A quarter of Costa Rica’s national territory (over a million hectares) is designated natural reserves. They draw over 300,000 visitors every year.
On this page we have all the information you need on Costa Rica’s national parks. You’ll find a huge amount of relevant information such as the location, size and the wildlife you can expect to encounter there. After reading this page, you’ll have a better idea of the best places in Costa Rica to visit and the ones that draw your attention.
Virtually all national parks in Costa Rica have at least a couple of well maintained trails. That being said, some of the parks such as Corcovado, Monteverde, and Santa Rosa have exceptional trail systems. If you are particularly interested in wildlife and nature, we recommend that you hire a guide as they can significantly enhance your experience and the chances of you spotting wild animals. You will also want to visit the parks in the early mornings. Not only because the temperature will be cooler, but because you’ll have a much better chance of seeing animals.
National parks in Costa Rica are open all week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The exceptions are Manuel Antonio National Park and Rincon de la Vieja, which are both closed on Mondays.
An overview of Costa Rica’s Protected areas
There are a range of different protected areas in Costa Rica. The Environment Act No. 7554 signed on October 4 1995, article 32 lists the following classifications:
Parques Nacionales (National Parks)
The aim of national parks is to conserve outstanding natural zones by maintaining representative examples of regions and species and communities that are in danger of extinction. These areas support scientific and environmental research, and recreational and educational facilities are permitted within them. Hotels are not allowed.
Reservas Biologicas (Biological Reserves)
These areas do not have the same scenic or recreational value as National Parks. But they are still vital, and as a result any activity that jeopardizes the biological equilibrium is forbidden. Scientific research is the main aim of these reserves and they seek to protect and conserve natural processes as much as possible.
Reservas Forestales (Forest Reserves)
Forest reserves are a temporary category that seek to protect natural resources for future use. These are valid until a clear development plan for the area is established.
Refugios Nacionales de Vida Silvestre (National Wildlife Reserves)
National Wildlife Refuges are dedicated to the protection of set species. As a result, their size varies depending on the habitat required by specific animals. Private land can be included in these areas. These areas are the least protected and regulations are most likely to be dodged here.
Corredor Biologico (Biological Corridor)
This is the connection between two or more protected habitats in Costa Rica.
Monumental Nacional (National Monument)
There is only one National Monument is Costa Rica. That is Guayabo, the largest archaeological site in Costa Rica.
The History of Costa Rica’s National Parks
There are 161 National Parks and refuges in Costa Rica and they are organised by SINAC (Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservación). The parks are divided into 11 regions and cover over a quarter of the country’s national territory or over 1.3 million hectares.
There are 11 different regents to make it easier for SINAC to manage the national park system. There are also buffer zones where agriculture is allowed under particular conditions. There is also protected land totaling over 320,000 hectares for the indigenous populations of Malekus, Chorotegas, Huetares, Cabecares, Bribris, Teribes and Guaymies.
Costa Rica has pursued a national conservation policy since the early 1960s. Unfortunately Costa Rica still has one of the highest deforestation rates in the word, but these actions have promoted green tourism. As a result, the country has become an ecological worked leader and tourism has become a major pillar of the economy. Costa Rica has pledged to become on of the world’s first carbon neutral countries by the year 2030.
The huge success of ecotourism in Costa Rica in recent years has had some environmental downsides. Unfortunately, some hotel owners and other tourism professionals are led solely by immediate profit. This has led to illegal deforestation and poor wastewater treatment. Many act in defiance of environmental laws and it is hard for the Government to keep track of everyone.
Most visitors will go to at least one national park during their visit and stay for two days. The excursions and hikes available in these parks are one of Costa Rica’s main tourism assets. These include rainforests, cloud forests, dry and wet forests, transition regions of changing altitudes and a variety of caves, volcanoes, lakes and lagoons. There are also rivers, canals, marine parks, islands and pre-Columbian relicts. Rates of admission to National Parks may appear high at first glance, but this is the price you must pay for the protection of nature.
Most of the national parks you will visit will have at least a couple of short, well-maintained trials. Some will be used for a variety of purposes and most will be unmarked. You should inform yourself before your visit on the quality of trails and you should not wander off by yourself if you’re not familiar with the area. It would be best to hire a park ranger or guide. This isn’t necessary for parks such as Corcovado, Monteverde and Santa Rosa which have excellent trail systems. That being said, a guide can provide a lot of helpful information for your visit.
The rainy season is one of the best times to visit a lot of the national parks in Costa Rica, particularly Corcovado National Park. This is because there is more wildlife to see during the rainy season. However, access can be limited during the rainy season as trails become impassable. There will also be more mosquitoes around, too. However, on the plus side, there will be less crowds and you will have a greater chance of enjoying the park by yourself.