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Costa Rica is home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity and is divided into 12 unique ecological zones, including deciduous forests, rainforests, cloud forests, dry forests, mangrove swamps, and coral reefs. There are 27 national parks in Costa Rica that contain thousands of species of trees and plants, fish, and insects along with hundreds of species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. A quarter of the country is made up of protected parks and reserves, a paradise of natural wonders.
Braulio Carrillo National Park is composed of five different ecological zones, a vast trail system, 6,000 species of plants and trees, 500 bird species, and around 150 species of mammals. There are several peaks that are worth climbing for those looking for a bit of a challenge. Be sure not to miss the San Fernando waterfall, an awe-inspiring spectacle. There is also an aerial tram that can take four passengers at a time up through the forest to a height of 52 meters (170 feet), for a truly amazing viewpoint.
Arenal Volcano National Park has it all! Visitors can hike to and around the country’s most active volcano (there hasn’t been a major eruption since the late ’60s), zipline through lush primary forest, horseback ride to a magnificent waterfall and become enveloped by butterflies, surrounded by flowers and the calls of a wide variety of birds, including the toucan. Arenal Volcano National Park is also famous for its hot springs, where visitors can indulge in a relaxing soak after a long day adventuring.
While Barra Honda National Park is worth exploring above ground, it is most famous for its ginormous limestone caves. This is an excursion for the adventurous. Witness glittering stalagmites and stalactites, as well as a few rare species that are found nowhere else, including the blind salamander. The Hall of Pearls, the Hall of the Caverns, and the Hall of Mushroom will surely take your breath away. The immense size of the caves and ancient formations within the depths of the earth in this spot are worth the adrenaline-pumping plunge down.
Rincon de la Vieja National Park offers visitors a wide range of activities, including hiking, bathing in mud baths, swimming in pools beneath waterfalls, and embracing the natural beauty of the lush forest, home to monkeys, sloths, and tapirs. This biologically and geologically diverse national park has something for everyone. For the most ambitious adventurer, there is a full day trip available to hike to the summit of Von Seebach. Camping is also permitted within this park for those wishing to spend some more time in the great outdoors.
Although Costa Rica’s smallest national park, Manuel Antonio National Park is regarded as one of the most bio diverse parks on the planet. The park includes four pristine white sand beaches, flora and fauna-rich tropical forests, and over 100,000 acres of crystal clear ocean, ideal for snorkeling and surfing. The endangered squirrel monkey has its home here, along with 108 other species of mammals and 184 species of birds. Visitors can choose to hike a variety of well-marked trails, go swimming, relax on the beach, or do it all. To avoid large crowds, it is best to visit the park between May and November.
Declared a World Heritage Site in 1983 and one of the first international parks (this protected region is shared between Costa Rica and Panama), La Amistad International Park is a truly unique place. There are still areas of the park that are completely unexplored and it is advised that a professional guide is hired prior to venturing out here, many of the trails are unmarked. La Amistad International Park contains cloud forests, lowland rainforests, oak forests and lakes.