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If you’re a nature lover, Costa Rica is an awesome destination for you to visit. With lush jungles, rushing rivers, and stunning beaches, the country is absolutely covered in gorgeous natural areas.

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The government of Costa Rica has committed to protecting vast areas of natural land for future generations to enjoy, making Costa Rica an excellent country for eco-conscious travelers.

There are 28 national parks in Costa Rica (and one proposed park) at the time of writing this. Here’s a breakdown of each one.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks 

Arenal Volcano National Park

Where It Is: Alajuela Province
When To Visit: November-June
Famous For: Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna Waterfall, hot springs, and jaguars
How Long To Visit: 3 days minimum

Arenal Volcano National Park is one of the best known Costa Rica national parks. People visit to hike the magnificent volcano, soak in hot springs, and explore the rainforest. Lake Arenal is right nearby, offering visitors a lovely place to relax.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks
Arenal National Park, Costa Rica

Barbilla National Park

Where It Is: Cartago Province
When To Visit: Year-round
Famous For: Excellent hiking, Chirripo Indigenous Reserve
How Long To Visit: 2 days minimum

Barbilla is one of the least visited Costa Rica national parks. It’s a great place to visit if you’re an expert hiker looking for challenging trails. Right nearby Barbilla National Park is the Chirripo Indigenous Reserve, which is home to the Cabecar tribe, one of the largest indigenous groups in Costa Rica.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks - Barbilla National Park
Swimming in Barbilla National Park. Photo courtesy of Jack Gilbert via Flickr CC

Barra Honda National Park

Where It Is: Guanacaste Province
When To Visit: Year-round
Famous For: Limestone caves
How Long To Visit: 2 days minimum

If you’re interested in caves, Barra Honda is the best place to visit in Costa Rica. You’ll have the chance to explore ancient caverns made out of limestone with the help of an expert guide. All the caves require climbing gear and a strong sense of adventure.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks - Barra Honda
Barra Honda National Park. Photo courtesy of Gray Line Costa Rica via Flickr CC

Braulio Carrillo National Park

Where It Is: Heredia, San José, Limón, and Cartago Provinces
When To Visit: Anytime outside of September/October
Famous For: The Brava Volcano and the Central Valley
How Long To Visit: 1 day minimum

If you just can’t get enough of the volcanoes in Costa Rica, then visit Braulio Carrillo, where you’ll have the chance to hike the stunning Brava Volcano. Along the way, you’ll pass many flowing streams and the bright orange Rio Sucio.

Braulio Carrillo National Park is directly to the north of San José, making it a great option for a day trip if you are short on time.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks - Braulio
Braulio Carrillo National Park. Photo courtesy of Julian Monge-Najera via Flickr CC

Cahuita National Park

Where It Is: Limón Province
When To Visit: Year-round
Famous For: Lovely coral reefs
How Long To Visit: 2 days minimum

Cahuita National Park encompasses protected land and sea areas. Visitors come here mostly for diving and snorkeling, although there are some nice places for nature walks and one swimming beach. Make sure to also visit the shipwreck at the mouth of the Perezoso River.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks - Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park. Photo courtesy of Pavel Kirillov via Flickr CC

Carara National Park

Where It Is: Puntarenas Province
When To Visit: Anytime outside of November/ December or July
Famous For: Wild scarlet macaws, crocodiles, rare hardwood trees
How Long To Visit: 1 day minimum

Carara National Park is a beautiful nature reserve just two hours southwest of Costa Rica’s capital. Visitors can go on nature walks to try to spot the stunning scarlet macaws that the park is so famous for, or visit the Tarcoles River Crocodile Bridge to spot truly massive crocodiles down below.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks - Carara
Carara National Park. Photo courtesy of FritzF2010 via Flickr CC

Chirripó National Park

Where It Is: San José, Limón, and Cartago Provinces
When To Visit: November-May
Famous For: Mount Chirripó 
How Long To Visit: 2 days minimum

For hiking addicts, Chirripó National Park is an awesome place to visit. The famous Mount Chirripó is the highlight of the park and can be climbed in two days with an overnight stay at the top. The hike is rugged and challenging, so only attempt it if you are in good physical shape.

This is one of the less popular Costa Rica national parks and it is fiercely protected. Only 60 people are allowed in the gates per day, so make sure to arrive early.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks - Chirripo
Chirripó National Park. Photo courtesy of Mountain Partnership at FAO via Flickr CC

Cocos Island National Park

Where It Is: 550 km (342 miles) off the coast of Costa Rica in the Pacific Ocean
When To Visit: June-November
Famous For: Incredible diving, pelagics especially hammerhead sharks
How Long To Visit: One week on a liveaboard boat

One of the most unique Costa Rica national parks, Cocos Island, is a UNESCO protected national park in the Pacific Ocean. It is uninhabited besides the park rangers that care for the ecosystems there, and visitors must arrive by boat, a journey that takes 36 hours on the open sea. Due to its remote location (and expensive price tag), very few visitors travel to Cocos Island each year and the vast majority of them are advanced, passionate divers. If you dive at Cocos Island, you’ll likely see lots of incredible and large marine species, especially sharks.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks - Cocos island
Diving in Cocos Island National Park. Photo courtesy of Vlad Karpinskiy via Flickr CC

Corcovado National Park

Where It Is: Puntarenas Province
When To Visit: Year-round
Famous For: Being the “most biologically intense place on earth in terms of biodiversity,” according to National Geographic
How Long To Visit: 4 days minimum

Corcovado is a very special Costa Rica national park, as it contains the only tropical primary lowland rainforest in the world. Its biodiversity is truly staggering! It has incredible jungles and gorgeous beaches that are all best explored with a guide. The park has no roads, so a love of hiking is required. Corcovado is the largest Costa Rica national park, covering about 50% of the Osa Peninsula.

Guide to costa rica national parks - Corcovado National Park, Osa Peninsula
The jungle is dense at Corcovado National Park

Diria National Park

Where It Is: Guanacaste Province
When To Visit: Year-round
Famous For: Rare tree and plant species
How Long To Visit: 1 day minimum

In 2004, the Diria National Forest Wildlife Refuge graduated to national park status. Located on the Osa Peninsula, Diria National Park offers great hiking, trail biking, and bird-watching.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks - Diria
Diria National Park. Photo courtesy of dineshgeetha23 via Flickr CC

Guanacaste National Park

Where It Is: Guanacaste Province
When To Visit: Year-round
Famous For: Grasslands and animal migrations
How Long To Visit: 2 days minimum

In the north of the Guanacaste Province, you’ll find Guanacaste National Park, a large and stunning nature reserve made up not of rainforests but of grasslands. The park is famous for animal migrations in which species such as jaguars, sloths, mountain lions, monkeys, tapirs, and armadillos move between the lowlands and the highlands. The park is directly next to Santa Rosa National Park.

Guide to Costa Rica National parks
Costa Rica’s national park have lots of wildlife viewing opportunities

Irazú Volcano National Park

Where It Is: Cartago Province
When To Visit: Year-round
Famous For: Irazú Volcano and its crater lake, great hiking
How Long To Visit: 1 day minimum

In Irazú Volcano National Park you’ll find the ominous Irazú Volcano, which is an active volcano, even if it hasn’t erupted in many years. The volcano features an eerie crater lake that is almost green in colour. Hikers love this park with its Diego de la Haya crater as the main highlight.

Hike to the top of this challenging mountain on a clear day and you’ll be able to see both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks - irazu volcano
Irazú Volcano main crater. Photo courtesy of Trevor Huxham via Flickr CC

Juan Castro Blanco National Park

Where It Is: Alajuela Province
When To Visit: November-June
Famous For: Catarata del Toro waterfall, archaeological ruins, hot springs
How Long To Visit: 2 days minimum

Juan Castro Blanco National Park is one of the most visited Costa Rica national parks, and for a good reason. It is full of volcanoes, waterfalls, hot springs, and incredible nature. In addition, make sure to check out the ruins, which can be visited with a guide for a peek into history. A visit to this park is easily combined with a visit to Poas Volcano National Park and Braulio Carrillo National Park, as they are both right nearby.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks - Juan Castro Blanco
Juan Castro Blanco National Park. Photo courtesy of Gray Line Costa Rica via Flickr CC

La Amistad International Park

Where It Is: Limón Province on the border with Panama
When To Visit: December-May
Famous For: Big cats
How Long To Visit: 2 days minimum

La Amistad is a huge national park that is split between Costa Rica and Panama. Because it is so rugged and vast, most of it is still unexplored. It is best known for the five species of big cats that call the jungle home: jaguars, jaguarundis, pumas, ocelots, and margay. There are also three different indigenous tribes that live in traditional villages in La Amistad. The park is one of only four UNESCO World Heritage sites in Costa Rica.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks -La Amistad International Park
La Amistad International Park. Photo courtesy of Bernal Saborio via Flickr CC

La Cangreja National Park

Where It Is: San José Province
When To Visit: Anytime outside of September/October
Famous For: Waterfalls, the Black River, and the Quebrada Grande
How Long To Visit: 1 day minimum

La Cangreja National Park is a great park to visit if you want to hike through the jungle to some peaceful waterfalls and swim in their pools. The famous hill nearby is said to be shaped like a crab and watching over the park.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks -La Cangreja National Park
La Cangreja National Park. Photo courtesy of Javier Ignacio Acuña Ditzel via Flickr CC

Las Baulas National Marine Park

Where It Is: Guanacaste Province, off the coast of Playa Grande
When To Visit: October-May
Famous For: Leatherback sea turtles
How Long To Visit: 2 days minimum

Right near pristine beaches with perfect surfing waves, Las Baulas National Marine Park is the Costa Rica national park to visit if you want to see incredible sea turtles. Once you’ve visited the sanctuary, take time to relax on the beach, swim in the ocean, or take a surfing lesson.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks
Las Baulas National Marine Park, Playa Grande, Costa Rica

Los Quetzales National Park

Where It Is: San José Province
When To Visit: November-May
Famous For: Cloud forests and the resplendent quetzal
How Long To Visit: 1 day minimum

This is one of the most beautiful and untouched Costa Rica national parks, where you’ll be able to hike through cloud forests, across hanging bridges, and through dense jungles. You’ll stumble upon waterfalls, rushing rivers, and, if you’re lucky, the colourful resplendent quetzal for which the park is named.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks - Los Quetzales National Park
Los Quetzales National Park. Photo courtesy of Laszlo Bolgar via Flickr CC

Manuel Antonio National Park

Where It Is: Puntarenas Province
When To Visit: November-April
Famous For: Four amazing beaches, variety in landscapes, biodiversity
How Long To Visit: 4 days minimum

It might be the smallest national park in Costa Rica, but it’s also one of the most popular.Manuel Antonio National Park is absolutely stunning, with pristine white beaches, dense jungles, and looming mountains.

The marine area is also protected and full of bright reefs and colourful fish. Hikers will want to explore the Perezoso Trail, the park’s main route that allows visitors incredible views from all angles.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks
Manuel Antonio National Park

Miravalles Jorge Manuel Dengo National Park

Where It Is: Guanacaste Province
When To Visit: Year-round
Famous For: Miravalles Volcano and hot springs
How Long To Visit: 1 day minimum

Previously known as the Miravalles Protected Zone Miravalles is the youngest of the Costa Rica national parks, having been initiated on June 5, 2019. There are some great hiking and beautiful hot springs to relax in after a long day on the trail.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks -
Photo courtesy of Maureen Barlin via Flickr CC

Palo Verde National Park

Where It Is: Guanacaste Province
When To Visit: June-November
Famous For: Wetlands and marshes
How Long To Visit: 2 days minimum

Palo Verde National Park is one of the more unique Costa Rica national parks. Instead of jungles or grasslands, it’s made up of wetlands and marshes. It’s best explored by boat during the green season so you have the best chance of spotting resident birds such as egrets, herons, and storks. 

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks - Palo Verde
Sunset over the march. Photo courtesy of Vilseskogen via Flickr CC. 

Piedras Blancas National Park

Where It Is: Puntarenas Province
When To Visit: December-April
Famous For: Jaguars
How Long To Visit: 1 day minimum

The Piedras Blancas National Park is a lush green jungle paradise, home to the elusive jaguar. Right on the sea in the far south of Costa Rica, this is the perfect park to visit if you love bird-watching and chasing waterfalls. Its location gets a lot of rain year-round, keeping it lush and green.

Piedras Blancas National Park is right next to Corcovado National Park.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks - Piedras Blancas National Park
Piedras Blancas National Park. Photo courtesy of Autentico Adventures Costa Rica via Flickr CC.

Poás Volcano National Park

Where It Is: Alajuela Province
When To Visit: Year-round
Famous For: The largest open volcano in the world
How Long To Visit: 1 day minimum

As the very first Costa Rica national park, Poás Volcano is a special place to visit. It is home to the Poás Volcano, a towering and very active volcano with crater lakes. During your hikes through the park, you’ll see geysers, lava flows, and smoke from the volcano vents themselves. Make sure not to miss the La Paz Waterfall, a beautiful place to end your day.

Poas Volcano, Costa Rica
Poas Volcano, Costa Rica

Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park

Where It Is: Alajuela and Guanacaste Provinces
When To Visit: Year-round
Famous For: The tallest and most active volcano in Costa Rica, waterfalls, geysers, and mud pools
How Long To Visit: 4 days minimum

Visitors come to Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park primarily to see and hike on Costa Rica’s tallest and most active volcano. Most of the hiking trail levels are medium to hard throughout the park. On certain hikes, you’ll be able to see volcanic activity in the form of vents, geysers, and lava flow.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks

There are also tons of rivers, waterfalls, and hot springs inside the park, making it a great destination for those who want to relax a bit more. Most people consider Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park to be one of the best in the country and a can’t-miss attraction.

Santa Rosa National Park

Where It Is: Guanacaste Province
When To Visit: Year-round
Famous For: Vast beaches, grasslands, turtle nesting grounds, surfing
How Long To Visit: 1 day minimum

Directly next to Guanacaste National Park, Santa Rosa is one of the driest Costa Rica national parks, but this doesn’t detract from its beauty. The park is home to many species of flora and fauna, such as deer, big cats, monkeys, and more.

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks - Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa National Park. Photo courtesy of Mauro Madrigal via Flickr CC

Tapantí National Park

Where It Is: Cartago Province
When To Visit: Year-round
Famous For: Cerro de la Muerte – the mountain of death
How Long To Visit: 1 day minimum

About an hour to the east of San José you’ll find Tapantí National Park, a remote and dense rainforest area with crisscrossing trails throughout. The hiking here is excellent and should you choose to attempt it, you can hike up the Cerro de la Muerte (which translates to the “Mountain of Death”). It’s also a great park for kayaking and swimming in the rivers.

Tenorio Volcano National Park

Where It Is: Alajuela and Guanacaste Provinces
When To Visit: Year-round
Famous For: The Rio Celeste Waterfall and the Tenorio Volcano
How Long To Visit: 2 days minimum

The Tenorio Volcano National Park is one of Costa Rica’s less popular parks, but that just makes it a hidden gem for adventure seekers looking to get off the beaten path. The park is best known for the Rio Celeste that spills over into a stunning blue waterfall. There’s some great and challenging hiking in the park, especially treks on the still active Tenorio Volcano. 

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks

Tortuguero National Park

Where It Is: Limón Province
When To Visit: Anytime outside of November/December and July
Famous For: Nesting sanctuary for green and leatherback turtles
How Long To Visit: 4 days minimum

Tortuguero National Park is notoriously remote and hard to get to. Located on the Caribbean coast, the park can only be accessed by plane or boat. This doesn’t stop the tourists, though! Tortuguero National Park is the third most visited park in Costa Rica. Visitors flock to see the incredible sea turtles and take exotic boat cruises or kayaking trips down the river estuaries. 

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks - tortuguero
Tortuguero National Park. Photo courtesy of serena_tang via Flickr CC.

Turrialba Volcano National Park

Where It Is: Cartago Province
When To Visit: January-April
Famous For: The Turrialba Volcano
How Long To Visit: 1 day minimum

Turrialba Volcano National Park is estimated to be the least visited of the Costa Rica national parks, making it an awesome destination for those who want to get off the beaten path. You’ll need a guide to visit the park or, at the very minimum, a 4WD car. 

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks - Turrialba Volcano National Park
Turrialba Volcano National Park. Photo courtesy of Robert Nunn via Flickr CC.

If you’re hiking in the park, you’ll likely come across giant toads, hummingbirds, monkeys, toucans, and even lava flows. Because of the close proximity to Irazú Volcano National Park, you can easily visit both in one go. Check with a local guide before visiting Turrialba Volcano National Park to make sure it is open, since volcanic activity has prompted it to close with little notice

The Complete Guide to Costa Rica National Parks
Manuel Antonio National Park

If you love nature and national parks, Costa Rica is the country for you. In fact, about 25% of Costa Rica’s land is national park territory, so you’re bound to explore at least one of them during your trip. If you add in the wildlife refuges and other protected areas, Costa Rica has a grand total of 161 parks that you can explore–enough to last a lifetime.

Whether you’re a fan of bright sunny beaches, lush green rainforests, or steep rugged mountains, the Costa Rica national parks truly have something for everyone.

Which Costa Rica national park would be first on your list? If you’ve visited some, which was your favourite?

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