National Parks in Costa Rica as well as Reserves

Costa Rica Vacations

National parks in Costa Rica constitute more than 20 percent of the total land area. In addition to national parks, another 5 percent of the country is within reserves and research centers. It is one of only 14 countries in the world with more than 23 percent of its land under federal protection.

In Costa Rica, there are 27 national parks. There are more than a dozen large-scale reserves in Costa Rica.  And, there are over 20 research-purpose areas of greater than 100 hectares.

Costa Rica is one-fifth the size of Colorado. Yet, Costa Rica has 12 distinct ecosystems unique natural resources. Preserving the 12 ecosystems in Costa Rica are more than 60 protected areas. The protected areas include national and international parks and reserves as well as research centers.

The Costa Rica Foundation of National Parks divides Costa Rica’s national parks and reserves into six regions. There is the Brunca Region, the Central Region, the Chorotega Region, the Caribbean Heutar Region, the North Heutar  Region, and the Central Pacific Region.

Costa Rica’s public lands are typically the highlight of a family vacation. Planning an eco-vacation in Costa Rica? It’s almost essential to include the national parks. Likewise, on a Costa Rica Adventure Vacation, your trip will probably center around national parks in Costa Rica.

The national parks in Costa Rica are the country’s most valuable natural resource.

La Amistad International Park Costa Rica
La Amistad International Park is 1,400-square-miles of natural jungle!

Of repute, there are only six national parks and reserves in the Brunca Region of Costa Rica. There are other regions in Costa Rica with a larger number of parks and reserves. But, the majority of the total protected area in Costa Rica is in the Brunca.

The reason being, La Amistad International Park and Chirripó National Park. They are the two largest national parks in Costa Rica.

There are four other well-known parks and reserves in the Brunca Region as well. While considerably smaller than the La Amistad and Chirripó national parks, they are some of the most beautiful in Costa Rica. They consist of Corcovado National Park, Piedras Blancas National Park, Marino Ballena National Park, and Isla Del Caño National Park.

The Brunca Region also includes La Marta Wildlife Reserve, Piedras Blancas National Park, Piedras Blancas National Park, Isla del Caño Biological Reserve, the CATIE Research Center, and others.

La Amistad is home of the largest remaining natural rainforest in Central America. The largest protected area in Central America, La Amistad is a joint declaration between Costa Rica and Panama. Established in 1979, it is one of the most biodiverse areas in the entire world. The park has over 600 different species of birds — more than North America and Mexico combined. Six species of big cat inhabit La Amistad. There are 1598 species of orchid found in Costa Rica, most found in La Amistad. And, La Amistad is home to seven different indigenous tribes.

La Amistad International Park spans across the Costa Rica/Panama border. Of the park total, 198,000 hectares in Costa Rica and 207,000 are in Panama. But, in Costa Rica, there are six other parks/reserves butted up against or within La Amistad International Park. In total, the protected area in Costa Rica associated with La Amistad is 370,439 hectares, 1,430 square miles.

If you are on a Costa Rica eco-vacation, you can center almost your entire trip around La Amistad.

The summit of Cerro Chirripo is 12,000-feet above the base, double the relief of Pikes Peak. twitter@Ivanrodriguez7_

Chirripó National Park is an extension of La Amistad. It constitutes the westernmost part of La Amistad International Park. Inside the Chirripó National Park is Cerro Chirripó. Cerro Chirripó is the fifth highest peak in Central America. It is the only peak in the top 9 highest peaks in Central America that is outside Guatemala.

The elevation of Cerro Chirripó is 12,530 feet, but that is not what makes it so exceptionally impressive.

The prominence of Cerro Chirripó that is staggering. Cerro Chirripó has 12,320-feet of relief. The elevation difference between the top of Chirripó and the base is more than twice that of Pikes Peak in Colorado. Cerro Chirripó in Costa Rica has 1,000-feet more feet of relief than Mount Whitney in California.

Of all the peaks in Central America, only Volcán Tajumulco in Guatemala has more relief. And, Chirripó and Tajumulco stand alone. Chirripó has almost twice the relief of the next most prominent peak in Central America. The next most prominent peak in Central America is Honduras’s Montaña de Santa Bárbara.  Montaña de Santa Bárbara only has 6,837-feet of relief. Cost Rica’s Cerro Chirripó is massive.

Though one of the largest national parks in Costa Rica, Chirripó National Park is also one of the least crowded. Additionally, it is one of the least developed and least molested regions in the area. A great deal of the rainforest around the base of Chirripó is still virgin. In addition to the trail that leads to the summit, there are miles and miles of trails through the park. Some of the most pristine and beautiful views in Costa Rica are in the Chirripó National Park.

An indigenous word, Chirripó means, “Land of Eternal Waters.” If you are planning an adventure vacation in Costa Rica, hiking Cerro Chirripó should be at the top of your list.

Corcovado is difficult to reach logistically, but it is one of Costa Ricas most exceptional destinations. – twitter@MudTribe

If there was a list of Seven Wonders of Costa Rica, Corcovado National Park might be 1A. Possibly the most stunning of the national parks in Costa Rica, Corcovado National Park is in the southwestern part of the country. On the Osa Peninsula, Corcovado is ripe with wildlife.

From tapir and peccary and deer to bull sharks and dolphins as well as birds of every color and kind, Corcovado is a refuge of flora and fauna.

The total land area of Corcovado National Park is 42,500 hectares, roughly 164 square miles. Additionally, there are 3,350 hectares of marine habitat associated with the park. Corcovado National Park includes the last remaining virgin lowland rainforest on the Pacific Coast of Central America.

The book, La Selva: ECOLOGY AND NATURAL HISTORY OF A NEOTROPICAL RAIN FOREST, includes a passage written by world-renowned independent researcher and doctor of philosophy, Gary Hartshorn, “these forests are by far the most exuberant in Central America. In fact, the Corcovado forests are just as impressive in height as the best forests I have seen in the Amazon basin or the dipterocarp forests of Malaysia and Indonesia.”

No family vacation in Costa Rica is complete without visiting Corcovado National Park.

The Central Region of Costa Rica includes 10 major parks, monuments, and reserves as well as an even larger number of smaller parks, reserves, and research centers. The most popular parks in the Central Region include Braulio Carrillo National Park, Tapantí Macizo de la Muerte National Park, Los Quetzales National Park, Irazu Volcano National Park, and Grecia Forest Reserve. The Central Region includes many of the most important and beautiful national parks in Costa Rica.

The Central Region also includes Guayabo National Monument, La Cangreja National Monument, the Rio Macho Forest Reserve, the Turrialba Volcano National Park, and the Poas Volcano National Park. If you want to fill your holiday vacation in Costa Rica visiting national parks, designing it around the Central Region is a good idea.

From Needle Pines to Poro Poros and Ceiba, Braulio Carrillo contains almost every kind of tree found in Costa Rica. – twitter@Jcvalerio18

Braulio Carrillo National Park is the second largest of the national parks in Costa Rica. It is more than 50,000 hectares in total area. Braulio Carrillo National Park is second in size only to Tapantí Macizo de la Muerte National Park which is also in the Central Region.

And, only La Amistad International Park has a peak with more altitude and greater relief than those found in Braulio Carrillo National Park. Irazu Volcano has more than 6,000 feet of relief and Poas Volcano has more than 4,000 feet of relief.

What makes Braulio Carrillo such a draw — for locals and tourists alike — is the fact that Highway 32 traverses through the middle of the southern half. The mountains’ elevations in Braulio Carillo mean the view from Highway 32 is one of the most spectacular views in the country. And, Braulio Carrillo is only less than 14 miles from the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose.

The fauna in Braulio Carrillo include jaguars and several other large cats, white-tailed deer, tapir, and two species of monkey including howlers. The high mountain forests consist primarily of Needle Pines.  In the lower elevations, the jungle contains emergent, canopy, understory, shrub and ground vegetation.

Visitors of Braulio Carrillo National Park have a number of activity options including birdwatching tours, zip line canopy tours, horseback riding, rafting trips, and long-loop hikes through the forest.

Tapantí Macizo de la Muerte National Park
Tapanti is very similar to its big brother park La Amistad, though much more accessible. – twitter@mbrenes11

One of the rainiest places in Costa Rica, Tapantí Macizo de la Muerte get more than 21-feet of rain each year.

Between 4,000 and 8,300-feet above sea level, Tapantí’s forests primarily consist of emergent forest and canopy jungle. At 58,000 hectares, Tapantí Macizo de la Muerte National Park is the largest national park in Costa Rica. Only the La Amistad International Park has a larger area.

Adjacent to La Amistad, Tapantí is home to a large variety of mammals. The mammal species in  Tapantí include herbivore species such as the lowland paca, mountain goats, kinkajou, coati, raccoons, agouti, and howler and white-faced monkeys. And, Tapantí is home to a more than a dozen big cat species including the ocelot, jaguarundi, oncilla, puma, and jaguars.

There are over 200 species of birds in Tapantí. Some of the most notable are quetzales, turkeys, sparrow hawks, several species of falcons, pigeons and doves. The endangered European Goldfinch lives in Tapantí as do dozens of different species of hummingbird, a handful of different parrots, the endangered Long-tailed Wood Partridge (the “mountain chicken”). In Tapantí there is a plethora of different tanagers species as well as the magnificent oropéndola — the largest oriel in the world.

There are three entrances to the park. The northwest sid,  outside the town of Orosí, is the easiest to access with a vehicle.

Los Quetzales National Park a cloud forest and is Costa Rica’s, “other” cloud forest — Monte Verde National Reserve being the cloud forest of Costa Rica. At 4,117 hectares, Los Quetzales National Park is not as large as the national parks around La Amistad. But, the disporportionately large number of bird species in the park make it worth visiting.

For that reason, Los Quetzales is one of the most popular national parks in Costa Rica for birders.

In addition to its namesake bird, Los Quetzales National Park is home to some of the brightest colored bird species found in the country. Most notable is the number of varieties of hummingbird found in the park.

Los Quetzales National Park is near the Pacific Coast above the rafting section of the Rio Savegre. Los Quetzales National Park is an ideal destination for a honeymoon vacation in Costa Rica because it is a day trip. That means honeymooners can spend the day in the park and easily return to Quepos in time for evening festivities!

A view of the Turrialba Volcano above the Irazu Volcano. – twitter@paojcr

While the Irazu Volcano National Park is small relative to many of the other parks in Costa Rica, the Irazu Volcano is the second highest peak in the country. The elevation of Irazu Volcano is an impressive 11,260 feet. But unlike Cerro Chirripó, there is no overnight stay required on the hike up or down. It is almost possible to get to the top of Irazu Volcano in a car! There is a road all the way up to the crater. Climbing to the top takes less than an hour.

Irazu Volcano is in the Central Cordillera, well north of the mountains in the Cordillera de Talamanca that dominate La Amistad International Park. Surrounded by the lowlands of the Central Valley to the west and Cartago to the south, Irazu Volcano stands alone towering over the most populous cities in the country. Near to the Turrialba Volcano — the country’s most active volcano, — the view from atop Irazu is tremendous.

While there are no facilities at the top of Irazu, there are picnic tables if you’d like to have lunch while enjoying one of Costa Rica’s grandest views. Irazu Volcano National Park is a perfect stopover for those on a luxury vacation in Costa Rica. Without forcing you to hike over endless trails,  Irazu Volcano National Park provides one of the best views in the country.

The Chorotega Region of Costa Rica is better known as Guanacaste. Guanacaste has some of the best national parks in Costa Rica. The Chorotega Region includes the Nicoya Peninsula as well as several national parks on the mainland. The largest parks in Guanacaste are the Santa Rosa National Park and the Guanacaste National Park, two parks that are butted up against each other on the Pacific Coast. Directly east of the two coastal national parks is Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge, a lowland swamp area teaming with wildlife and avifauna.

On the Nicoya Peninsula, the national parks include Cabo Blanco Absolute National Reserve, Barra Honda National Park, Palo Verde National Park, Lomas Barbudal Biologic Reserve, and Ostional National Wildlife Refuge.

The Santa Rosa National Park includes both land and marine area. – twitter@SurferGalaxy

The first national park established in Costa Rica, Santa Rosa Nation Park is on the Pacific Coast in the northwestern-most part of the country. Once a huge farm,  semi-arid forests decorate the Santa Rosa National Park and extends out into the ocean as well.

The forests on the Osa Peninsula costitute some of the last tropical dry forests in the world.

The Santa Rosa National Park covers an area of 39,000 hectares. It is the largest national park in Costa Rica on the Pacific Coast save Corcovado National Park at the other end of the country on the Osa Peninsula. Again, it is next to the Guanacaste National Park. Together, the two parks are the third largest protected land area in Costa Rica. Only La Amistad International Park and Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge — which is directly east of Santa Rosa and Guanacaste on the Caribbean Coast — are bigger.

Fortunately, the park is less popular than many of the other national parks in Costa Rica. The reason being,  two of its beaches — the Naranjo and Nancite — are nesting grounds for Pacific Ridley Sea Turtles. The Leatherback Sea Turtles of the Atlantic and Caribbean nest on the Caribbean beaches over a series of months. The Pacific Ridley Sea Turtles, one the other hand, all arrive on the beach at once. On the same night, usually one a new moon in the summer, thousands of Ridley Sea Turtles arrive on the beaches to lay their eggs.

A surfing vacation in Costa Rica must include Santa Rosa National Park. It’s one of the most beautiful coastal settings in the country.

In Guanacaste National Park are two of Costa Rica’s three conical volcanos.

Smaller than its Siamese twin to the west, Guanacaste National Park is still large by Costa Rican standards. Guanacaste National Park covers an area of 33,000 hectares. What makes the park unique in Costa Rica is that it is home of two of the country’s volcanos, Orosi and Cacao. And the Orosi and Cacao Volcanos are unique in that they are both cone-shaped. Most of the volcanos in Costa Rica a crater volcanos. Arenal Volcano is the only other exception.

Near Guanacaste National Park is the Parque Pedregal which has hundreds of rock art pictographs.

“The outstanding Pedregal site (G-540 Pd) comprises 465 engraved rocks,” according to the Ethnologisches Museum of Berlin’s Martin Künne. Along with Guayabo de Turrialba, Parque Pedregal is one of the only two places in Costa Rica where rock art pictographs are found. Together, they are the two most important archeological sites in the country.

Cano Negro National Park is almost 10,000 hectares of swamp habitat.

Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge is, “a shallow freshwater lagoon near the Nicaraguan border, surrounded by seasonally inundated marshes and woodland.” It is of the most visited national parks in Costa Rica by Costa Ricans.

Most international tourists, however, fail to make the trip. The reason being, Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge is in the middle of nowhere. Just south of the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border, Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge is in the middle between the Pacific and Caribbean.

There is very little to do, recreation wise, in or around Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge. But, it is well worth the trip.

Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge is full of crocodiles, big cats, and herbivores. Most the wildlife in Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge, though, is waterfowl. The  Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge includes shorebirds (waders, order Charadriiformes), Anseriformes (ducks, geese, swans, magpie geese, screamers), Grebes (order Podicipediformes), Loons (order Gaviiformes), Ciconiiformes (storks, herons, egrets, ibises, spoonbills and others), Pelecaniformes (pelicans and others), Flamingos (order Phoenicopteriformes), cranes and rails, crakes, coots and moorhens Kingfishers and dippers.

Part of a larger conservation area — Arenal Huetar Norte Conservation Area, — Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge is, itself, almost 10,000 hectares. It is on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

Las Baulas National Marine Park is home of both wildlife and exceptional beaches. – twitter@lcn1990

One of the two largest nesting areas for Leatherback Sea Turtles in Costa Rica is Las Baulas Marine National Park. The other is Tortuga National Park on the Caribbean Coast. The beach in Las Baulas Marine National Park where the turtles land and lay their eggs is Playa Grande.

In Tortuguero National Park, the Leatherbacks land on Tortuguero Beach. The Leatherback is not only the world’s largest sea turtle but also the most wide-ranging. They can grow to over 7 feet long (2.13 meters) and weigh from 500 to 2,000 pounds (226.8 to 907 kilos).

But, the Leatherbacks that nest on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica rarely come into contact with the Leatherback Sea Turtles that nest on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast.

That is to say, 17,814,000 square miles of land — South America — separate the Pacific Leatherbacks from the Caribbean Leatherback Sea Turtles.

Remarkably, however, Las Baulas Marine National Park is on almost the same parallel as the Caribbean Coast’s Tortuga National Park. That is to say, the two most important Leatherback Sea Turtle nesting beaches in Costa Rica on almost the same longitudinal line.

They fall on the same parallel, though an entire continent separates the two beaches.

The Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge butts up against Las Baulas Marine National Park. It consists, primarily, of mangrove swamps. On the Pacific Coast, there are six species of Mangrove. All six can are found in the Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge. In total, Las Baulas Marine National Park and the Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge cover more than 600 hectares of area.

There are hidden beaches everywhere on Cabo Blanco.

Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve is found at the southwestern most point of the Nicoya Peninsula. It is one of the most prized reserves in Costa Rica. Close to Mal Pais, it is also in one of the most affluent areas in Costa Rica. As such, its facilities rival those of any park or reserve in the country. Its beaches are sandy white. They are also pristine and relatively uninhabited.

With almost 3,000 hectares of area, Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve is one of the smaller reserves in Costa Rica. Almost 1,200 hectares are terrestrial while roughly 1,800 are marine. However, it is in the conversation for most beautiful and most significant.

Established in 1963, Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve is the oldest reserve in the country. Even in Costa Rica, Cabo Blanco Absolute is unique. Not only is Cabo exceptionally scenic, but it has an abundance of flora and fauna unique to the area. Additionally, Cabo Blanco has some of the most spectacular marine wildlife in Costa Rica.

There are more than 119 species of trees in Cabo Blanco Absolute. The primary forest trees found in the reserve include the Medlar, the Pochote and the Pavel. Some of the non-primary forest trees found in the Cabo Blanco Reserve include the Jobo, the Gumbo Limbo (“Naked Indian”), the Madroño (Nicaragua’s National Tree), the Guácimo (Bay or “bastard” Cedar), the Guarumo (Cecropia Tree in which sloths are often found), the Chaperno (very large and tall and very rare) and the Pochote (covered in sharp, crocodile-tooth-sized thorns).

If you’re interested in a villas vacation in Costa Rica, Mal Pais and Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve is a can’t-miss destination.

One of Palo Verde’s causeways through the wetlands. – twitter@rokazmier

In the far north of Costa Rica, Palo Verde is one of the most ecologically diverse national parks in Costa Rica, Palo Verde National Park is home to 15 different habitats.

Palo Verde covers more than 18,000 hectares. There are swamps, flood planes, estuaries, basins, deciduous plain forests, and the mouth of the Rio Tempisque as it flows into the Gulf of Nicoya.

What makes Palo Verde special with respect to other national parks on the Nicoya Peninsula is the large trail system that traverses through the park.

On any given hike, you are likely to see both white-faced and howler monkeys. There are freshwater turtles galore. It is not uncommon to see deer and coyotes in Palo Verde National Park. And, of course, you will see crocodiles if that’s something your heart desires. Some of them are more than 20-feet long.

But, the number and diversity of birds that makes Palo Verde amazing. Both resident and migratory birds, Palo Verde is home to a larger number of aquatic and wader bird species than any place in Central America. More than 44 species of migratory aquatic and wader birds visit Palo Verde National Park each year. And, it is the only national park in Costa Rica that allows biologists to directly manage the bird population by enhancing habitat and nesting grounds.

The Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica is different from the Pacific Coast in several respects. For one, there are no semi-arid regions on the Caribbean Coast. While there are large tracts of savanna and semi-arid desert on the Pacific side, the entire Caribbean Coast gets large sums of rain each year. As such, the national parks on the Caribbean Coast all consist of either swamp or mountain jungle.

Riding through the swamps in a sit-on-top canoe isa wonderful, wild experience. – twitter@House_of_Coco

Of all the national parks in Costa Rica, Tortuguero may be the most famous. Every guidebook and travel website with information about Costa Rica will include something about Tortuguero. The reason Tortuguero is so well-known is that its beaches serve as nesting grounds for three different types of sea turtles.

Tortuguero National Park is the most important nesting area in Costa Rica for the Green Sea Turtle. Its beaches provide nesting habitat for Leatherback Turtles and Hawkbill Sea Turtles as well. In addition to sea turtles, Tortuguero National Park is also home to several species of freshwater turtles.

The park is almost 76,000 hectares in area. It includes both terrestrial and marine habitat. A natural system of lagoons and waterways crisscross the park.

Tortuguero’s wildlife includes: manatee (sea cow), river otters, jaguars, deer, several species of terrestrial turtles, caiman, crocodiles, dozens of species of crustaceans, and of some 52 species of freshwater fish live in the swamps and lagoons of Tortuguero National Park. It is home to Gaspar Fish (Gar), a living fossil, as well as dozens of species of wading birds and waterfowl.

The wetlands and swamps of Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero National Park are also home to some of the last virgin lowland tropical rainforest in the country. There are more than 400 species of trees and around 2,200 other species of plants in the park. In the park, there are such species as the beach grape, the Icaco, and the coconut palm.

Tortuguero National Park was originally a group of archipelago island. Sand and sediment from the rivers flowing to the sea filled in the space between the present-day town of Tortuguero and the mainland. All that remains of the distance that once existed between the islands and the mainland are swamps and river channel. Because of the layout of the geography — hundreds of square miles of swamp, — there are no roads to or from Tortuguero. To get to both the national park and the town of Tortuguero, visitors must either ride in on a ferry or fly in on an airplane.

View from atop the Cerro Tortuguero in Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge.

At 92,000 hectares, Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge is the largest wildlife refuge in Costa Rica. However, it is also one of the least visited parks/refuges in Costa Rica. Barra del Colorado is a spectacular public lands area. But, it is tremendously difficult to get to.

Located at the farthest northeast point of the country, Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge is home of the highest point in the Caribbean Region: El Cerro Tortuguero. With wetlands and swamp a thousand feet below, the view from El Cerro Tortuguero is quite remarkable. Still, it is the wildlife and huge tracts of wetlands and swamp people who make the trip go to see.

In the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge, visitors can witness something that occurs almost nowhere else in the world. Bull sharks migrate from the ocean, up the Rio San Juan, and to Lake Nicaragua. Scientists still do not understand how this particular family of bull sharks contends with the change in water salinity between the ocean and the largest lake in Central America. In addition to this unique natural phenomenon, the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge is home of three species of monkey: the White-Faced, the Congo (Howler), and Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey. Of the four monkey species in Costa Rica, only the Central American squirrel monkey is not found in Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge.

Other fauna includes the Rainbow-beaked Toucan or black Curré, Green Macaw (endangered), Jaca, parrot, Trogon or Surucúa, osprey, Neotropical Cormorant, Blue Heron, Tricolor Heron, White Hawk, Monte Hen, Peacock and Lora Frentirroja. In the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge, there are also manatee (endangered), alligators, crocodiles, and the Gaspar fish (recognized as a living fossil). Also in the refuge, there are Danta as well as Jaguar, Puma and Breñero Lion. There are Capuchin, Riverbed Manlgor, and the Three-Toed Sloth. Around Cerro Tortuguero, there are Poisonous Red Frogs (Dendrobates pumilio).

The Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge is the closest example of lowland Amazon rainforest found in Central America. The temperature ranges from between 77 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. The humidity level seldom falls below 88 percent. And the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge gets almost 20-feet of rain each year. The is no dry season in the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge.

Every photo taken in Manzanillo looks professional! – twitter@MsJennySelf

With respect to visual aesthetics, the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is the most beautiful coastal reserve in Costa. The beaches are second to none. In addition to being magnificently beautiful, the beaches of the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge also serve as nesting grounds for four different species of sea turtle.

Not only do giant Leatherback Sea Turtles show up on the beaches of the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, so do Cary, Loggerhead, and Green Sea Turtles.

There are 14,000 hectares of area in the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. The terrestrial are is 9,400 hectares. The marine part is 4,400 hectares. The terrestrial part is home to 358 species of birds, 102 of which are migratory. There are also three species of big cat including jaguar and puma. The marine part has some of the largest coral reefs on the Caribbean Coast of the country.

Manzanillo is at the southeastern most point of Costa Rica. Until recently, the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge was rarely visited by tourists. It was a dirt road from just outside Limon all the way to Manzanillo. On a bus, the drive could take up to three hours. But, the roads are now paved and well maintained meaning the trip in little more than an hour and a half from Limon.

While there are a total of six national parks and reserves in the two regions joined, the majority are relatively small. While of no less importance, the smaller parks — Parque Nacional del Agua Juan Castro Blanco, Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Mixto Caño Negro, Parque Nacional Carara, and Parque Nacional Isla del Coco — are not significant tourist attractions. However, Arenal National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park are the two most visited parks in the country.

Arenal Volcano in the morning. – twitter@larkleah

At 12,000 hectares, Arenal National Park is not extremely large with respect to other parks in the country.

But, the diversity in and geography of the park makes one of the most visited in Costa Rica.

Some regions in the park are only 130-feet above sea level. The top of Arenal Volcano, in contrast, is more than 6,500-feet above sea level.

Furthermore, the Arenal National Park includes maintained trails that require an entrance-fee as well as a large number of well-marked trails visitors can use for free.

The Arenal National Park, however, is not the central attraction of the area.

Outside the park, there are a tremendous amount recreation and leisure activities options. There are hot springs and mud baths. The most spectacular ziplining in Costa Rica, down the side of Arenal Volcano, is in the Arenal/La Fortuna Area. People can horseback ride, raft, and UTV around the Arenal National Park. The La Fortuna/Arenal area has more recreation and leisure opportunities than any other inland destination in Costa Rica.


The most visited park in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is on the Pacific Coast. Manuel Antonio National Park is just outside of Quepos, arguably the best beach town in Costa Rica. High above the coastline, the park offers wonderful views of both the Pacific Ocean and mountain jungle.

Quepos/Manuel Antonio is the one area in the country that offers every recreation and leisure activity available in Costa Rica in a single area.

From surfing, sea kayaking, and paragliding over the ocean to rafting, whitewater kayaking, and skydiving, Quepos/Manuel Antonio offers it all. There are both horseback riding and ATV tours in Quepos/Manuel Antonio. There is birding. You can watch crocodiles. There is both river and sport sea fishing. There are secluded beaches and mountain trails in the area. Quepos/Manuel Antonio has ziplining. Anything Costa Rica has to offer is found in Quepos/Manuel Antonio.

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