National Parks in Costa Rica

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. 

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 Volcano

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 official Arenal National Park site

Irazu Volcano

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

irazu volcano

Poas Volcano

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. 

Manuel Antonio National Park

manuel antonio

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

Curu Reserve

curu reserve

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

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 island

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 diving trip.

Oh, and this is a great place to dive with hundreds of sharks.

Find out more with our Cocos Island guide

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Jungle National Parks and Reserves

Our favorite national parks and reserves located in the middle part of the country. Get ready for lush jungles and tons of wildlife!

Tenorio National Park

rio celeste - clothing for costa rica

For a completely unique experience head to Rio Celeste in Tenorio Volcano National Park. This 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.

Palo Verde National Park

palo verde

Palo Verde is a good place to take a wildlife boat ride down the river. It is also a popular bird watching area.

Los Quetzels National Park

san gerardo de Dota

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 places are still amazing!

Tortuguero National Park

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

manzanillo costa rica

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

Map of Costa Rica National Parks

Should You Hire a Guide?

At almost every national park 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.


What Should You Wear?

We usually wear breathable shorts and a UV protecting shirt while hiking in Costa Rica. 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 You Bring?

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.

Oh, and don’t forget to bring plenty of water!


What Wildlife Can You See?

One of the main draws of Costa Rica is the incredible diverse amount of wildlife. We have seen sloths, vipers, monkeys, tarantulas, and more! 

Don’t forget your binoculars and camera at home! You’ll definitely want them.

Check out our 12 favorite places to see wildlife in Costa Rica for some tips.

Still Looking for national park info?

Check out our Destination Guides for the area of the country you are visiting.

Each Destination Guide includes a section on fun things to do in that area including great hikes. 

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