When you think of Costa Rica, you immediately think of beautiful national parks teeming with wildlife and exotic plants. Anyone who has been to Costa Rica will tell you that the nature there is incredibly impressive. It’s one of the greenest countries in the world, with over 30% of its land protected as natural reserves. With 28 national parks to choose from, it’s a tough decision. To help you make that choice, here’s a list of the 8 most stunning national parks in Costa Rica. You’ll read about their differences, and hopefully, the photos will give you a good sense of each national park.
Monteverde National Park
Monteverde is a unique national park in Costa Rica because it allows you to explore the cloud forest. Cloud forests make up only 1% of the world’s forests. They are found in tropical or subtropical areas, usually at altitudes of 1500 meters (4921 feet) or higher. Monteverde National Park boasts high biodiversity, featuring over 3000 plant species, 100 mammal species, 400 bird species, 120 reptile and amphibian species, 490 butterfly species, and thousands of insects. Additionally, a misty veil often envelops the trees. The mist forms when warm air from lower areas collides with the mountain slopes, causing it to rise. As it rises, the moisture in the air condenses into tiny droplets: mist. Monteverde is undoubtedly a unique destination in Costa Rica. Curious about what you can do in Monteverde? Check out our article on tips for Monteverde.
Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero National Park is often referred to as the “Amazon of Costa Rica.” It’s a unique park that can’t be compared to any other national park in the country. This is due to its combination of rainforests, mangroves, canals, and beaches. Exploring the park’s waterways by kayak or canoe is a perfect way to experience the nature. You’re likely to spot exotic animals as the park is home to thousands of species of flora and fauna. There are even jaguars, although they are rarely seen. Tortuguero National Park ranks second globally in terms of turtle populations. During the nesting season from July to October, thousands of turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. This spectacular event can only be witnessed with a guide. Get a comprehensive view of this unique place by reading our tips for Tortuguero National Park.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular national parks in Costa Rica, largely due to its high chances of spotting wildlife. It’s even one of the best places in Costa Rica to see sloths! Despite being the smallest national park, we recommend setting aside at least half a day here. The park features stunning white-sand beaches that are perfect for a refreshing swim after a hike. Along the trails and on the beach, you’re guaranteed to encounter monkeys and raccoons that curiously come close or brazenly attempt to steal your belongings. Before your visit, read our tips for Manuel Antonio National Park as there are rules you need to follow.
Note: Manuel Antonio is the smallest and most visited national park in Costa Rica, so be prepared for crowds. If you find this bothersome, consider visiting less crowded parks like Tortuguero National Park or Corcovado National Park.
Marino Ballena National Park
Nature sometimes creates remarkable coincidences. In Marino Ballena National Park near the village of Uvita, a rock and sand formation perfectly resembles a whale’s tail. This unique feature coincides with the spot where hundreds of humpback whales gather each year. The whale’s tail is visible during low tide, disappearing during high tide. Visit Marino Ballena National Park during low tide and take a 15-minute walk to the whale’s tail. You’ll stroll along a beautiful dark brown beach surrounded by the jungle, with parrots, toucans, and pelicans flying overhead. To learn more about Uvita and what you can do there, read all our tips for Uvita.
Corcovado National Park
Corcovado National Park is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, making it a must-visit. The park contains a staggering 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity. Despite this, it’s also one of the least visited parks on this list due to its location in the far south of Costa Rica. To optimally protect the nature here, the park limits the number of daily visitors, and entry is allowed only with a guide. These unique features have made it a popular destination for ecotourism. A visit to Corcovado National Park requires some preparation. Learn everything you need to know in our comprehensive article on tips for Corcovado National Park.
Tip: Corcovado National Park pairs well with the beautiful Drake Bay. This coastal town is the perfect base for visiting Corcovado National Park and offers additional unique activities. Check out our tips for Drake Bay if you’re heading that way.
Arenal National Park
Located slightly north of Monteverde, Arenal National Park boasts the impressive Arenal Volcano, offering breathtaking views. With a height of 1633 meters (5357 feet), Arenal often stands shrouded in clouds. While climbing Arenal isn’t permitted, there are plenty of exciting activities in the surrounding area. Imagine traversing incredible jungle canopy walkways, relaxing in soothing hot springs, and visiting a stunning waterfall. The village of La Fortuna serves as the gateway to Arenal National Park, and you can find all the tips for La Fortuna & Arenal here.
Tenorio Volcano National Park
Tenorio Volcano National Park makes for a perfect day trip from La Fortuna, as it’s only about an hour and a half away by car. The park features a unique river called Rio Celeste, known for its vivid azure color. This distinct hue results from two different rivers meeting, carrying volcanic minerals that trigger a chemical reaction, giving the water its almost unnatural blue shade. The park offers a six-kilometer (3.7-mile) hiking trail that takes around three hours to complete. Along the way, you’ll encounter picturesque spots like a lagoon with intense blue waters and a viewpoint. The trail’s highlight is undoubtedly the breathtaking Rio Celeste Waterfall, often considered the most beautiful waterfall in Costa Rica by many locals.
If you’re interested in learning more about this national park and spotting wildlife along the way, consider hiking with a guide through the park. The entrance fee to Tenorio Volcano National Park, transportation to and from La Fortuna, and a delicious lunch are included in the price. You can also explore the national park on your own if you have a rental car and don’t want a guide.
Cahuita National Park
This national park might be less popular, but it’s no less beautiful than the other parks on this list! Cahuita National Park is conveniently visited from Puerto Viejo, as it’s only 17 km away. The park features a single trail that constantly offers views of both the sea and the jungle. Every few minutes, the scenery changes, and there are plenty of spots to take a refreshing dip in the water. While hiking, you might come across bright yellow and green snakes, monkeys, or raccoons. If you hear rustling, it could be a basilisk, sloth, or a family of coatis making their way through the jungle. Be sure to read all the tips for Cahuita National Park before your visit.