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Barra Honda National Park is a Costa Rican hidden gem, tucked away in the northwest corner of the country near the town of Nicoya.
The park’s primary attraction is the series of limestone caves that have been carved out over millions of years by underground streams.
One of these cave entrances is open to the public. Here you can climb through narrow passageways, and marvel at the stunning stalactites and stalagmites that decorate the underground chambers.
There are also hiking trails that feature an impressive viewpoint over the Nicoya flatlands.
We recently had the chance to visit this park after driving by it for years. We have been to almost every national park in Costa Rica, and this one definitely stands out as something special.
We created this guide to dive into the details of how you can plan the best visit to Barra Honda National Park.
Background of Barra Honda
Originally it was believed that the Barra Honda peak was actually a volcano.
It was discovered that the area was filled with underground caves when a speleologist accompanied a group of volcanic researchers to Barra Honda and recognized the signs that the area was in fact not a volcano but instead a series of underground cave formations.
The area was turned into a national park in 1974 as a way of protecting the Barra Honda caves. Since then, 42 caves have been discovered, but at this time only 19 of them have been explored.
The most notable ones include Nicoa, where pre-Columbian human remains, artifacts, and jewelry from around 300 BC were found, and Santa Ana, the deepest cave in the complex that is notable for its unique and numerous stalactites and columns, plunging about 240 meters or 790 feet into the ground.
The park entrance to Barra Honda National Park is located on the Nicoya Peninsula near the town of Nicoya.
If you are heading to Samara, Nosara, or the Nicoya Peninsula (Santa Teresa or Montezuma) from either Liberia International Airport or San Jose International Airport, a stop here is actually a very minor detour.
You will need a rental car to get here and a vehicle with four-wheel drive is recommended.
However, you can visit without four wheel drive, you will just need to hike a bit more because you will not be able to drive to the top of the loop trail.
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The park is open from 8:00am until 4:00pm. If you plan to visit the caves you will need to arrive by 1pm at the latest.
This is definitely the most expensive national park we have experienced in Costa Rica. The entry fee is only $12 for adults, but this is only for hiking.
If you would like to visit the caves you will have to pay an additional fee. This came out to about an additional $30 per person for a guide into the caves and the use of the equipment.
Is it worth the price?
I think it is definitely a bit of a steep fee, but the cave tour is a unique experience and our park ranger basically gave us a private tour of all the trails as well.
So, yes, it was worth it for the overall full experience.
We debated just doing the hike, but I’m really happy we spent the extra money to see the cave.
Plan Your Trip
We suggest calling the Barra Honda Ranger station a few days before your intended visit to reserve your trip.
The reason for this is that you will need to arrange a tour with a park ranger if you would like to visit the caves.
There are park rangers working all day, but if they are all already out on a tour there is a high chance that you won’t be able to visit the caves.
The phone number for the ranger station is: +506 2659-1551
What to Wear
A Breathable Hiking Shirt: Columbia, hands down, makes the best button-up shirts for hiking. I like the PFG Bahama II shirt. The fabric is designed to block out UVA and UVB rays. Another advantage of this shirt is its lightweight and breathable construction. It is made from a combination of nylon and polyester, which allows for excellent ventilation and moisture-wicking properties.
Breathable shorts: For women, I really like the Sandy River shorts from Columbia. They are the perfect length, have a breathable fabric, dry quickly, and come in several colors. For men, we suggest the Billabong Men’s Classic shorts.
A Sun Blocking Hat: I have the Columbia Bora Bora hat and I really like it. It’s a bit nerdy, but the material is very breathable, it folds up small for your luggage, and it provides good sun coverage.
Hiking boots or sneakers (I am almost more inclined to suggest sneakers because they might be a bit easier to wear when descending the ladder into the cave since they are less bulky)
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What to Bring
Plenty of water
A small backpack
Once you arrive at the Barra Honda National Park ranger station and meet up with a ranger you can make your way to the start of the hiking trails. You now have two options.
- You can park at the ranger station and begin your hike from here.
- You can drive about two kilometers up a steep hill, park, and begin your hike from the top.
We 100% suggest driving to the top if your car will allow it. The drive is unpaved, steep, and rocky. You will need a 4×4 in order to do the drive.
But, hiking up is intense. Like seriously intense.
If you have the option of skipping the uphill hiking battle, I definitely suggest driving.
Once you get to the top, the trail is a loop and is mostly flat.
If you plan to visit the caves you will do this hike with one of the park rangers. They will point out tons of things to you along the way.
The craziest thing we experienced was jumping up and down on the ground and realizing that you could feel that it was hollow underneath. It is definitely a trippy feeling!
Here is a map of the hiking loop. ↑ The yellow trail is what you can drive with a 4×4. The white trail is the loop you will walk.
A few years ago a really nice viewpoint was constructed on the loop trail. It offers sweeping views of the Nicoya tropical dry forest landscape.
I definitely suggest stopping here for a little while.
Thomas and I took advantage of this stop to have a snack and drink some water from our water bottles.
In total, there are over 42 caves. There is one entrance to the cave system that visitors can access.
The Climb Down
At the mouth of the cave, a Barra Honda park ranger will suit your up with a harness, hard hat, and gloves. Another ranger will start by ladder descending into the cave’s mouth. You and the rest of your group will follow.
The ladder is definitely a bit scary, even when you know you are harnessed in.
The ladder descends about 57 feet (17.4 meters) down into the cave mouth.
There are some parts that get really narrow and you can barely even put your feet on the ladder rungs because they are so close to the rocks.
Also, we were there during the dry season, but I can imagine it might be slippery during the rainy season.
Inside the Caves
Once you are down into the cave your guide will take you through a few different areas to show you various stalactite and stalagmite formations. In total, I think we spent about 30 minutes in the caves.
Our guide was very well informed on the process that occurs to create caves and the stalactites and stalagmites inside. For example, she showed us some spots in which you could tell too many humans had touched the rocks.
It was very clear how damaging human touch can be to the process.
At the end, we climbed back up the ladder one by one.
What to Do After
There isn’t much to do in this area (which is one of the main reasons the park isn’t very popular). But, if you don’t mind a little drive we highly recommend checking out the restaurant Bernina Artisan Food for a delicious meal.
This place is a random hidden gem of a restaurant that offers a five-star experience in the middle of nowhere.
Thomas and I had wanted to visit Barra Honda National Park for a long time, but we had never actually visited because the national park is in a somewhat unusual location.
We have driven by the sign many times on our way to or from the beach towns of Samara and Nosara, but we always had a lot of luggage in the car and were unsure how safe it was to leave all of our stuff unattended there.
So, we finally decided to plan a trip solely to visit the Barra Honda National Park and booked a VRBO nearby.
The other thing I was confused about was if I needed to prebook our trip. Some things I read online said that you could just show up and some said to call ahead of time.
We opted just to show up, which, I now know was not the right move for future trips.
Fortunately, we got lucky and a park ranger was available to take us through the park.
After parking and paying, we used the bathroom, put sunscreen on, and headed out in our car with the ranger.
Thomas drove and he loved the drive to the top where the loop trail began. It was a fun little off-roading adventure for him.
Once we parked the car, we started the hike with the park ranger. Our ranger was really well informed on the flora and fauna of the area.
She knew a lot about medicinal usage of plants, which was really interesting to learn about.
The highlight of the hike was definitely the mirador. The view is just amazing.
After the mirador point, we walked to the cave entrance. There, we joined up with another group of hikers and descended down into the caves with our guide.
I will admit, the ladder situation down was definitely interesting. I was so focused on not being excessively slow that I didn’t have time to be creeped out by it.
But, Thomas said he was feeling a bit nervous by the sheer height we were descending.
After exploring the caves our group headed to the top and we continued our hike with the ranger. At the end, we drove our car back down, dropped the ranger off at the ranger station, and headed out.
Overall, it was a really nice day trip.
As I mentioned, one of the reasons we had never visited here before is because we didn’t know if it was safe to leave all of our luggage in the car if coming to or from the Samara/ Nosara area back towards San Jose.
After visiting, I feel like your stuff will be safe here. It is so remote that there is nobody around besides rangers and other park guests.
So, I would say that you can confidently make this a little stop on a travel day. As always, don’t leave anything valuable super visible, but you should be fine here.
FAQ: About Barra Honda National Park
How big is Barra Honda National Park?
Barra Honda National Park in Costa Rica covers an area of approximately 2,295 hectares (5,675 acres).
How can I get to Barra Honda National Park?
The best way to get to Barra Honda National Park is by rental car. The park is located near the town of Nicoya on the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica.
How can I schedule a Barra Honda National Park tour?
The best way to schedule a national park tour is by calling the ranger station at: +506 2659-1551
What animals live at Barra Honda National Park?
Some of the mammal species that inhabit the park include white-faced capuchin monkeys, mantled howler monkeys, white-nosed coatis, two-toed and three-toed sloths, collared peccaries, armadillos, and various bat species.
Conclusion: Barra Honda National Park
Overall, Barra Honda National Park is an amazing place to experience, caves, caverns, miradors, hiking, wildlife, and dry forest plants in a unique setting. This place is worth a day trip if you find yourself in the Nicoya area of the country.
And that is all for the Barra Honda National Park guide! If you have any questions about visiting don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you plan!
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