Costa Rica has a lot in common with its Central American neighbors in terms of history and culture, but there is still one factor that sets this small country apart from the rest: biodiversity. Costa Rica currently hosts over 4% of the entire world’s biodiversity. The incredible presence of exotic plants and animals has made its way into every factor of life, and the government is set on keeping it this way. Currently, 23% of public land is protected territory. Life in Costa Rica takes full advantage of the variety of plant and animal life as well as the diverse geography, and everything from favorite outdoor activities to the local diet is affected by the value locals place on their natural assets.
When traveling Costa Rica, you are doubtlessly going to want to explore. From the pristine beaches to the chilly mountains, rocky volcanoes, and diverse jungles, we encourage you to take advantage of all Costa Rica has to offer. The trick is to travel in an environmentally and socially responsible way. This is where national parks come in. Costa Rica currently maintains 26 national parks. These parks protect the local ecosystems, offer recovery programs to endangered animals, hire local staff from nearby communities, and offer responsible tourism options. What’s more, on these national reserves you’ll find the perfect outdoor adventure for any member of your family. Regardless of physical abilities or interests, there will be a trail, learning center, or viewpoint that’s perfect for you. Designating national parks as destinations on your trip will ensure that you see the astonishing biodiversity that Costa Rica has to offer, and you cause no harm to the ecosystem while you make the most of your trip. While planning your travel itinerary, keep in mind the top 6 national parks in Costa Rica.
1: Arenal Volcano National Park
In Alajuela province, the Arenal Volcano National Park is a must-see. This park covers over 290 square miles and protects the Arenal Volcano, the Arenal Lake, and the surrounding jungle. This is absolutely the best trip for a large family. Those who aren’t looking for too extreme of an afternoon will enjoy well-maintained trails connecting different look-out points. They will find the picture-perfect moments, enjoy exotic bird watching expeditions, and learn about the area at the visitors’ center. The adventurers of the family will take one of the more difficult trails, leading straight into the rainforest up muddy, steep volcanic hills. This is a difficult but purely enjoyable hike, and you’ll want to keep a look out for tree frogs, rainbow bass, and possibly a sleeping jaguar in the far-off trees. Your trail will wind through the forest into cooled lava fields, and a guide will be able to explain what you are seeing.
After each member of the family is satisfied with their adventure, you can regroup in the famous hot springs. The thermal energy from the volcano creates natural hot springs, and many of these have been made into luxurious yet inexpensive spa resorts. You can relax your muscles and eat a great meal, then head back to any of the number of eco-lodges in the area to stay the night.
2: Manuel Antonio National Park
This may be the smallest national park in the country, but it also among the favorites of the local people and Costa Rican residents. It has even been named by Forbes Magazine as one of the most impressive parks in the entire world. You’ll find this park in the Puntarenas province, and beach lovers will be thrilled with a visit. The park is small, but protects a large strip of white sand beaches, the coral reef, and the surrounding rainforest. This park is a favorite for beach bums and animal enthusiasts alike. Before relaxing in a hammock by the beach, take a quick hike in the jungle, keeping your eyes peeled for three-toed sloths, white-face capuchin monkeys, and hundreds of tropical bird species. Look into eco-tourism options to explore the coral reef as well, either with a snorkeling or a diving expedition. Once you’ve explored the wildlife in this park, take no shame in kicking your feet up in one of the most astonishing tropical beaches you’ll ever see.
3: La Amistad National Park
In the Limon province on the Caribbean coast, this park spans from southern Costa Rica into northern Panama. This is not only a perfect example of two countries coming together to protect a valuable ecosystem, it is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site. La Amistad National Park is the largest protected territory in Central America and consists almost purely of rainforest. It is also one of the most spectacular examples of biodiversity in the world. This park is constantly being studied by biologists and zoologists, and the same things these scientists find so intriguing about the park will also be observed by any visitors. Hikers in the area will need a guide, as the trails are thickly forested and difficult. You will also want to stay quiet during your hike to not scare away any of the 5 species of big cats, 600 species of birds, or hundreds of reptiles. Responsible tourism is especially necessary in this park as it is still home to three indigenous tribes.
4: Tortuguero National Park
On the northern Caribbean coast, it is truly a trek to find this park. Those willing to brave an airplane or boat to reach this reserve will not be disappointed. Tortuguero National Park has 11 different habitats, each supporting different species of local turtles, some endangered. Those who don’t want to hike the thickly forested trails will be amazed by what they can see on a water tour, either in a motorized boat or by canoe. The park fills up in the months between July and October, as visitors flood in from around the globe hoping for a glimpse of the turtle egg hatching process. Hundreds of turtles will hatch on the beaches, typically during the night, and make their way toward the ocean waters. We recommend finding a hotel or eco-hostel as near to the forest as you can get, so you can spend your mornings drinking coffee on the decks, watching monkeys, tropical birds, and possibly spotting a caiman.
5: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
This biological reserve may be the most well-known cloud forest in Central America. Situated so high in the mountains that much of the park is covered by clouds, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is one of the most visited destinations in Costa Rica. In this small park, about 2.5% of the entire world’s biodiversity can be found. Hikers will have the time of their lives, but the park is an absolute must for bird-watchers and animal enthusiasts. You’ll find well-maintained paths leading to different look-out points, and you’ll want to hike to many different areas as the clouds can obstruct long-distance views. When you visit this park, 100% of the fees paid for entrance, visitors’ centers, or local guides will go toward funding educational and research programs.
6: Corcovado National Park
Corcovado National Park encompasses nearly half of the untouched Oso Peninsula, and as the park has no roads, only dedicated hikers can really see the wonders it has to offer. National Geographic called this the “most biologically diverse place on Earth” for good reason, as it is home to some of the most hard-to-find species, such as tapirs, jaguars, macaws, squirrel monkeys, and Harpy eagles. This park is as popular with adventure tourists as it is with scientists and ecologists. Despite being almost totally undeveloped, there are a certain number of eco-lodges offering lodging and food to visitors. These lodges will be the best place to organize guided hikes. This may be one of your only opportunities to see a thriving low-land rainforest complete with mangroves and wet jungles.