Costa Rica National Parks: How to Plan Your Nature Adventure
Visiting the Costa Rica national parks is a must-do activity in the country. This is the best way to see wildlife in their natural habitat and to embrace the diverse wildlife.
Costa Rica is home to over 30 national parks and several other wildlife refuges.
These national parks are located throughout the country along both coasts and in the middle of the country with lush jungles and moody cloud forests.
Some parks have volcanoes, waterfalls, rivers, beaches, and more.
Plus, in every national park, you have the chance of seeing wildlife such as monkeys, sloths, jaguars, and exotic birds.
In 1955, the country established its first national park, Braulio Carrillo, followed by the creation of several others.
With their diverse flora and fauna, Costa Rica’s national parks have become havens for nature enthusiasts, researchers, and eco-tourists from around the world. The country puts great emphasis on being a global leader in sustainable tourism and environmental stewardship. In fact, Costa Rica is home to over 6% of the world’s biodiversity.
Today, Costa Rica’s national parks continue to be cherished treasures, offering unparalleled opportunities for wildlife encounters, adventure, and a deeper appreciation of the country’s incredible natural heritage.
Map of Costa Rica National Parks
We created this clickable map of all the Costa Rica national parks so you can easily find a nice nature-filled place to explore on your trip.
Volcano National Parks
Did you know that there are 5 active volcanos in Costa Rica and many other (close to 100) non-active volcanic formations in the country?
One of our favorite things to experience in Costa Rica is a volcanic visit.
There are a few volcanoes in the country which have been turned into national parks. Here are our favorites…..
Arenal is the perfect volcano from a visual standpoint. At the Arenal National Park you can enjoy several trail options.
Personally, our favorite way to enjoy the volcano is by viewing it while sitting in a hot spring.
You can find out more on the Arenal National Park Guide.
Irazu Volcano National Park
Irazu volcano is located near San Jose on the outskirts of Cartago. It is possible to drive to the top of this volcano and enjoy the view. On clear days you can even see nearby Turrialba volcano erupting.
For more info check out the Irazu National Park guide.
Poas Volcano used to be the most visited national park in the country, but in recent years there have been off and on eruptions. Currently, the volcano is open for visitors once again.
Plan your visit with our Poas Volcano guide.
Rincon de la Vieja
Rincon de la Vieja is an active volcano located in the North Pacific near the Nicaragua border.
This area is great for adventures such as white water rafting, zip lining, hiking through the volcanic area, soaking in hot springs, and more.
For more info check out the Rincon de la Vieja National Park guide.
Pacific Coast National Parks and Reserves
The Pacific coast is home to some of the most popular natural areas in the country. These places are all located with beach access or nearby beaches.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is the most popular national park in Costa Rica due to its beautiful white sand beaches, abundance of animals, and easy walkability.
Find out more with our Manuel Antonio National Park guide.
Marino Ballena National Park
Marino Ballena is located in the cute seaside town of Uvita. You can see whales here, go snorkeling, take a kayak tour, and more!
Find out how to plan a visit with our Marino Ballena National Park guide.
Corcovado National Park
Corcovado National Park is located on the Osa Peninsula at the very tip of Costa Rica before Panama. This national park needs to be explored with a guide.
It is possible to visit as a day trip or to spend one or two nights in the national park.
Find out more with our Corcovado National Park guide.
Ostional National Park
Ostional is a beach located near Nosara that is also a turtle nesting location. During turtle nesting it is possible to see thousands of Olive Ridley Turtles laying their eggs on the beach.
Find out more with our Ostional Beach Guide
Curu Refuge is not frequently visited by tourists, but we think it is worth a visit.
There are hiking trails for all levels here as well as bioluminescent kayaking, snorkeling, island day trips, and more!
Find out how to visit with our Curu Refuge guide.
Cabo Blanco National Park
Cabo Blanco Reserve is located between Montezuma and Santa Teresa. The hike here can be intense depending on the weather, but you will be rewarded with a beautiful beach.
Plan your visit with our Cabo Blanco guide.
Carara National Park
Carara National Park is located just before the beach town, Jaco. If you are interested in bird watching this is a great place for it.
You can find out more in our Carara National Park guide.
Cocos Island National Park
Cocos National Park is actually a remote island located far off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.
It is not permitted to actually stay on the island. Instead, you can only visit during a liveaboard multi-day scuba diving trip.
This is a great place to dive with hundreds of sharks and explore coral reefs.
Find out more with our Cocos Island guide.
Jungle National Parks and Reserves
These places are also located in more central parts of the country. The vary from dense jungles to flat lowlands.
Tenorio National Park (Rio Celeste)
For a completely unique experience head to Rio Celeste in Tenorio Volcano National Park. This Costa Rica national park is located in the northern part of the country about 1.5 hours from La Fortuna.
Here, you can hike along a naturally bright blue river which is home to this amazing waterfall.
This hike is best done during the dry season when the paths are less muddy and the water is at its bluest.
Plan your visit with the Rio Celeste Guide.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
This reserve is located in a moody cloud forest, which gives it a completely unique feeling. The trails are well maintained, there is a hanging bridge and waterfall, and you might see a lot of wildlife.
Check out the guide to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to plan your visit.
Santa Elena Reserve
The Santa Elena Reserve is also located in Monteverde. This reserve tends to be less busy than the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
Braulio Carillo National Park
This national park is located on the main road that connects San Jose and the Caribbean Coast. It is almost always raining here and feels a bit like entering Jurassic Park.
Palo Verde National Park
Palo Verde is a good place to take a wildlife boat ride down the river. It is also a popular bird-watching area.
Find out more with our Palo Verde Visitors Guide.
Barra Honda National Park
This Costa Rica national park is located on the Nicoya Peninsula. Here you can go in a series of caves with a guide. It is one of the most unique experiences you can have in this country.
Find out how to plan your visit with our Barra Honda guide.
Los Quetzals National Park
Located in San Gerardo de Dota, this national park is a dense cloud forest destination. It is most popular with bird watchers looking for quetzals.
Caribbean Coast National Parks and Reserves
The Caribbean Coast has fewer national parks than the Pacific Coast, but these protected areas are still amazing!
Tortuguero National Park
The best thing to do here is to take an early morning guided canoe ride through the river channels. This is a great way to see lots of wildlife including birds, monkeys, caymans, and more!
In the fall you can also see sea turtles here laying eggs in their natural habitat. It’s really cool!
Find out how to plan your visit with our Tortuguero National Park guide.
Cahuita National Park
This park is filled with wildlife. We have seen sloths, vipers, blue crabs, monkeys, and more here.
This is our favorite national park in Costa Rica for the variety of flora and fauna.
Find out how to plan your visit with our Cahuita National Park guide.
Gandoca Manzanillo Reserve
Refugio Gandoca Manzanillo is located on the southern most tip of Costa Rica just above the Panama border. The ocean views here are unreal.
Find out more with our Manzanillo guide.
Should You Hire a Guide at the Costa Rica National Parks?
At several national parks in Costa Rica, you will see locals outside of the park offering their services as a guide. These guides are not cheap, but we have actually never had a bad experience.
The guides know where to spot wildlife and they almost always carry a telescope so you can get a close-up view of the wildlife.
If you really want to see a lot of animals we think it is worth it to hire a guide.
If you want to save some money and want a more fast-paced hike, you are better off without a guide.
Note: If you would like to visit Corcovado National Park you need to hire a guide in order to be allowed entry.
What Should I Wear to Costa Rica National Parks?
We usually wear breathable shorts and a UV-protecting shirt while hiking in Costa Rican national parks. However, if you are concerned about crawling critters, you may prefer to wear pants. It is usually just too hot to deal with pants in our opinion.
We also almost always wear a hat (the sun is strong here) and either hiking shoes or something like Keens. Keens are great for hikes in which your feet might get wet.
Check out our National Park Packing list on Amazon for all our suggestions.
What Should I Bring to Costa Rica National Parks?
Don’t forget your bug spray and sunscreen.
If you are traveling during the rainy season we suggest bringing a rain jacket and carrying your belongings in a waterproof bag.
Keep in mind that some national parks do not allow you to bring outside food in the park. This is actually for your safety. We have seen monkeys attack people in Manuel Antonio National Park to try and steal their bag of food.
Oh, and don’t forget to bring plenty of water!
What Wildlife Can I See in Costa Rica National Parks?
One of the main draws of Costa Rica is the incredibly diverse amount of wildlife. We have seen sloths, vipers, monkeys, tarantulas, scarlet macaws, and more!
Don’t forget your binoculars and camera at home! You’ll definitely want them.
Check out our:
Is There a Costa Rica National Park Official Website?
Yes, the official website is called SINAC. It is possible to pre-book tickets for some Costa Rica national parks (such as Manuel Antonio and Poas Volcano) on this website.