5 Best National Parks in Costa Rica

Bradypus variegatus at Cahuita National Park

Five Best National Parks in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a country blessed with far more than its fair share of natural beauty, despite its relatively small size. It has chosen to preserve much of this beauty by designating a number of national parks. Combined with the country’s small size, this has resulted in a high concentration of these protected areas – around 25 percent of the country has national park status – making Costa Rica without a doubt one of the best destinations in the world for national parks.

With so many to choose from, it can be hard to decide which to visit during your limited time in the country. So here are my top 5.


Arenal National Park National Parks in Costa Rica
Arenal National Park CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=295717 National Parks in Costa Rica

This national park is one of the more popular in Costa Rica, and for good reason. Its blockbuster attraction that draws in most of the visitors is the stunning Arenal Volcano. Towering over the landscape at almost 1,700 m, this active volcano provides achievable treks for most who are of good fitness. Lots of tours are also available, making it an accessible portal to the natural wonders of the country.

The volcano isn’t the only attraction in Arenal park though, with plenty of other things worth seeing in the vicinity. There are waterfalls, hot springs, and rainforest trails aplenty. The entire area is also teeming with exotic wildlife.

Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park By Michelle Tran – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51860559

This is probably the most popular national park in the country. This is partly because of its reasonably close proximity to San José, but also because of its undeniable beauty.

The park lies on the Pacific coastline of the country, incorporating both jungle and glorious coastline in an attractive package for tourists and locals alike.

The highlight here for most people is the mesmerizing Manuel Antonio Beach, where the rainforest meets the sand to create a wonderfully picturesque setting.


Bradypus variegatus at Cahuita National Park
Bradypus variegatus at Cahuita National Park

Way over on the Caribbean coast sits Cahuita National Park, most famous for its marine reserve. Visitors can enjoy swimming and snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters, searching for a glimpse of rare and colorful species of fish, coral, and other marine life. There are even shipwrecks to explore within the confines of the park.


Fungi of Chirripo National Park
Fungi of Chirripo National Park Public Domain

Located southeast of San José in the inland area of the country, Chirripó National Park is the home to the intimidating Cerro Chirripó, the highest mountain in Costa Rica.

At over 3,800 m, Cerro Chirripó is a serious challenge to climb, so shouldn’t be taken lightly. It will most likely take 2 or 3 days to complete for all but the most experienced mountaineers. It’s definitely worth a shot though, as the scenery you are exposed to is simply breathtaking. Cloud forests and panoramic views of the entire country await those willing to take on the challenge.

Cocos Island

Wafer Bay Sunset in Cocos Island
Wafer Bay Sunset in Cocos Island

You can probably guess what’s special about this national park from the name. It’s an island. It only has an area of just over 20 km2 but boasts a well-preserved rainforest gorgeous coastline. Its location over 500 km from Costa Rica’s mainland means it has deep waters surrounding it and provides a perfect base from which to view marine wonders like sharks, dolphins, and whales.

Visit Costa Rica for these amazing national parks and much more

The parks highlighted in this article only scratch the surface of what Costa Rica has to offer. There are dozens of other protected areas giving visitors a chance to see the untouched rainforests, coastlines, and mountains quite unlike those anywhere else in the world.

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