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5 Must-See National Parks of Costa Rica

Capuchin Monkeys in Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa RicaThe National Parks of Costa Rica number 27, making visiting them all a serious undertaking. We were forced to cherry-pick a handful that we believe offer the most unforgettable experiences.

Costa Rica’s commitment to conservation is the envy of many countries much larger and more prosperous than the small Central American nation, which is the approximate size of West Virginia. Over 25% of the landmass of Costa Rica — some 1.3 million acres— has been dedicated to its expansive National Parks System.

Costa Rica’s small size belies the astonishing biodiversity found there; twelve “life zones” are represented in the National Parks system, making it possible to get close to a volcano, walk amongst the clouds, encounter a toucan, snorkel along exquisite coral reefs, soak in a hot spring, and catch sight of thousands of unique examples of flora and fauna.

Manuel Antonio

Measuring only 7,000 acres, Manuel Antonio is the smallest of Costa Rica’s 27 national parks, but visitors agree that it is by far the most beautiful. This “jewel in the crown” of the country’s network was once an island, but today deposits of volcanic sediment have created a bridge to the mainland. This is classic Costa Rica: pristine sandy beaches, outstanding coral reefs that are a magnet for snorkeling enthusiasts, and easily accessible wildlife. Here you will find Manual Antonio’s famous monkeys, the region’s famous sloths, toucans, Macaws, iguanas, and armadillos. 

Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano stands out for many reasons, the most dramatic of which is its active volcano, which was believed to be dormant until it erupted in 1968. Each night the Arenal puts on a spectacular show of red lava running down the side of the volcano. This is one of the more biodiverse of Costa Rica’s National Parks: eight of the twelve life zones are represented in its 30,000 acres. Arenal attracts serious birdwatchers each year, who come to see the more than 850 separate species. Many of them such as alligators, toucans, and monkeys are unique to the region. The park’s waterfalls and thermal hot springs offer welcome respites for hikers.   


Tortuguero is accessible only by boat or plane, but is well worth the trip! Eleven different life zones are represented in its 77,032 acres, making it one of the most popular destinations in the whole country. Best known for its sea turtle refuges, Tortuguero offers a haven for these endangered species, as well as numerous research stations and turtle tagging centers. 

Piedras Blancas

To the south in the Puntarenas province is the 34,642 acre Piedras Blancas National Park, where dense evergreen forests are home to a staggering number of rare tropical trees and birds. Humid and hot, this lush park gets more than 200 inches of rain a year, keeping its trees and plants vibrant and verdant. Birdwatchers flock to Piedras Blancas during migration season as the park is a focal point for many birds on the move. 

Monteverde Cloud Forest

If you’ve ever dreamed of walking on air, Monteverde’s Cloud Forest might represent your best chance. The high elevation means that misty clouds hover just above the dense moss forest floor. This 26,000-acre biozone represents 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity. Eight life zones are represented in this Reserve, making it a nature lover’s paradise. Look out for the unique species of orchid and ferns but be mindful that jaguars and pumas also make their home in Monteverde, as do the less frightening monkeys and toucanets. Monteverde’s exquisite Butterfly Garden is a must-see, with over 50 species represented in this beautiful Reserve.

Alexander + Roberts offer numerous options to explore Costa Rica and her National Parks, from our independent 9-day Costa Rica Inside Out, which provides numerous opportunities to customize your itinerary, to our activity-packed escorted group itinerary Costa Rica- Mountains to Sea. Speak to our experienced reservation agents to discuss these and a host of other options.

Posted: 1/16/2019 1:19:07 PM by Alexander + Roberts