A country with world-renowned natural beauty, there are some epic Costa Rica national parks. Unsurprisingly, the country has truly done a marvelous job at protecting its ecosystems. It contains 25 beautiful national parks, 3 of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites, accounting for 28% of its land.
Many visitors choose the country as they muse about beautiful Costa Rica beaches, lush forests, and unique animals, all of which can be found in the country’s national parks. I’ve spent a ton of time exploring Costa Rica, and in this article, I’ll walk you through the very best national parks. Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
- 19 Best Parks in Costa Rica
- Manuel Antonio National Park
- Tortuguero National Park
- Arenal Volcano National Park
- Santa Rosa National Park
- Las Baulas National Marine Park
- Marino Ballena National Park
- Corcovado National Park
- Rincón del la Vieja National Park
- Poas Volcano National Park
- Braulio Carrillo National Park
- Irazu Volcano National Park
- Quetzales National Park
- Chirripó National Park
- Terraba Sierpe National Wetlands
- Cahuita National Park
- Tenorio Volcano National Park
- Ostional National Wildlife Refuge
- Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
- Caño Island Biological Reserve
- FAQs About Costa Rica Parks
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19 Best Parks in Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio National Park
Explore the most popular of Costa Rica’s national parks containing lush tropical jungle, pristine white sand beaches, and turquoise water.
If you can only visit one of Costa Rica’s national parks, make it Manuel Antonio National Park. Despite being one of the smallest national parks in Costa Rica, the 4,900 acres of rainforest, white sand beaches, and clear blue waters create an ecological wonderland and draw more visitors than any other park in the country.
Nature lovers can see monkeys, sloths, and colorful birds as they hike to secluded, beautiful beaches that are worthy of any postcard. There’s no wonder why Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.
Tortuguero National Park
Witness the magic of a nesting green sea turtle on this protected Caribbean beach.
Tortuguero National Park covers a vast tract of lush rainforest on the north Caribbean coast. Though the park contains some fantastically abundant forest, it’s best known for its beaches, more specifically the green sea turtles that visit them in droves.
Tortuguero National Park is the birthplace of sea turtle conservation and has the longest-running sea turtle protection program in the world, begun by Archie Carr began back in the 1950s. Thanks to years of work, the beach now receives over 100,000 sea turtle nests each year and is one of the most important nesting habitats for green turtles worldwide.
Arenal Volcano National Park
Behold the impressive volcano that emerges out of dense tropical cloud forests and creates thermal streams.
Arenal Volcano National Park contains two towering volcanoes, the most iconic of which is the 5,357ft conical Arenal Volcano, which is still active today. The subterranean lava heats up the streams and rivers throughout the park, which many resorts harness to create peaceful hot springs and spas.
You can hike the inactive, smaller Chato volcano which takes you through a beautiful forest that leads to the top where a lake has formed in its crater. On the way up, you’ll be rewarded with views of Arenal Volcano and stunning waterfalls.
Santa Rosa National Park
Get glimpses of volcanoes, secluded beaches, and a tropical dry forest home to an incredible array of wildlife.
Santa Rosa National Park is situated in the northwesternmost corner of Costa Rica and contains some of the last remaining tropical dry forests in the world. The park was created to connect critical habitats throughout the region so that wide-ranging wildlife, such as jaguars, would have enough habitat to survive.
While the park was created as a sanctuary for animals, it’s equally enjoyable for human visitors who can take advantage of the unique and stunning forest and some of Costa Rica’s most stunning and least developed beaches on the Pacific coast.
Las Baulas National Marine Park
See a nesting leatherback turtle from one of the most endangered populations on Earth.
Las Baulas National Marine Park was formed specifically to protect the nesting beach for the critically endangered east Pacific leatherback sea turtles. Luckily, these turtles choose to nest on a spectacular stretch of white sand beach where the Pacific ocean creates rolling waves perfect for surfing and swimming.
At night from September to May, the beach closes down so that the prehistoric reptiles can nest peacefully. If you’d like the opportunity to witness a nesting leatherback, you can sign up for a guided tour with the park guards in town.
Marino Ballena National Park
Walk along a rugged beach bordered by tropical forest while keeping an eye open for migrating whales.
Marino Ballena National Park juts out from Costa Rica’s central pacific coast to form a peninsula shaped like a whale tail. Coincidentally, it’s also a great spot to sit on the rugged beach and look for humpback whales making their migrations. The area’s importance for whales and other marine life catalyzed its creation as a protected marine area, the first ever in Central America.
In addition to the marine area, the park also protects a lush tract of tropical rainforest that grows up to the golden sands and provides a home to a variety of land animals.
Corcovado National Park
Spot a huge variety of wildlife in some of the densest jungle in Central America, which contains 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity.
Located on the Osa Peninsula, Corcovado National Park has been described by National Geographic as “the most biologically intense place on earth”, and spending just a short time beneath the dense jungle canopy leaves no doubt as to why.
The 42,560 hectares of forest contain 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity and you can see some of the most famous animals in Costa Rica, like spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, howler monkeys, tapirs, jaguars, three-toed sloths, scarlet macaws, and much more.
While the park is one of the more difficult to reach, it’s well worth the trip, especially for nature enthusiasts hoping to see rare wildlife. Be sure to check the best time to visit Costa Rica to avoid the extremely wet rainy season on the Osa Peninsula.
Rincón del la Vieja National Park
Explore the tropical dry forest, waterfalls, and bubbling mud pits created by multiple volcanoes.
While not the most recognizable national park in Costa Rica, Rincon de la Vieja is undoubtedly one of the most diverse. The park contains an active volcano (whose last major eruption was in 2021), a waterfall, a dry forest, a cloud forest, and boiling mud pits.
The wide variety of scenery, not to mention the many animals that inhabit the park, is wonderful to explore via the extensive trail system that winds through the park.
Poas Volcano National Park
Hike a short way up a volcano to glimpse the vibrant blue crater lake at the top.
Making the half-mile trek to the top of the active Poas Volcano earns you the reward of seeing one of the largest volcanic craters in the world. The impressive cavity is full of collected water that’s a stunning aqua color, with otherworldly steam rising from it.
Located in the central Alajuela province of Costa Rica, Poas Volcano National Park is easily accessible from San Jose, making it a perfect day trip adventure.
Braulio Carrillo National Park
Hike through this less-traveled, dense jungle scape full of unique flora and fauna.
With 50,000 hectares of protected terrain, Braulio Carrillo is the largest protected area in Costa Rica. The massive park contains two volcanos, a dense mountainous cloud forest, river systems, and some of the steepest topography in Costa Rica with slopes that reach an altitude of 9,534 feet.
Much of the park is dedicated to preservation and research, but visitors can enjoy the scenery from both Quebrada González and Barva Volcano.
Irazu Volcano National Park
Explore one of the various hiking trails that wind through this temperate forest.
Irazu Volcano towers an impressive 11260 feet above sea level, making it the tallest volcano in Costa Rica. On clear days, adventurers who make it to the peak’s summit are rewarded with panoramic views of all of Costa Rica, from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean.
Be warned, however, that the region receives tons of rainfall so a clear day isn’t a given. Though even with obstructed views, the volcano’s five craters are impressive and rewarding views.
Quetzales National Park
Enjoy the extremely biodiverse cloud forest, home of the resplendent quetzal, one of the most stunning birds in the tropics.
If you are even remotely interested in birds, Quetzales National Park is a must-visit. The cloud forest that fills the protected area provides natural habitat to hundreds of bird species, including the resplendent quetzal, for which the park is named.
To some, it might seem nutty to pick a destination based on the opportunity to see one type of bird, but you might understand after glimpsing the striking quetzal.
The park is a few hours’ drive from San Jose, making it a great day trip from the capital city.
Chirripó National Park
Hike to the top of Costa Rica’s tallest peak where you can see both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
For the more adventurous, Chirripo National Park may be the ultimate eye-catcher. The park contains the highest peak in Costa Rica, which towers 3,821 meters above sea level. Besides the superlative, the mountain also claims notoriety for its incredible wealth of ecosystems and wildlife.
As you make the strenuous trek, you’ll pass through tropical evergreen forest, montane rain forest, cloud forest, and tundra, each of which contains a slew of unique and marvelous birds and other creatures.
Terraba Sierpe National Wetlands
Tour some of the healthiest and most biodiverse mangrove forests in Central America.
While not technically a national park, the Terraba Sierpe Wetlands indisputably deserve a mention on this list. The stunning scenery of healthy wetlands is jaw-dropping and the vast network of canals and mangrove forests is one of the largest in Central America.
Taking a boat tour through the canals with a local guide offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to see some unique flora and fauna. Witnessing the water birds soaring through their natural habitats is a spectacular attraction.
Cahuita National Park
Immerse yourself in the postcard-perfect Caribbean forest and warm, clear blue water.
The town of Cahuita is a laid-back Caribbean paradise complete with pristine beaches, lively beachside jungle, clear blue water, and the healthiest coral reef in Costa Rica’s Caribbean waters.
One of my favorite aspects of the park is that it’s jointly managed by the community and the government so entrance fees go back to the community and tours are operated by locals, making Cahuita a great destination for sustainable ecotourism.
Tenorio Volcano National Park
Take Rio Celeste Waterfall, a mountainous cascade with the most brilliantly blue waters.
Created to protect the active Tenorio Volcano, one of Costa Rica’s youngest national parks is best known for Rio Celeste. Not just any river, Rio Celeste’s waters are a shocking hue of vibrant blue, created by the volcano’s sulfur emissions mixing with calcium carbonate precipitation.
If you make it to the end of the hiking trail, you’ll be rewarded with seeing where two normally-colored rivers meet to create the biochemical magic that causes the astonishing blue water.
Ostional National Wildlife Refuge
Experience the marvel of thousands of turtles arriving in hoards to nest on the same beach.
Ostional may not look like much on any average day. The beach is made of dark sand that is almost constantly barraged by rough waves and the town is sleepy with little tourist infrastructure. But if you happen to visit Ostional National Wildlife Refuge on the right day, there will be no question as to why this beach is so special.
Around the quarter waning moon, hundreds of thousands of olive ridley turtles will synchronize their nesting and come ashore together to lay their eggs. It is truly a magnificent spectacle to see so many turtles in one place at the same time.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
Explore the mystical cloud forest ecosystem and all of its marvelous wildlife.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a stunning example of the cloud forest ecosystem and the overwhelming amount of biodiversity that it contains. The near-constant cloud cover provides moisture for flora to grow on nearly every surface, providing a habitat for an overwhelming amount of wildlife.
On my visits to Monteverde, I was able to see rare birds such as the quetzal, bell bird, and tons of hummingbirds. I highly recommend going with a guide, as they will be able to point out animals you could never hope to see on your own.
Caño Island Biological Reserve
Explore the tropical underwater marvels that lie just offshore from Caño Island.
Caño Island lies off the coast of the Osa Peninsula, just a short boat ride from Drake Bay. Avid snorkelers and divers make the pilgrimage each day to explore the underwater wonders surrounding the island. The beautiful coral reefs are some of the healthiest in Costa Rica, making it one of the best places to go diving in Costa Rica.
I was lucky enough to see green and hawksbill turtles, white-tipped reef sharks, eels, and an overwhelming amount of bright tropical fish.
FAQs About Costa Rica Parks
How many national parks are in Costa Rica?
Despite being a small country, Costa Rica boasts 25 national parks within its borders.
What is the most famous park in Costa Rica?
Manuel Antonio is Costa Rica’s most popular national park, receiving over 100,000 visitors each year, partly due to its proximity to San Jose. However, the most famous park in Costa Rica is arguably Corcovado National Park, most well known for being one of the most biologically intense places on the planet.
What percentage of Costa Rica is dedicated to national parks?
Costa Rica has dedicated almost 28% of its land to 25 different national parks.
How much does it cost to enter national parks in Costa Rica?
While the entrance fee varies for each national park, some of which only suggest a donation, you can expect to pay somewhere between $10 and $20 to enter a national park in Costa Rica.
Thanks for reading my guide to the Costa Rica National Parks! The natural beauty that they contain is breathtaking and visiting any of these parks is sure to be a highlight of any trip. While you’re here, be sure to check out my article on the best places to visit in Costa Rica.
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