Nearly 25% of Costa Rica is protected as a national park, reserve, or refuge. While national parks like Manuel Antonio, Arenal, Poás, Irazú, and Tortuguero receive the majority of visitors, the following 7 parks are not to be missed. Best of all, when visiting some of these parks it’s likely that you will encounter few if any other visitors.
Piedras Blancas National Park was once part of the world famous Corcovado National Park. It is situated to the west of the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve and to the east of the Golfito National Wildlife Refuge in the southern Pacific region of Costa Rica. Needless to say this is an incredibly biodiverse and heavily protected region of Costa Rica. Surprisingly though, it is still a relatively unexplored part of Costa Rica, especially by international visitors. Within this dense tropical rainforest park are hidden waterfalls, exquisite beaches, and even lively reefs off the coast.
Barra Honda National Park is one of the most unique national parks in Costa Rica and one that many people traveling to and staying in Guanacaste miss. What makes this park so unique is its intricate limestone cave system. Until the late 1960s, it was believed that Barra Honda was a volcano. Only around half of the 42 caverns have been explored. The limestone caverns are spectacular and well preserved in part because of their inaccessiblility. One cave in particular is home to a colony of an estimated 5,000 bats. A guided hiking and cave tour is definitely the way to go about exploring this incredible geological attraction.
La Amistad National Park is the largest and most remote park in Costa Rica. It is also one of the few parks in the world that is shared between two countries. A hike through this protected area of Costa Rica is only for the most determined and adventurous hikers, as there are no roads to get into the park and no accommodations and amenities once you are in. There are four entrances to the park and all can only be accessed by foot or horseback. From the Caribbean side, it is a two day walk just to enter the park. Nearly 2/3 of all the animal species in Costa Rica reside in this park.
Located 550 kilometers off the coast of Costa Rica, Cocos Island is known as the only eastern Pacific island with a tropical rainforest. Surrounded by deep waters and counter-currents, it is a mecca for scuba divers, who travel the globe to visit one of the twenty dive sites and to come face-to-face with a huge population of scalloped hammerhead sharks, rays, moray eels and dolphins. As nobody is allowed to stay on the remote island, except for a few chosen Costa Rican park rangers, visitors can only explore this national park aboard a professional Costa Rican live-aboard dive boat. It is the extreme remoteness, difficulty of access, and high price of the excursion that keeps this national park on the top of the list as the least visited.
Barbilla National Park is located along the Caribbean slope and is predominantly lowland rainforest. This is one of Costa Rica’s least visited parks. There may be as few as two dozen visitors a month. This park is also home to Costa Rica’s second largest indigenous tribe, the Cabécar. Barbilla National Park is pristine and teeming with wildlife, including the endangered jaguar, ocelot, and tapir. The best way to experience this magical park is with an experienced and knowledgable guide. The hiking trails are a bit rugged and you will definitely see and learn more if you have someone who is an expert with you.
Juan Castro Blanco National Park is located in the northern central lowlands and is home to three volcanoes, thermal hot springs, and lush primary rainforest. This is an excellent park for those who love hiking and birdwatching. Aside from the hiking trails, there are no other park services available here. While the Juan Castro Blanco National Park is easy to access, especially if you are coming from San José, it is often overlooked by visitors who tend to visit the other more well-known parks in this part of the country. If you want to experience some of Costa Rica’s incredible biodiversity without hundreds of other visitors around you, this your park.
Chirripó National Park is home to the highest peak in Costa Rica. It is a hot spot for adventurous hikers, but outside of that select group, this national park doesn’t see nearly as many visitors as some of the more popular parks. Chirripó National Park is host to multiple ecosystems including moorland, glacial lakes, cloud forests, and premontane forests. The rewards of spending time in this extraordinary national park are great, as it is famous for its variety of exotic birds and vast panoramic views.