Visit These Underrated National Parks in Costa Rica

Piedras Blancas National Park used to be part of Corcovado National Park
Piedras Blancas National Park used to be part of Corcovado National Park | © Hugh Lansdown / Shutterstock
Photo of Jenn Parker
2 September 2021

Nearly 25 percent 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, there are others that often get overlooked – meaning fewer people and more space for those who make the extra effort. Read on to find out where these underrated national parks are.

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Piedras Blancas National Park

Forest, Natural Feature, Park
Map View
Costa Rica, Puntarenas Province, Osa Peninsula, Piedras Blancas National Park, Osa Wildlife Sanctuary, Red Macaw (Ara macao)
© Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo

Piedras Blancas National Park was once part of the world-famous Corcovado National Park. It is 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. It’s an incredibly biodiverse and heavily protected region of the country. Surprisingly though, it’s still relatively unexplored, especially by international visitors. Within this dense tropical rainforest park, there are hidden waterfalls, dreamy beaches and even lively reefs off the coast.

Barra Honda National Park

Hiking Trail, Natural Feature, Park
Map View
Wildlife of Barra Honda National Park in Costa Rica.
© Nicholas Billington / Shutterstock

Barra Honda National Park is one of the most unique in Costa Rica and one that many people traveling to and staying in Guanacaste overlook. What makes this park so distinct 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 inaccessibility. 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

Natural Feature, Park
Map View
Stream at cloud forest, La Amistad international park.
© Alfredo Maiquez / Shutterstock
La Amistad National Park is the largest and most remote park in Costa Rica. It’s also one of the few parks in the world that is shared between two countries. A hike through this protected area is only for the most determined and adventurous hikers, as there are no roads to get into the park and no hotels and amenities once you’re in. There are four entrances to the park, and all are only accessed by foot or horseback. From the Caribbean side, it’s a two-day walk just to get to the park. Take your binoculars (and a guide) if you go – there are jaguars, pumas, ocelots, Baird’s tapirs, giant anteaters, monkeys, coatis and more than 600 bird species residing in this enormous park.

Cocos Island National Park

Natural Feature, Park
Map View
View over Wafers Bay Cocos Island Costa Rica.
© HakBak / Shutterstock
About 342mi (550km) 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 countercurrents, it’s a paradise for scuba divers, who travel here to visit one of the 20 dive sites and 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, you can only explore this national park aboard a professional Costa Rican liveaboard dive boat. It’s 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

Forest, Natural Feature, Park
Map View
Costa Rica Wildlife: Panthera onca.
© Pedro Helder Pinheiro / Shutterstock

Barbilla National Park sits on the Caribbean slope and is predominantly a lowland rainforest. This is one of Costa Rica’s least visited parks. There may be as few as two dozen visitors a month. It’s also home to the second-largest indigenous tribe, the Cabécar, in the country. 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 knowledgeable 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

Forest, Natural Feature, Park
Map View
Bridge through Juan Castro Blanco National Park.
© pisces2386 / Shutterstock

Juan Castro Blanco National Park is in the northern central lowlands and home to three volcanoes, thermal hot springs and a lush primary rainforest. It’s 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’s 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 is your park.

Chirripó National Park

Forest, Hiking Trail, Natural Feature, Park
Map View
Morrenas Valley from Chirripo Peak. Chirripo National Park, Costa Rica.
© Atonaltzin / Shutterstock

Chirripó National Park is home to the highest peak in Costa Rica. It’s a hotspot for adventurous hikers, but outside that select group, this national park doesn’t see nearly as many visitors as some of the more popular parks. It’s 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’s famous for its variety of exotic birds and vast panoramic views.

These recommendations were updated on September 2, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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