A Guide to the Major National Parks of Costa Rica

National parks in Costa Rica are all teeming with wildlife and cover 25 per cent of its total landmass. This is a country which takes pride in having such a diverse ecological system. It’s also the backbone of its behemoth tourism industry. During your trip to Central America, you’ll experience some of your most treasured memories in one or more national parks. If you’re unsure which of the 26 national parks you want to visit, here are our favourites.

Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge

This 10,000-hectare refuge is a regular migration site for waterfowl. Throughout the year, you’ll spot wood storks, anhinga, blue-winged teal, and glossy ibis. It’s a regular haunt for birdwatchers. During the rainy season, a shallow lake fills up to create an area where people can sail. After the rainy season ends, the lake dries up again and it turns into a path people use.

Arenal National Park

The Arenal National Park is the most well-known of Costa Rica’s national parks. The active Arenal volcano constantly pumps out gases and steam from its almost perfectly cone-shaped peak. Since being declared a national park in 1994, millions of visitors have travelled to the volcano and climbed to the maximum 600-metre elevation point to watch the lava.

It’s also the country’s largest source of hydroelectric power as the underground heat warms up nearby Lake Arenal.

Manuel Antonio National Park

This small park on the Pacific Coast is just south of Quepos city and close to the capital of San Jose. It was established in 1972 and covers less than 2,000 hectares of land, which makes it the smallest park in Costa Rica. 150,000 people visit each year.

It’s known for its spectacular beaches and warm Pacific waters. Park rangers regularly tend the miles and miles of hiking trails weaving through the forest and along the beaches. Forbes recently named it as one of the world’s 12 most beautiful parks.

Tortuguero National Park

This national park is one of the most remote national parks in Costa Rica. It’s in the Limon province and falls within the boundaries of the Tortuguero Conservation Area. You must book a visit to the park in advance if you want to go as it’s unreachable by land. The only way to get here is by boat or plane.

Despite its highly isolated location, it’s the third most popular park in the country. It’s well-known for its biological richness. There are a total of eleven different habitats in the Tortuguero National Park. These include lagoons, swamps, rainforest, mangrove, and beaches.


Make sure you bring a local guide with you to these parks. They can show you some of Costa Rica’s most coveted birds and plants, whilst also making sure you don’t get lost. Going on a guided tour of a park is another great way to build camaraderie with other travellers from all over the world.

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