A Costa Rica National Parks Travel Guide | Selina Hotel
By David Bolaños on Aug 04, 2022
When Christopher Columbus first set foot on Uvita island in 1502, he thought he had discovered a land full of precious metal-bearing ores. He named it Costa Rica- the “Rich Coast.” But as he would soon realize, Costa Rica wasn’t a gold mine but a tropical paradise rich in unspoiled beaches with crystal-blue shores, imposing volcanoes and dense, vibrant rainforests preserving a diverse array of ecological systems.
Tiny it may be. But this country, bathed by the Caribbean sea and the pacific ocean, represents five percent of our planet’s biodiversity. With 25% of its total land area covered by national parks and forest reserves, Costa Rica is the dream getaway for nature lovers craving pure life- or Pura Vida, as the Ticos and Ticas call it.
Costa Rica’s national parks are inexhaustible. But some stand out the most. If you’re looking to delve into its magic, here are the best national parks in Costa Rica for wildlife, thrilling road trips, spectacular hikes and more!
Costa Rica National Parks Map
Manuel Antonio National Park
Located in Quepos, a small booming harbor city on the Pacific coast, Manuel Antonio is arguably the most popular national park in Costa Rica. This is among the smallest parks in the country. But considering its rich biodiversity coupled with a wealth of adrenaline-packed outdoor adventures, it makes sense Manuel Antonio has been named one of the best national parks in Costa Rica and the world.
Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio is mainly known for wildlife watching and bird spotting as it’s home to 109 species of mammals, 184 bird species and an abundance of reptiles, amphibians and marine species. White-faced monkeys, brown-throated three-toed sloths, mantled howler monkeys, brown pelicans and white-faced capuchin monkeys are abundant here, as are iguanas, crocodiles, Olive Ridley sea turtles and various species of lizards.
This Costa Rica park is also famous for its two main beaches: Manuel Antonio beach and Espadilla Sur Beach. Playa Manuel Antonio is a dream destination for swimmers, avid surfers, sunbathers and party lovers. But if you prefer a less touristy experience, Playa Espadilla Sur is also one of the best beaches in Costa Rica for swimming, snorkeling, surfing lessons and sunset views.
You need great accommodation to experience this tropical paradise to the fullest, and we’ve got you covered at Selina hotel Manuel Antonio.
Manuel Antonio National Park Entrance Fees and Hours
Manuel Antonio National Park is open every day, including holidays, but remains closed on Tuesdays. The entrance fee to Manuel Antonio National Park is $18.08 for adults and $5.65 for children between 2 and 11 years. Citizens and locals pay about $3 each.
Corcovado National Park
Corcovado is a biologically intense wild slice of Costa Rica located in the Osa Peninsula. The latter is one of the most beautiful and virtually untouched parts of this country, bordering Coronado Bay to the northwest, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Gulf of Dulce to the east.
Parque nacional Corcovado is the main attraction of the Osa Peninsula. But what’s even more impressive is that this park teems with at least 50% of all animal species in Costa Rica. Its untouched wilderness and isolation make this the best Costa Rica national park for nature-lovers, adventurers and researchers passionate about experiencing nature in its purest form.
Accessed only by a chartered plane, boat or on foot, this 4,178-hectare park is home to 500 species of trees, 6000 insect species, 367 bird species, 140 species of mammals and close to 160 species of amphibians, reptiles and freshwater fish.
Considering its biodiversity, it’s evident that Corcovado means business in terms of wildlife and bird watching. If you can endure its long and challenging hikes, keep an eye out for giant anteaters, ocelots, pumas, harpy eagles, great tinamou and glass frogs.
Corcovado National Park Entrance Fees and Hours
Visiting Corcovado National Park requires having a permit, which costs $15 per day. Note that no one is allowed into the park without a guide. The park is open daily from 7:30 AM to 5 PM.
Arenal Volcano National Park
Between 1968 and 2010, Arenal was one of the world’s most active volcanoes. While it has been resting for some time now, this volcano and its landscapes still appeal to many people and remains the second most visited national park in Costa Rica.
With its nearly perfect cone-shaped summit, the volcano is a major draw for tourists. But this park also makes an iconic playground for hikers of all levels with its hiking trails. The most popular hiking trail is the Los Miradores, which meanders under the forest canopy to give you breathtaking panoramas of the volcano, Lake Arenal and the surrounding rolling hills.
Another top attraction at Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal is its 12 swimmable hot springs. These all-natural thermal jacuzzis have a distinct atmosphere and together make Arenal the best national park in Costa Rica for romantic getaways and unadulterated relaxation.
Located around six kilometers from the charming town of La Fortuna, this park in Costa Rica also has lots of other fun things to do, including ziplining, kayaking, kitesurfing and stand-up paddleboarding.
Reserve your Arenal Volcano getaway with Selina Fortuna hotel to experience the beauty of Areno and its fun activities.
Arenal Volcano National Park Entrance Fees and Hours
Arenal Volcano National Park opens at 8 AM and closes at 4 PM. The park entrance fee is $15 for adults and $5 for children.
Carara National Park
Nature lovers exploring Costa Rica’s national parks don’t want to miss Parque Nacional Carara. This national park near San Jose, Costa Rica, is the only nature reserve with a transition tropical forest in the Central Pacific.
Due to its strategic positioning, Carara park is where flora and fauna from the northern and southern tropical habitats converge. The result is a fantastic display of over 420 avian species, including the scarlet macaw parrots, the orange-collared manakin and the near-endemic yellow-billed cotinga.
This Costa Rica park, boasting over 5,242 hectares, is also home to an assortment of plants and animals, including Two-toed sloths, Armadillos, Pacas, Poison-arrow frogs and Kinkajous. Visiting the Crocodile Bridge over the Tarcoles river is another must-do in Carara national park due to the tens of crocodiles that reside under it.
Besides birdwatching and wildlife spotting, Carara national park also has several well-maintained trails, making it a great spot for a quick hike.
Carara national park is a 2.5-hour drive away from San Jose and around 20 minutes from the beachside town of Jaco. While it rarely gets overcrowded, it pays to visit Carara national park when wildlife is very active in the morning hours.
Want to make your trip to Carara National Park memorable? Selina Jaco Costa Rica hotel conveniently places you minutes away from the entrance, increasing your chances of spotting wildlife.
Carara National Park Entrance Fees and Hours
Carara national park opens from 8 AM to 4 PM in the low season (May to November), and 7 AM to 4 PM in the high season (December to April). The Carara National Park admission fee is $10.
Cahuita National Park
Cahuita national park in Costa Rica is an impressive mix of white sand beaches, coral reefs and a lush jungle sheltering a plethora of animal species.
Covering only 1100 hectares of land area, Cahuita may be one of the smallest national parks in Costa Rica. On the upside, you don’t have to venture deep into the forest to experience its unique biodiversity. With patience and a good eye, there’s so much to see along the paths and trails, including capuchin and howler monkeys, raccoons, armadillos, sloths and Northern Boat-billed herons.
Cahuita Costa Rica park also shelters some of our planet’s most stunning amphibian and reptile species. If you’re lucky, you should be able to capture a photo of the blue jean dart frog, a whip-tailed lizard and even the yellow-eyelash viper snake. In addition to hiking and wildlife watching, Cahuita national park has two white sand beaches with good snorkeling in the dry season and two shipwrecks waiting to be explored.
Parque Nacional Cahuita is located on the southern Caribbean coast just east of the vibrant little village of Cahuita. It sits around 17 kilometers from the laid-back beach town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and is a four-hour drive away from San Jose- the capital city.
Stay at Selina Puerto Viejo Hostel for all the top attractions to visit in Cahuita and Puerto Viejo.
Cahuita National Park Entrance Fee and Hours
Cahuita National Park is open every day from 8 AM to 4 PM, although visitors are required to start heading towards either of the entrances starting from 2 PM.
There is no entrance fee to Cahuita National Park if you enter through the Kelly Creek station, but donations are highly appreciated. However, the entrance fee to Cahuita National Park through the Puerto Vargas station is $10.
Irazu National Park
If the thrill of hiking up a live volcano tops your wishlist, Irazu Volcano National Park is the place to tick it off. This park sits on the slopes of Irazu mountain- the most popular and the tallest of the five officially active Costa Rican volcanoes. It is easily accessible from Cartago city (27 kilometers), but it also gets a lot of traffic from San Jose, around 49 kilometers or a 90-minute drive away.
Most first-timers come to this park in Costa Rica to observe its volcanic craters. While there are five distinct craters, you can only see two. The main crater (Crater Principal) is the major draw for most people and boasts a depth of 300 meters, a diameter of 1050 meters and a beautiful blue-green lake at the bottom. To the right of the main crater, you’ll find Crater Diego de la Haya- a smaller inactive volcano 600 meters wide and 100 meters deep.
The Irazu Volcanic hike takes around an hour, so most people combine it with other attractions and things to do in Cartago.
Book your accommodation at Selina Hotel San Jose Costa Rica today to enjoy the tropical weather at Irazu Volcano and other exciting things on your bucket list.
Irazu National Park Entrance Fees and Hours
Irazu Volcano National Park is open every day from 8 AM to 4 PM. The entrance is closed at 2 PM. The entrance fees to Irazu National Park, Costa Rica, is $15 for adults and $5 for children (2-12 years).
Las Baulas Marine National Park
Located in the bustling tourist town of Tamarindo in Guanacaste province, Las Baulas Marine National Park is the best Costa Rica park to see turtles. This park gets its name from the leatherback (baulas) turtles that call it home. The leatherback turtle is the heaviest non-crocodilian reptile, capable of growing up to two meters in length and weighing upwards of 600 kilograms.
However, this nature reserve in Costa Rica has other exciting things to do besides night-time turtle tours, though. During the day, it’s common to explore the secrets of this park’s mangrove swamps and estuaries by kayaking. Playa Grande, Playa Carbon, Playa Ventanas and Playa Langosta also offer nice spots for swimming, snorkeling, walking and sunbathing on soft white sand.
Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas also shelters countless water birds, cattle egrets, white ibis and pelicans. It’s also one of the best national parks to visit in Costa Rica for spotting the endangered roseate spoonbill and a host of migratory birds.
Stay close to Las Baulas Marine National Park at Selina Tamarindo hotel and experience fun jungle and beach activities at the same time.
Las Baulas Marine National Park Entrance Fees and Hours
Las Baulas Marine National Park is open 24/7, all year round, from 6 AM to 6 PM. The entrance fee is $25 for visitors and $5 for citizens and residents.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Costa Rica state parks and nature reserves come in all shapes and sizes. Reserva biológica Del Bosque Nuboso de Monteverde has once been named the Mecca for bird watchers and wildlife spotters by National Geographic. CNN also says that this Costa Rica nature preserve is among the most beautiful places globally- and we can’t agree more.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is an ethereal wonderland with rows of wind-sculpted elfin pine trees dripping with moss and adorned with over 400 bird species. Hummingbirds, Resplendent Quetzals, Slate-throated Whitestart and Collared Whitestart abound. Its canopy also makes a unique habitat for over 1200 amphibian species and over 100 species of mammals, including jaguars, puma, deer, white-faced and howler monkeys and ocelots.
In addition to exploring the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve flora and fauna, other top things to do in this reserve include extreme ziplining, hiking, walking across hanging bridges and taking night walks.
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Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Entrance Fees and Hours
The entrance fee at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is $25 for non-residential adults and $12 for children 6-12 years old. Expect an additional $5 parking fee if you have a rental car. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve opens daily from 7 AM to 4 PM.
Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero in Spanish means the “land of turtles.” This name references the endangered green sea turtles that flock to this park’s beach during nesting and hatching seasons. But while sea turtles are the main reason people visit this national park in Costa Rica, they only represent a fraction of what you can see at Tortuguero.
Tortuguero national park is truly magical thanks to its uniquely varied ecosystem comprising 11 defined habitats. Covering over 31,000 hectares, this park has mangrove forests, rainforests, slope forests, swamps, beaches and lagoons. These different habitats make Tortuguero a haven for over 300 avian species, 60 species of mammals and over 160 species of amphibians and reptiles, which aptly earns it the nickname of Costa Rica’s Amazon.
We must warn you that Parque Nacional Tortuguero is not easily accessible. This is one of the most isolated national parks in Costa Rica. However, the morning boat/ferry rides through still waterways backgrounded by a dense jungle on both sides and caiman crocodiles are part of the reason Tortuguero national park is a must-visit in Costa Rica.
Tortuguero National Park Entrance Fees and Hours
Tortuguero National Park entrance fee is $15 for adults and $5 for children. The park is open daily from 8 AM to 6 PM.
Piedras Blancas National Park
Piedras Blancas was part of the globally renowned Corcovado national park until 1999. And just like other Costa Rica state parks in the Osa Peninsula, this park is little known and largely untapped.
Parque Nacional Piedras Blancas was separated from Corcovado national park to better protect the last tropical rainforests and the untouched, pristine beaches near the Golfo Dulce. Its geographic location, coupled with the fact that it’s largely untamed, makes it a richly biodiverse hub for rare flora and fauna species, most of which are yet to be named.
Cutting through its evergreen forests are the Piedras Blancas and Esquinas rivers that form several scenic waterfalls before pouring into the Golfo Dulce. Often considered the best Costa Rica reserve for birdwatching, Piedras Blancas is a crucial meeting point for various bird species found in North and South America, including red lored parrots, scarlet macaws, oropendola, trogons and various species of hummingbirds.
If you visit Piedras Blancas national park before the heat of the day, you may also be able to spot jaguars, coatimundi, pumas, sloths and white-faced capuchin and spider monkeys.
Piedras Blancas National Park Entrance Fees and Hours
Piedras Blancas National Park visiting hours are from 8 AM to 4 PM daily. Foreigners pay $15 while the entrance fee for citizens and residents is 1500 colones.
With over a quarter of its total landmass under protection, visiting Costa Rica’s national parks is undoubtedly one of the top things to do in this country. Its 40+ national parks and nature reserves with thousands of flora and fauna species and vast wealth of rural escapes make this Central American country an adventurous playground for lovers of pure natural beauty.
With everything from dreamy beaches to tenacious treks and soothing natural hot springs, we hope this Costa Rica national parks guide makes it easy for you to choose the best national parks to visit in Costa Rica this year.
Parks in Costa Rica FAQs
How many parks are in Costa Rica?
The Costa Rican National Park System comprises 32 national parks, 51 wildlife refuges and 21 forest and biological reserves overseen by the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC).
What is the most famous park in Costa Rica?
Manuel Antonio is overwhelmingly considered the most famous national park in Costa Rica owing to its impressive landscapes. This tropical paradise is located in Quepos, Puntarenas province.
Why does Costa Rica have so many national parks?
The high number of Costa Rican national parks could be attributed to many factors, including its tropical and subtropical climate that favor diverse habitats, stringent environmental policies by SINAC and stable democracy.
What percentage of Costa Rica is protected by national parks?
More than 25% of Costa Rica’s landmass is protected. Costa Rica parks cover over 10% of these, while the rest is covered by wildlife refuges and forest and biological reserves.
What kind of parks does Costa Rica have?
Costa Rica’s natural protection system comprises government-backed national parks, wildlife refuges and forest and biological reserves.
Why does Costa Rica protect its land?
Costa Rica’s effort to protect its land is mainly driven by the need to preserve its natural beauty. There’s also the need to grow its tourism sector, which makes up almost 10% of its GDP.
Are national parks open in Costa Rica?
As of May 2022, most Costa Rica national parks are open to visitors.
Is Rincón de la Vieja Volcano active?
Yes. Rincon de la Vieja is among the most active volcanoes in Costa Rica and records 1-2 events per day.