Did you know that more than a quarter of Costa Rica is protected by national parks, wildlife refuges, and nature preserves? It’s one of the nation’s primary conservation efforts and, over the last four decades, this push has transformed the country’s landscapes. And you can explore much of it, right here at these wildly diverse national parks in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
They’re rugged. They’re breathtaking. They’re educational. And they’re memorable. They’re also a great deal, at about $10 per person. So you can explore, as much as you’d like. Enjoy!
In alphabetical order:
Barra Honda National Park
When you think about national parks, we’re betting you envision hikes and waterfalls and scenic vistas. And Barra Honda has those. But that’s not why you’re here.
Welcome to Costa Rica’s subterranean national park. That’s right: Barra Honda’s most treasured sights lie not above, but below the earth’s surface. Here, where 70 million years of shifting tectonic plates nudged ancient coral reefs and force soft limestone to mold and form, creating an underground cave system you’re now free to explore.
Fair warning, though – this isn’t the developed caving tourist experience you might be used to. This is true spelunking and unpolished caving: an authentic, real, and wholly exciting experience that, heads up, can also be challenging and raw. We highly recommend booking a guided caving tour, which will take you down into three of the park’s most explored sites: the Trap, Terciopelo, and Santa Ana caverns.
Diriá National Park
We feel like we’re spilling a secret with this one, but Diriá National Park (pronounced deer-ee-AH) is a little bit of a secret around these parts. (And even among national parks in Guanacaste, Costa Rica…)
We’re not quite sure why, though. Sure, it’s a bit off the beaten path but then, so many national parks are. And sure, it’s wild and rugged but then again, so many national parks are. And then, there’s the primary forest (rare) and tropical dry forest (rarer still), the incredible hikes and the wildlife you can find only here, thanks to these uncommon ecosystems and vast biodiversity… In other words, gorgeous, breathtaking, and exceptional reasons to visit.
Guanacaste National Park
If you’re looking for a feel-good true story, then look no further than our province’s eponymous national park – if not the most visited, then one of the most appropriately named national parks in Guanacaste, Costa Rica!
In 1989, Dr. Daniel Janzen, a conservationist and evolutionary ecologist, founded the park to demonstrate that the world can “grow” national parks. His choice of site: this biologically important habitat bridge, which links the slopes of Orosi Volcano and Cacao Volcano to high-altitude cloud forest.
These diverse landscapes are more than your standard critical habitats: In addition to being a home for migratory and resident bird species, Guanacaste National Park also serves as critical habitat for Costa Rica’s big cat species – specifically, for the two largest, pumas and jaguars, both of which require extensive roaming grounds.
The conservationist in all of us will be happy to know that the park is regenerating faster than even Dr. Janzen predicted, evolving from near-barren cattle pasture into secondary forest, including lowland dry forest, cloud forest, and rain forest. You can even hike across the Continental Divide!
Las Baulas National Marine Park
You may have heard (or read) it called Marino Las Baulas National Park, but this one’s more accurate name is Las Baulas National Marine Park. That’s for two reasons: The first is that the park’s extensive acreage is mostly of the marine variety – 43,240+ acres (175 km2) ocean acres to just 1,900 acres (7.7 km2) on land – and because this park is a critically important nesting site for endangered leatherback sea turtles (in Spanish, baulas).
For here, this coastal wonderland welcomes nesting sea turtles every year – all the more important, given that there are so few of these nesting sites remaining in the world AND that leatherback populations are on the decline (hence, endangered). And if leatherback turtle conservation isn’t enough to get you there, know that this national park is also home to the biodiverse Tamarindo Estuary and its mangrove-lined canals, which are home to an incredible array of flora and fauna.
Palo Verde National Park
Our tour of Guanacaste now takes us into the rivers and watersheds that form one of the country’s most important wetland sanctuaries: Palo Verde National Park, a 45,500-acre wonderland that encompasses 15 varied habitats.
Located at the mouth of the Tempisque River, Palo Verde rises to form critically important habitats – especially for resident and migrant bird populations. In fact, if you’re a birder (or have any interest in birds at all, really), this is your new favorite place: the park’s salt ponds, rivers, marshes, mangroves, and other habitats can house up to 250,000 birds at one time. You read that right – a quarter of a million birds, all at once!
We’re talking bucket-list sightings, including roseate spoonbills and many species of egrets, grebes, ibis, and herons. The park also provides refuge to the largest concentrations of waterfall and shorebirds in Central America and is home to the country’s largest jaguarondi population (Herpailurus yagouaroundi, a small species of wildcat). This one’s a must for national parks in Guanacaste, Costa Rica!
Rincón de la Vieja National Park
Costa Rican folklore tells the legend of a once-princess who, after her father threw her lover in Rincón de la Vieja’s volcanic crater, absconded to a mountaintop and lived out her life in solitude. There, she later developed healing powers, which infused and imbued the surrounding rivers with healing properties.
Whether the story is true or just a tale, we’ll leave up to you. What we can say is that Rincón de la Vieja Volcano and its eponymous national park do have mineral-rich, volcano-fed, natural hot springs and that the hot springs are rumored to have restorative properties.
And if a soak in the hot springs (and a slather with volcanic mud!) aren’t enough to tempt you up the mountainside, then know that the parks Las Pailas trail is one of our favorite hikes in Costa Rica. Yes, the whole country, not just Guanacaste. That’s because you’ll see things here that you can see nowhere else. We’re talking sights to the tune of boiling mud pots, a mini-volcano, boiling hot springs (not for humans!), belching fumaroles, seasonal waterfalls, and much more.
Santa Rosa National Park
Rounding out our diverse selection of national parks in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, welcome to a slice of Costa Rican history and a natural wonderland. It’s two-for-one, here!
The park’s main draw is, undoubtedly, what once happened here. Back in the 1800s, shortly after Central America’s independence from Spain, filibusters arrived to annex Costa Rica. Armed with funds and colonialist attitudes, they hoped to claim the new nations for themselves. Costa Rica had other plans and here, on the site of what is now Santa Rosa National Park, brave Costa Ricans sacrificed their lives and won a pivotal battle against the filibusters, forcing them into Nicaragua and points further north (where Walker was eventually executed).
Today, you can walk the old battlefield and then head out into the park’s rugged sights, which include sea turtle nesting sites, tropical dry forest, and biodiversity that houses 4,000+ butterfly species, over a hundred mammals, and 250 bird species – more than one-quarter of Costa Rica’s 924+ bird species!
Want to Explore National Parks in Guanacaste, Costa Rica? Stay Here!
Stay amidst the wonder, the sights, and the sites:
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Looking for More Things to Do in Guanacaste? Let’s Chat!
Whether you’re venturing off the beaten path or sticking firmly to it, we can help you make the most of your time here – even and especially if you’re traveling to Costa Rica on a budget. At Vacation Rentals of Tamarindo, our job and calling are to make you feel at home, everywhere and anywhere you find yourself adventuring.
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