Costa Rica Most Popular National Parks
There are currently 50 national parks in Costa Rica, spread across the country, on both coasts and are varying in type as in the number of national parks. Some have volcanoes, others mountain peaks, while many are located on the coasts housing amazing wildlife, marine life and plants. For owners (and visitors) of Las Villas de San Buenas, the great news is that two of the six most popular national parks are quite close. In fact, Ballena National Marine Park is only 20 minutes away! According to an article by The Tico Times, Costa Rica most popular National Parks based on number of visitors provided by the Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT), are as follows:
1. Poas Volcano National Park
Poas National Park is located near Cartago, one of the largest cities in Costa Rica, and now an extension of the San Jose metropolitan area. The volcano is still active and has an elevation of nearly 9,000 feet. It is easy to see the large, deep crater, and is a great place for photographers. They recently have added a visitors center, complete with a cafe.
2. Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park, is an easy 60 minute drive from Las Villas de San Buenas. Simply head north onto the Costanera Highway (Hwy 34) and in about one hour the turn off for Quepos/Manuel Antonio National Park will be on your left.
Manuel Antonio is a popular destination for both visitors as well as Costa Ricans. It is one of the largest and most beautiful beaches in all of Costa Rica. With the Caldera Highway opening up in 2008, a trip from San Jose to Manuel Antonio is only 2.5 hours,.
Manuel Antonio National park was established in 1972 and is approximately 4,900 acres (1,984 hectares) in size. It is one of the jewels of Costa Rica’s eco-tourism. The best way to see and experience the park is to hire a trained guide at the park’s entrance, and they’ll try and find sloths, monkeys and dozens of birds to show you.
From The Tico Times:
Foreigners flock here for a chance to live a day in a postcard-like setting. Manuel Antonio National Park’s beaches are the epitome of tropical perfection, the kind of place where the only distractions from the crashing surf come from monkeys swinging in the palm trees.
Morning is the best time, for sunny skies and to avoid crowds (only 600 people are admitted during weekdays; 800 on weekends). Hike to the third beach within the park; it may be the most spectacular beach in Costa Rica, with verdant, coconut palm-lined white-sand shores. Check out the tombolo, which is a deposit of sand built up by millenniums of crashing waves, connecting an island with the mainland. A trail will take you to the top of Cathedral Point, offering spectacular vistas of surrounding beaches and cliffs. The trail is steep and muddy; take care and go with a partner.
Snorkeling is excellent, as is observation of sea life. Sponges, corals, various crustaceans, algae and fish all share the coast. Dolphins and whales sometimes frolic off the islands, and at low tide you can see ancient turtle traps set by the local indigenous population over a thousand years ago.
3. Irazu Volcano National Park
Irazu is an active volcano located near San Jose (15 miles east) and during the 1960’s erupted for four years straight. There are plenty of tour operators that offer day trips to the volcano, although if you have a rental car, it is much more affordable to drive yourself. Be sure to wear warm clothes as Irazu is above the frost line and temperatures hover around freezing. Additionally, constant cold winds and saturating humidity, typically make this visit a short one (unless you’re used to the cold and have packed for it).
4. Tortuguero National Park
Located on Costa Rica’s Northern Caribbean coast, Tortuguero National Park, is best seen by boat. There are plenty of locations to rent canoes and kayaks so most and areas to hire local guides. The name ‘tortuguero’ means ‘turtle catcher’ in Spanish. As you would imagine, based on the name, turtles are the main attraction here. Numerous species of turtles including green sea, leatherback and Hawksbill nest each year on the beaches here. If you are planning a trip to the Caribbean coast you could visit both Tortuguero and Cahuita in a couple of days.
There is an extensive network of freshwater creeks and lagoons where endangered West Indian Manatees can sometimes be seen.
5. Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park is located on Costa Rica’s Southern Caribbean coast. It is best known for the coral reefs near the shore. During the dry season some of the world’s best beach snorkeling will provide views of light yellow brain, elkhorn and blue staghorn corals, sea fans and gorgonians, in addition to more than 500 species of fish.
Off the shore approximately 300 meters is a living underwater habitat that is home to over 100 species of fish and 35 species of coral.
6. Ballena National Marine Park
Ballena National Park is close to Las Villas de San Buenas. The main entrance point is in Uvita, although there are other access points north of the Uvita entrance that also are available. Regardless of which entrance point used, the park is beautiful!
This beautiful landmark, best seen from the air while flying to Palmar Sur regional airport, encompasses miles of protected beaches. During the while watching season migrating whales can be seen from the beach, or if you’d like, hire a local company to take you out on a boat to get closer.