Palo Verde National Park is located along the Tempisque River in the northwest part of Costa Rica. It is easily accessible from Guanacaste and the northern part of the Nicoya Peninsula.
This park is made up of flat tropical dry forests, extensive winding waterways, and tons of species of various birds. In total, the park spans over 45,000 acres.
It is one of the most unique natural areas that Costa Rica has to offer and is typically less popular with tourists than many other national parks in the country.
So, let’s plan your visit!
What to Expect at Palo Verde National Park
The national park is not an area you can hike in. Instead, it is typically visited with a boat tour down the waterways of the Tampisque River.
Sometimes these boat tours include the national park admission cost and sometimes you will need to purchase that yourself on top of the boat tour cost.
Map of Palo Verde
I labeled three spots on this map which all provide tour options.
– The small town of Ortega has more than one tour company that you can contact. There is Jabiru Tours and Palo Verde Boat Tours.
– I marked Hacienda El Viejo Wetlands. This is a nice place to visit if you would like a full combo tour with boat ride, lunch, culture tour, and rum tasting. I talk more about this further in this post.
– Puerto Humo is a small town right on the Tampisque River. It is always possible to find a boat tour from here.
General Park Info
What to Bring
If you are going for a day trip with boat tour we suggest bringing:
A Dry Bag (none of our stuff got wet on the boat, but if you have one, just bring it)
Sunglasses and glasses strap
What to Wear
Short sleeve Shirt
Lightweight pants or shorts
Sneakers or Water Shoes
Best Time of Year to Visit
It is best to visit the park during the dry season for optimal weather and because this is often when you will have the best luck seeing tons of birds gathered in the area.
During the dry season, water is scarce in other parts of the country, so many species of migratory birds gather here to enjoy the Tempisque River.
On your boat ride you might spot a lot of wildlife, I know we did! Your boat guide will point out any animals you see and will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
You might see:
Monkeys (howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys), crocodiles, iguanas, agoutis, and so much more!
Thomas has become a huge fan of bird photography in recent years.
Which, is kind of fun, but after trips, I always go through our photos to see which pictures I can use for this website, and in recent years it’s like 300 bird pictures to every two scenery pictures.
But, he loves it and I guess deep down I’m jealous that he has a hobby he’s so passionate about.
Anyway, he really liked Palo Verde for birds so, if you are also a bird fanatic (or are traveling with a crazed bird fan), this is a good spot.
Some of the bird species you might see include: great curassows, scarlet macaws, roseate spoonbills, white ibis, wood storks, and jabirus.
Best Ways to Visit Palo Verde
I wouldn’t say there is necessarily a “best way” to visit Palo Verde, but some ways will make more sense depending on your transportation options and where you are staying in the country.
If you are staying in a Guanacaste beach town and would like to see Palo Verde, taking a day trip with transportation, boat ride, lunch, and other activities is most likely the best option for you.
If you will have a rental car, you can also drive yourself directly to the Palo Verde area and arrange a tour from there.
From Playa Flamingo
From Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa, or Papagayo
Drive Yourself to Meeting Point
If you want a really authentic experience, I suggest this tour which involves driving yourself to the starting point. This is run by a local family. They are so nice and work hard to deliver the absolute best quality tours.
Hacienda El Viejo
If you would like a bit more touristy experience, but one that is super high quality, we suggest booking through Hacienda El Viejo.
Hacienda El Viejo is a place that offers boat tours which you can combine with lunch, cultural tours,a nd rum tours. I talk about our experiance at Hacienda El Viejo at the end of this post.
Our Experience at Palo Verde
Palo Verde had been on our list of must-visit places in Costa Rica for years, but we somehow had never made it there. Every time we read about visiting it seemed somewhat overwhelming and I couldn’t find great info.
So, we finally decided to just scout it out and see what we could discover.
We drove to Playa Potrero (a cute village above Playa Flamingo) and stayed at this awesome place for a few nights. The owners were away, but their adult son was running the place so we asked him for his advice on visiting Palo Verde.
He told us that he had previously camped at the ranger station on the east side of the park for several nights and that it was absolutely amazing. He even showed us pictures, so yes, I can confirm it looked beautiful. But, we didn’t have the time or gear with us to take on a camping experience so we decided to try and enter from the west side.
Note: I have since learned that this east side entrance is officially closed to the public and is now only used as a research area. So, the only way for you to visit is by boat tour.
The next day we left early and started driving. We really had no idea where we were going. I had seen a few small boat tour places advertised online, but I really couldn’t find much info. I had also read great things about Haciend El Viejo, but their website was down so I wasn’t able to book anything ahead of time.
Really, we wanted a national park entrance that would allow us to park our car and go for a decent hike. But, from talking to the host at our rental and with what I had read online, that seemed somewhat impossible with entering from the east side. Plus, it was rainy season and everything I read said that it would be a complete swamp land.
Anyway, the drive was interesting. It was strange coming from the hilly coast into this total flatlands. We were on some very remote roads of just fields and cows on either side of us for miles and miles. Eventually, we came across a sign for Hacienda El Viejo, so decided to just go for it and see if they had any availability.
When we arrived at Hacienda El Viejo we went into their main building and spoke with their employee (who was so so nice and helpful). She said they could fit us in for a boat tour, lunch, and rum tour in the afternoon. Yeay!
Keep in mind that this was in July (rainy season) and in 2021 so tourism was wayyyy down. Thomas and I were the only people there. So, we walked around the property a bit (I mean…come on…how beautiful is this building?!?!) and then headed out to where the boat would leave.
The boat tour lasted about 1.5 hours and since we were the only people we could stop for all the wildlife photos. Thomas was in heaven.
After the boat tour, we drove to a nearby swampy area with birds. We saw tons of Black bellied whistling ducks, a few Jabiru, egrets, and wood storks.
When we arrived back at El Viejo we enjoyed a delicious traditional lunch.
After lunch, we took a rum tour. The rum tour consisted of a short walk through different stations to see how rum is produced. We were then given the chance to sample rum, add our own flavors, and purchase a bottle.
After that, we left and headed back toward the place we were staying.
Overall, it was a really fun day that combined several great activities and I would highly recommend it.
And, that is all for planning a visit to Palo Verde National Park in Costa Rica. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out.