favorite for Costa Rica tourism, for Ticos and tourists alike.

It’s easy to see why because this is a very special place.

Voted one of Costa Rica’s Seven Wonders, this must-see is Arenal Volcano,

You might plan to spend day-after-day here for there are so many things to do. It’s truly one of the most spectacular of the country’s national parks.

Wonderful hot-springs where you can sip your margaritas, listen to the thundering volcanic activity, and watch the sky light up with fantastic light-shows.

Horseback riding, bungee jumping, four-wheeling, hot air balloon rides, rafting, rappelling, ziplining, and hiking are just a few of the Costa Rica vacation activities offered here.

At its base is Lake Arenal, the largest lake in Costa Rica, and a place of adventure all it’s own. You’ll find spectacular fresh-water fishing, world-class windsurfing, aerial trams, kayaking, rafting, canoeing, even a real Swiss hotel and Swiss train at Lake Arenal

The most popular time to visit this region is December through May but you’ll find the best prices off-season.

Tortuguero National Park

When he discovered, and named, Costa Rica, Christopher Columbus landed on the Caribbean coast just a few dozen miles south of Tortuguero.

A little more than 600 years have now passed but, though it’s one of the most popular of all Costa Rica national parks, it remains one of the most isolated.

Like Columbus–and the “tortuga” in the photo on the left– you’ll probably visit this important wilderness by sea because there are still no roads.

You might ask, “Why is Tortuguero so popular if you can’t get to it by road?” (You can go to Limon, on the Caribbean coast, and take a boat from there)

It’s because of its most famous part-time residents: sea turtles. Because of very strong Caribbean currents, you’ll find about 22 miles of beach where, from February to July, leatherbacks, the largest sea turtle in the world (up to 1,200 pounds!) come ashore to nest.

About the time they return to the sea, hawksbills, loggerheads, and 30,000 or so Pacific green turtles come ashore from June through October

There are a number of Costa Rica national parks close to Tortuguero and they share several traits: they’re wild and remote, much warmer and more humid and wet than much of Costa Rica.

Before setting out, check here for info about Costa Rica weather.

Now, don’t let a little heat and humidity stop you from visiting the grand wilderness at Tortuguero National Park


There are a number of private fishing lodges nearby because Tortuguero has some of the best Costa Rica fishing, including tarpon

And, of course, there are many, many private excursions in small boats exploring the many waterways.

You’ll find three park stations within Tortuguero, normally open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

At the north end of the park, you’ll find Cuatro Esquinas Headquarters in the little town of Tortuguero. Camping is available and you’ll need to pass through here for beach access.

On the south end of this 77,000-acre park is the Sector Jalova park headquarters near the Jalova Lagoon just north of the town of Parismina. The El Tucan Nature Trail begins here and parallels the Cano Negro waterway. Two other trails provide short nature hikes, Tragon, and La Ranita Roja.

A really fascinating area leading to Nicaragua, plumb filled with critters and extraordinary Costa Rica fishing in its rivers is

Finally, the Aguas Frias Station is on the western border of the park and can be reached by road. Take the highway to Guapiles, turn north, and drive through the town of Cariari. You’ll find the Los Raudales Nature Trail leading to a scenic lookout point at Lomas del Sierpe.

La Amistad International Park: Caribbean Region

Sometimes misidentified as La Amistad National Park, this huge part extends from Tortuguero National Park south to Panama and nearly entirely from the Caribbean to the Pacific.

Unlike Tortuguero, the Caribbean section of La Amistad is easily and readily accessible by car or bus or–as Columbus found–by boat.

This is one of Costa Rica’s gems (the park continues into Panama), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and so rugged inland that parts of it are still essentially unexplored.

La Amistad International Park: Central Region
In addition to the Caribbean region, you can reach La Amistad along the Pan-American highway that runs south through the center of Costa Rica to Panama.

Unlike the Caribbean influence on the eastern edge of the park, this region is home to a number of indigenous Indian reservations, the intriguing and mysterious disquis balls, magnificent bird-watching, and world-famous Wilson Botanical Gardens, all part of several Costa Rica national parks forming the Costa Rica Biosphere, a U.N. World Heritage site.

La Amistad iin Costa Rica’s central region.

Barra Honda National Park – explore the limestone caves

Braulio Carrillo National Park – just an hour from San Jose

Cahuita National Park – beaches, scuba, and coral reefs

Chirripo National Park – the tallest mountain in Costa Rica

Guanacaste National Park – the largest tropical dry forest

Las Baulas National Marine Park – leatherback turtles at Tamarindo

Palo Verde National Park – birdwatcher’s heaven

Piedras Blancas National Park – rainforest biodiversity

Rincon de la Vieja National Park – hot springs and mineral baths

Tapanti National Park – Quetzal country

Turrialba Volcano National Park – the largest volcano craters

Welcome to Volume 2 of Costa Rica National Parks.

Costa Rica vacations are never complete without a visit to one of its great reserves or parks.

With 161 parks and reserves encompassing more than a quarter of this tiny, tiny country, Costa Rica boasts a staggering 5% of all animal species on this planet!

Think about it: one out of every 20 kinds of animal species.

More types of butterflies here than on the entire African continent.

As many species of birds as in the entire United States.

In this volume, we’ll show you Poas Volcano National Park, Irazu Volcano National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, the spectacular Osa Conservation Area–described by National Geographic as the most “biologically intense” place on the face of the earth, and much more.

Plan to visit one of these great places on your Costa Rica vacation!

Costa Rica National Parks.

Poas Volcano National Park

Perhaps the most visited of all Costa Rica national parks, Poas Volcano National Park is about 16,000 acres in size and about a one hour trip by car or bus from San Jose.

Poas is a terrific place to visit on Costa Rica family vacations because the road to it ends just a short walking distance from the craters.

It’s one of the largest active volcanoes in the world through its last major eruptions were in the mid-’50s.

That is not to say it is lying complete dormant. Indeed, on Christmas Day 2009, travelers visiting in on their Costa Rica vacation were treated to a. . . burp. . . spewing gas, and rocks nearly half a mile high!

Be sure to bring a light jacket because as elevation increases, temperatures drop, particularly as clouds roll in late in the morning. Temperatures range from about 45° to 70°F (7-21°C).

The ride from Alajuela (the closest city, just at its base) will take you through beautiful coffee plantations and small farms. You’ll find several fresh-fruit stands packed with fruit and other goodies. Make it a point to stop in for a real treat and be sure to taste the strawberries–incredibly sweet.

A tip: the very best time to see the active caldera (the second largest on the planet) is early in the morning and on a weekday when the Tico families are at work or in school.

If you don’t have a car, you’ll find lots of tours to Poas (which typically combine other stops as well, like La Paz waterfall, the largest in the country) or, if you prefer to save money, there are morning buses from San Jose that are very cheap but which fill early.

Another tip: bring a snack or lunch (or load up at a fruit stand on the way up) if you travel Costa Rica to Poas because there is a pleasant picnic area but not a great snack bar nearby.

Irazu Volcano National Park

About 21 kilometers (10 miles) east of San Jose is another one of the great Costa Rica national parks, Irazu Volcano National Park.

Irazu is just outside of Cartago, a pretty little town (with WAY too much traffic) but as you travel up the slopes to the crater (which, like Poas, can be reached by vehicle), you’ll pass dairy farms and fertile vegetable fields.

Like Poas, fog tends to come in late in the mornings but it is not uncommon for the clouds to lie below the summit (you won’t know until you get there) and on absolutely clear mornings you’ll experience something visually sensational: you’ll be able to see both the Pacific Ocean AND the Atlantic Ocean from the same spot!

Irazu is the only place on the planet where visitors can stand over an active volcano and see the world’s two great oceans simultaneously.

Temperatures are very similar to those on Poas so bring a warm jacket.

Irazu overlooks the Orosi-Cachi Valley where, among other things, you’ll be able to visit Lancaster Gardens, one of the most valuable botanical gardens in the Western Hemisphere and home to about 3,000 species of plants, including 1,000 different kinds of orchids.

Now owned by the University of Costa Rica, the Garden was established nearly a century ago and, if you’re a plant lover, this is a must-see place.

Turrialba Volcano National Park

Just a few miles from Irazu, you’ll find her sister, who’ll let you walk in her crater.

Her name is Turrialba and she’s one of the least visited Costa Rica national parks, probably because unlike Irazu and Poas, the road is. . . well. . . sometimes problematic.

But, Turrialba is the only active Costa Rica volcano where visitors are allowed to traipse down into the crater itself—except when they are not allowed.

Confused? This huge volcano lay essentially dormant for some time and park rangers allowed visitors to walk down into it. However, when 2009 closed, she began acting like she might be ready to reawaken, sometimes sending ash high into the sky.

So, if you’re into a bit of Costa Rica adventure, and willing to brave a little fire and brimstone at times, include this on your Costa Rica vacation itinerary.

With 161 parks and reserves encompassing more than 25% of its land, probably every Costa Rica vacation includes activities in and around these magnificent set-aside areas.

Manuel Antonio National Park

In many ways the quintessential beach, Manuel Antonio has grown from probably the first important tourist destination in Costa Rica to one of its most luxurious.

All while retaining prestigious “Blue Flag” beach status.

Corcovado National Park

Costa Rica is a land of superlatives.

There’s Cocos Island, one of its Seven Wonders, nominated as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world, with the greatest big animal diving in the world and real buried treasure from real pirates. Jacques Cousteau described it as “the most beautiful island” on earth, and Michael Crichton used it as the setting for Jurassic Park.

There’s magnificent Arenal Volcano where you can sit in luxurious hot springs and sip a Mai Tai as the night sky erupts in red as the volcano belches lava into the air and down its slopes.

And, Irazu Volcano, where, on a clear day, you can stand at the rim of a volcano and see the Pacific Ocean—and the Atlantic ocean—at the same time.

There are 799 miles of beaches and

More than 100 volcanoes.

People who take Costa Rica vacations speak in superlatives because

superlatives are in order. . . .

But one place and only one place is the “most biologically intense place” on earth. It is a tiny wilderness called Corcovado

You can help preserve this magnificent remnant of wilderness and, an acre at a time, save one of the great, though tiny, Costa Rica parks.

Drake Bay and Other Great Parks and Preserves in the Area

A few years before he saved England from the Spanish Armada, Sir Francis Drake sailed a sensational wilderness and landed just off the coast of today’s Corcovado National Park.

Today, more than 530 years later, it’s still spectacular and it’s named after him. You’ll know it as Drake Bay,  While you’re in Drake Bay, be sure to go scuba diving at one of the best Costa Rica parks for that sport. It’s a national preserve called Cano Island Biological Preserve

And, I bet you didn’t know that Costa Rica has some of the best whale watching in the world right off the coast here, too.

Yep, more than a third of all whale and porpoise species visit Costa Rica.

You’ll find great whale watching at one of the marine Costa Rica national parks.

The blue whale, biggest animal ever to inhabit the earth, breeds off Costa Rica’s coasts and humpback whales from both the Arctic and Antarctic swim thousands of miles—from the cold north and the frigid south—where you can watch them by Ballena National Marine Park

And, don’t forget these other nearby Costa Rica parks:

Piedras Blancas National Park

Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve

Carate Wildlife Refuge

Donald Peters Hayes Wildlife Refuge

Golfito Wildlife Refuge

Osa Wildlife Refuge

Rancho La Merced Wildlife Refuge