Costa Rica National Parks
Costa Rica National Parks outnumber nearly any country on the planet. Ever see a lizard the size of a Jaguar? How about a snake that can fly or a spider that eats birds? All of this can be found in one of Costa Rica’s tropical rainforest: Manuel Antonio National Park. Looking for avian creatures? Well, very few spots in Central America can compete with the wetlands of Palo Verde National Park in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. If exotic creatures aren’t your thing, maybe you’d like to peek out over the edge of a giant active volcano at Arenal Volcano National Park, where vibrant lava emissions are a small reminder of its imposing activity.
With one of the most multifarious and diverse ecosystems known to man, Costa Rica is home to an innumerable amount of fascinating creatures and astonishing attractions. Over 25 percent of Costa Rica has become national parks and reserves dedicated to protecting its natural habitats and biodiversity, the largest percentage on earth! With parks like La Amistad, that straddles the border between Panama and Costa Rica covering almost a million acres, Costa Rica holds an astounding 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity and all within a country no bigger than West Virginia. Below you will find a few highlights from some of Costa Rica’s most interesting national parks, though, in all honesty, it barely scratches the surface.
Palo Verde National Park – Most Diverse Waterfowl Species
Palo Verde National Park has one of the most diverse collections of life in the country, incorporating 12 different habitats. There is a major dichotomy that exists within the park between the tropical dry forest and the wetlands. Many aquatic plants exist along side hundreds of different tree species, but without a doubt the massive amount of bird species (nearly 300) is the major draw for visitors. Palo Verde has the largest number of aquatic and wading birds in all of Central America. Birding is particularly good here, as there is very little obstructing vegetation anywhere in the park. Venture out to Pajaros Island to catch a glimpse of many exotic bird species, including the black-crowned night-herons, the great curassow, toucans and macaws.
Poas Volcano National Park – First Park (Established in 1955)
Costa Rica has a number of volcanoes accessible to visitors, but one of the most visited is Poas Volcano National Park. Most likely its popularity can be attributed to it being Costa Rica’s largest volcano. Sitting above 14,000 acres of various habitats the volcano offers the most breathtaking sites in the entire country. The crater is almost a mile in diameter and still bubbles with sulfuric acid, and emits smoke into the air. Around the huge crater are an amazing aquamarine lagoon, blanketed ferns, and numerous hiking trails that lead to panoramic views.
Arenal Volcano National Park – Most Active Volcano
Sitting in the middle of this 30,000 mile park is the famous Arenal Volcano. It is among the world’s 10 most active volcanoes, and is Costa Rica’s number one. Smoldering cinderblocks and vibrant lava emissions can all be seen from various trails winding around the crater. But don’t worry, park officials keep a good eye on the activity of this volcano and won’t hesitate to shut down the park if conditions are too dangerous. Besides the 5,357-foot volcano, this park offers incredible hiking, magnificent views, and abounding wildlife. Of the 850 total species of birds found throughout Costa Rica, nearly all of them can be found inhabiting the area. Let’s not forget about the other volcano in this park: Chato Volcano. Although Chato is not active, this extinct crater houses an amazing vibrant lagoon. A popular hike through the rainforest will bring you through lava beds down through the crater to this relaxing pool. Quite an adventure for a day trip. Many find it soothing to visit the hot springs after exploring this alluring area.
Marino Ballena National Park – Uvita, Costa Rica
Along a remote stretch of coastline, in the southern end of the Central Pacific region near Uvita, is a unique park called Marino Ballena National Park. This is one of the newest national parks in Costa Rica and encompasses 270 acres of land and 13,300 acres of ocean. Ballena is Spanish for “whale” and the park gets its name for a particular sandbar formation that goes straight out toward the ocean splitting and curving in two directions, just like that of a whale’s tail. The park and surrounding areas contain great vantage points for viewing migrating humpback whales, some migrating from as far away as Hawaii and Alaska. And yes, Uvita even looks like Hawaii!
Manuel Antonio National Park – Smallest Park (4,014 acres)
Even though Manuel Antonio National Park is marked as the country’s smallest national park, it is also recognized as one of the most biodiverse parks in the world. And in 2011 Forbes listed Manuel Antonio among the world’s 12 most beautiful national parks. The park contains idyllic beaches and rich forest, all with welcoming trails for exploring. Just off the coast are 12 little isles where mystical dolphins and migrating whales can be observed. Among the 109 species of mammals, and 184 species of birds, Manuel Antonio is home to many of Costa Rica’s endangered species. About 350 endangered squirrel monkeys live in the park, and another 500 on its outer boundaries. Capuchin monkeys are also abundant here and play freely with humans, however, you may want to keep a close eye on your sandwich pack when they’re around.
La Amistad International Park – Largest Park (990,717 acres)
Formerly known as La Amistad National Park, this is Costa Rica’s largest most remote park and is equally split between Costa Rica and Panama regions. La Amistad represents one of the first attempts to manage a protected area between two nations. The protected diverse environments include cloud forests, tropical lowland rain forests, oak forest, alpine grasslands and glacial lakes. With such diverse habitats visitors will find a wide variety of plant and wildlife. It is estimated that two thirds of the wildlife of Costa Rica can be found here, including giant anteaters, jaguars, puma, and margay. Compared to other parks and reserves of similar size the diversity here is unparalleled. The size of La Amistad is incredible and takes up nearly 480,000 acres of Costa Rican territory. With Panama’s territory included the total size of the park is 990,717 acres. Much of the park is unexplored and it isn’t advised to venture far beyond its boundaries without an experienced guide.
Costa Rica knows what they have is special and have become world leaders in conservation policies that protect these areas. Be sure to do your part during your visit to these delicate ecosystems and remember not to litter or feed the animals.