It is no secret that Costa Rica is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet. This tiny Central American country is home to over 12,000 species of plants, 830 bird species, 1,200 butterfly species, 230 different mammals, and 400 species of reptiles, yet it covers only .03% of the world’s land mass. Costa Rica has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect these natural resources by designating nearly 25% of it’s land as ‘protected.’ These protected areas are split into 26 national parks, 47 protected zones, 58 wildlife refuges, 11 forest reserves, 8 biological reserves, and total an astonishing 3,130,335 acres. If we tried to fit information on all of these protected areas into one article, it would be longer than Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” so today we are going to focus on 3 of Costa Rica’s most famous national parks; Arenal national park, Manuel Antonio national park and Corcovado national park.
Arenal National Park
Located just 80 miles from San Jose, Arenal National Park is easily accessible from the Central Valley making it a favorite ‘first destination’ of those traveling to Costa Rica looking for natural treasures and exciting adventure. The main attraction of Arenal National Park is it the 1663 meter tall and perfectly shaped volcano that shares the same name. Volcano Arenal literally exploded on the scene on July 29th, 1968 when after 400 years of inactivity it came alive and buried 3 villages under lava and ash killing 87 people. From that date until October 2010 Volcano Arenal continued to be highly active, spewing rocks, lava and smoke into the sky for all to see. Scientist speculate that the volcano is still active but in a period of rest that could end any moment.
While the Volcano is the most famous attraction at the park, there is so much more to do under its shadow. The trail system is fairly extensive with routes traveling through unspoiled forest and desolate lava fields. Visit the main office at the entrance to the park for maps and more information. Bring your camera as you are likely to spot numerous species of exotic birds including the quetzal, mammals like the white-faced monkey, howler monkey and Olingo, reptiles such as the spiny green lizard, and amphibians like the red eyed tree frog.
Tour companies around Arenal National Park provide guidance for numerous fun activities. The options include; white water rafting, spelunking, birding, waterfall tours, rappelling, zip lines, ATV rides, biking, fishing, kayaking and many more. We recommend that you make it to one of the many hot springs in the area. After a long hike, there is nothing better than easing into the natural pool of hot, healing water.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is an extraordinary place. It is small is size yet packed with most of the animals people come to Costa Rica hoping to see. Because the town of Manuel Antonio wraps around the national park, the animals, plants and other sites are often visible from hotel balconies and rental property swimming pools. This proximity of nature and humans can make for fantastic photos and stories of monkeys rummaging through beach bags and taking off into the jungle with sunglasses or other items. If you are near Manuel Antonio, we recommend that you add the National Park on your itinerary. You will be glad you did.
Manuel Antonio National Park is an ideal place to entertain groups as it holds something for everyone. It contains beautiful beaches for those that want to sit under an umbrella with another in their drink. The abundant wildlife offers nature lovers the opportunity to see exotic birds, endangered species, and common animals such as monkeys. The miles of trails will keep hikers busy for days, and if shopping is one the to do list, the town of Manuel Antonio has exciting options.
If seeing nature is your goal, we highly recommend hiring a professional to guide you through the park. They are in the park every day and know how to find the animals that would otherwise go un-noticed by most tourists. Most guides are bi-lingual and carry powerful binoculars or spotting scopes. You will often find sloths, agoutis, ocelots, armadillos, over 350 species of birds, a wide variety of reptiles and more inside Manuel Antonio National Park.
There are many beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park. You can choose from Teldoro, Playita, and Espadilla Sur if you desire secluded and more private beaches or relax on Playa Manuel Antonio if you want to be more social. Soft sands and palm covered shores are standard at all locations making any choice a good one for a relaxing day, a picnic, or a refreshing swim.
Manuel Antonio National Park is a fantastic place. The beaches, the wildlife, the hiking and even the nightlife in Manuel Antonio make this a great place for the entire family to cross things off of their bucket list. Stop by and see why this park is one of the most visited in Costa Rica.
Corcovado National Park
Located in the southern pacific region of Costa Rica on the Osa peninsula, Corcovado is still unspoiled, and much resembles the Costa Rica of old where nature lives in complete harmony. While some are attracted to Arenal and Manuel Antonio National Parks because of their easy access, part of Corcovado’s charm comes from the fact that it is remote and hard to reach. There are no internal roads into Corcovado so you must enter the park through Drake Bay, La Palma, Puerto Jimenez, or Carate by foot or boat. There are companies in each location that offer guided tours.
Once in the park your senses will come alive with the sights, sounds and smell of the most biologically intense place on the planet. Corcovado National Park has different eco-systems including; swamp forest, palm swamp, mangrove swamps, lagoons, plateau forests, upland forests, and cloud forests. These systems contain nearly 500 species of tree and 4000 plant species which are home to over 350 species of birds, 6,000 insects, 140 mammals, and nearly 120 amphibians. No other place in the world enjoys the bio-diversity of Corcovado National Park.
No reservations are needed for day trips into the park although you must check in and pay a small fee ($10 USD) If you plan to stay overnight you need a permit. Permits are available at the ranger stations but can not be secured more than 30 days before your arrival.
Costa Rica’s 26 National Parks are scattered all over the country from Nicaragua to Panama and from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Each park has a distinctive personality and characteristics that attract eco-tourist looking for specific eco-systems, plants, insects and animals. We hope you find what you are looking for while exploring these national treasures.
*Image of hot springs in Costa Rica via Shutterstock
*Image of Manuel Antonio national park wildlife via Shutterstock
*Image of a pair of wild scarlet macaws via Shutterstock