Best Costa Rica National Parks

Here’s the BEST Costa Rica National Parks to visit on your vacation

The Costa Rica national parks are the best way to see Costa Rica and its natural splendors. Alone, the national parks represent over 12% of the country’s land area. These fully protected areas, along with the wildlife refuges, biological reserves, and forest preserves, make up over a quarter of the country’s land mass.

Costa Rica is serious about preserving its national treasures. And in each park, you’ll find something unique and different — unlike anything you’d find back home. Well, maybe in a zoo. There are no cages in the Costa Rica national parks!

Easily one of the most richly biodiverse countries in the world, Costa Rica’s first national park was based around Poas Volcano and created in 1955. Since then, there are now 26 national parks.

If you add the wildlife refuges, reserves, and other protected areas you’ll find over 160 opportunities to commune with nature.

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We saw TONS of these little colorful land crabs in Manuel Antontio National Park.

The best part is that all are easily accessible from anywhere in the country. Some more easily, than others, of course.

You’ll find volcanoes, rain forests, wetlands, marine areas, and tropical forests in the Costa Rica national parks. All are managed by a national conservation agency, SINAC.

Top 5 Costa Rica National Parks

Chances are, you’re not going to hit all of the national parks on your trip. You’re not going to hit all of the national parks on five trips. But here are the top 5 parks to consider visiting when you travel to Costa Rica.

  1. Manuel Antonio National Park. This is one of the smaller national parks, but it shoots right to the top because many consider it the crown jewel of Costa Rica. Forbes named it one of the world’s 12 most beautiful parks. It’s located on the Pacific coast and features rain forests, beaches, and coral reefs — which makes for perfect snorkeling. Go for a guided tour and you’ll be rewarded with sightings of monkeys, coatis, iguanas, and sloths.
  2. Arenal Volcano National Park. A Costa Rica vacation isn’t complete without seeing the mighty Arenal, the most active volcano in the country. On a clear night, the red lava flow can be clearly seen. The area surrounding the park offers the best that Costa Rica has to offer — from magnificent waterfalls, to zip line canopy tours, to white water rafting…not to mention the spectacular hiking in and around the park.
  3. Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. Technically, Monteverde isn’t one of the Costa Rica national parks — it’s a privately-owned, non-profit park. Getting there means going up against some bumpy dirt roads which can be steep at times. But once you get there, you’ll experience the greenest, richest, and the densest forest the country has to offer. You’ll walk among the misty clouds and your eyes will pop at every turn with the incredible diversity in the vegetation. Something really neat to consider is a night tour — you’ll hike through the cloud forest and experience nature’s “second shift”.
  4. Tortuguero National Park. Tortuguero is a prime nesting place for many species of sea turtles, including the Green Sea Turtle, Leatherback, and Hawksbill. Accessible only by boat, you’ll want to book a tour for your visit. There are lots of little canals and lagoons, and you can rent a canoe or kayak to explore the park. At night, follow the marked hiking trail and watch the momma turtles crawl up on the beach to lay their eggs.
  5. Corcovado National Park. OK, right off the bat I’m gonna tell you that Corcovado isn’t for everyone. It’s one of the more remote Costa Rica national parks, and getting there involves either an 8-9 hour drive or a 90-minute plane ride to the Osa Peninsula. And then there’s an hour hike into the park. So why bother? Corcovado has more types of vegetation and more species of mammals, birds, and reptiles than any other region of the country. You’ll see more and you’ll see things you won’t find anywhere else in the country.

There’s many, many more Costa Rica national parks, reserves, and wildlife refuges to explore throughout the country. Each offers something unique, but you can’t go wrong with any of the spectacular parks I’ve listed above.

Most importantly, try and visit one or two during your stay. More if your itinerary will allow for it!