Costa Rica is worldwide known for its efforts to protect the biodiversity of flora and fauna on its territory. More than 25% of the territory of Costa Rica consists of national parks and protected areas. A good part of them are in Guanacaste.
Barra Honda National Park
Barra Honda National Park will surprise adventure and natural beauty lovers. Its network of limestone caverns is decorated with rock formations, thanks to the action of water on calcium carbonate. Although only one of the 19 explored caves is open to the public, it is more than enough to find a unique treasure. Descend over 20 meters to start discovering an unforgettable underground world that will leave you with your mouth open. It is also a special place to walk through the dry forest and be charmed by the beauty of the natural scenarios you can enjoy from their viewpoints.
- Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 pm for regular tours and from 7:00 am to 1:00 pm to get down to the caverns.
- Rate: ¢ 600 for locals and $ 6 for foreigners. The rental of equipment for the cavern and guide service has an additional cost
- Access: Gravel road with some difficulty for small vehicles during the winter.
- Routes: From La Amistad Bridge 31 kilometers to the entrance to the village of Barra Honda and 10 kilometers to the park. Another option is 13 kilometers from Nicoya, until you find the entrance to the village of Barra Honda, after that, the signs will guide you.
- Services and facilities: Camping area, guide services and caving equipment, food, accommodation, parking, drinking water, public phone within 3 km, radio and tourist information.
Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park
The lush primary dry forest that characterizes this park is home to thousands of species of orchids and diverse ecosystems that host around 300 types of birds like the great curassow, the turquoise-browed motmot, black-faced solitaire and toucanet, as well as several mammals such as the mountain goat, the peccary, the agouti, the tayra, armadillo, northern tamandua, two-toed sloth and howler, white-faced and red monkeys.
But the biggest attraction in this park are the pailas: silent boiling fumarolic lagoons amid the premontane forest, trying to go unnoticed, but at the same time, letting their plumes call the attention of visitors.
This amazing haven of peace and tranquility is divided along paths that lead to the pailas and even the volcanic cones through a path where you will see the most active, volcanic mud baths, geysers, caverns, natural saunas, steam baths and pools of hot water in the country.
The Santa Maria crater is inactive and overgrown, and it is the highest point at 1916 meters above sea level.
The park protects and preserves watersheds that supply water to the city of Liberia. It hides a surprising wonder: Lago Azul Waterfall (Blue Lake Waterfall), at 90 feet high and completely blue waters due to the copper content in the water.
- Access: From Liberia, continue 5 Km. North, then turn right and drive 20 kilometers, passing the town of Curubandé. Four wheel drive vehicle is recommended.
- Hours: The schedule varies according to the sector. Las Pailas: Tuesday-Sunday from 7:00 to 12:00 md to enter and until 3:00 pm to exit. Santamaría sector: From 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. without restriction. From Tuesday to Sunday. Closed on Mondays
- Rate: ¢600 for locals and $ 6 for foreigners. Furthermore, an additional ¢700 is charged for entering the private road if you go to Las Pailas.
- Services and facilities: Picnic areas, restrooms and camping areas in the Santamaria sector, drinking water, showers, information booth and trails with different degrees of difficulty.
Guanacaste and Santa Rosa National Parks
Located 36 kilometers north of the city of Liberia, Guanacaste and Santa Rosa National Parks have a great ecological diversity distributed in different types of forests: very humid, tropical dry, tropical humid, cloudy and tropical forests. The highest parts of the park are the Orosi and Cacao volcanoes. The Tempisque River, the primary freshwater collector in Guanacaste, origins in this park.
About 3,000 types of plants have been identified in this park, as well as 300 species of birds, about 140 species of mammals like the armadillo, puma, white-faced monkeys and deer. According to scientists, you can find 5,000 species of butterflies and moths, 100 species of amphibians and reptiles and more than 10,000 species of insects. The most common animals are monkeys, howler monkeys, armadillos, mice, cougars and black hawks, among others.
Guanacaste National Park was established in 1989 for the protection of tropical forests on the slopes of volcanoes and in order to protect the migratory routes of hundreds of animals migrating to higher lands during dry seasons.
Given the diversity of wildlife it houses, it was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1996. Access to visitors is only for Santa Rosa, as the Guanacaste Park is restricted due to conservation.
Santa Rosa: The main attraction of this park is the old house of Santa Rosa and the stone corrals of great historical importance for the country because they were the scene of the largest national heroic: The Battle of Santa Rosa, which occurred on March 20, 1856, against American filibusters from Nicaragua. The monument was lost in May 2001 during a fire but it was completely rebuilt in 2002.
Santa Rosa preserves the largest sample of dry forest in Central America and its beaches Nancite and Naranjo are of great beauty as well as a very important nesting of olive ridley and leatherback turtles. Playa Naranjo is surrounded by mangroves and its route can be done only on foot or by four-wheel drive during the dry season, following the trails. Access to Nancite is restricted due to its ecological character.
The forest shelters 115 species of mammals such as deer, howler and white-faced monkeys, tapir, jaguar, cougar, raccoon and coati. In addition, there are 253 species of birds, 100 of amphibians and reptiles, and over 10 thousand insect species, including some 3,140 species of butterflies and moths. Some of the most outstanding birds are magpie, orange-fronted parakeets, collared trogon, band-backed wren, caracara plancus, great curassow, and long-tailed black hawk.
- Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
- Rate: ¢700 for locals and $ 6 for foreigners.
- Access: 36 kilometers on the road from Liberia Nicaragua and from there just follow the signs.
- Services and facilities: Camping areas with barbecue, tables, drinking water, sanitation and toilets, telephone and dining by reservation only. Hostel $ 10 per person for local and $ 15 for foreigners.
Palo Verde National Park
With an area of 16,804 hectares, Palo Verde is one of the most ecologically diverse places of the country. It consists of a set of diverse habitats of flood plains, rivers and is bordered by a row of limestone hills. Among these habitats, there are lakes and brackish and freshwater marshes, large areas of salty mangrove grasslands, coastal scrub forest, and mixed forests, waterlogged and evergreen forests.
The natural hydrologic system of Palo Verde creates the right conditions for the largest concentration of all Central American waterfowl and wading birds, both resident and migratory. From September to March, thousands of egrets, herons, egrets, grebes, ibis, ducks and water cockerels are concentrated in the lagoons and neighboring areas to feed and reproduce.
Pájaros Island, 2.3 hectares located opposite the park, is extremely important for its largest colony of country-crowned night herons and for being a nesting area for the glossy ibis, anhinga, pink heron, heron, heron and cattle egret. The park nestles storks an endangered species, and houses the only population of scarlet macaws in theDry Pacific.
Some of the most abundant mammals are howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys, raccoons, deer, red squirrels, porcupines and coyotes. Up to five-meter-long crocodiles have been observed in the Tempisque River. The pens and the old existing buildings, are a reflection of the life of the lowland cattle rancher, a very important role in the cultural heritage of ancient Guanacaste.
- Hours: 6:00 a.m. To 6:00 p.m.
- Rate: ¢600 for locals and $6 for foreigners.
- Access: Four wheel drive vehicle is recommended.
- Services and facilities: Hostel with 6 bedrooms, to accommodate 6 people each, especially for groups. It has drinking water, telephone, sanitary facilities.
Tenorio Volcano National Park
The slopes of the volcano are populated by dense forest and are home to a large number of mammals and birds. The park covers an area of 12,871 hectares and the cone of Tenorio has an elevation of 1,916 meters. Few tourists visit this place because of its remoteness but those who enjoy challenging trails will be rewarded with the sight of a variety of life in the cloud forests that surround it.
Among the biggest attractions of the place is the famous Celeste River, with its waterfall and nature trail called "Mysteries of the Tenorio", a distance of 3,200 mts., which you can make in about three hours. Celeste River, Río Celeste owes its name to the blue color, almost milky turquoise, resulting from a chemical reaction in a place where two rivers with completely different chemical properties come together and cause its reaction color. The river, with its almost surreal color, flows through the forest without losing their color even in the nearby waterfall. You can also enjoy steam, hot springs and beautiful panoramic views.
The flora is very diverse; high diversity of palms stands, heliconias, ferns, bromeliads, orchids and others. Among the fauna, we can mention tapirs, donkeys, mountain goats, squirrels, howler and white-faced monkeys, pumas, jaguars, ocelots, anteaters, and birds like the bellbirds, turkeys, trogons and others.
- Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
- Rate: ¢500 for locals and $ 6 for foreigners.
- Access: Four wheel drive vehicle is recommended.
- Routes: From the entrance to Upala, follow the road to Liberia, follow the signs to Bijagua and drive 13 kilometers from there.
- Services and facilities: Information, drinking water, restrooms, laboratory and accommodation for researchers several shelters near the site.
Las Baulas Marine National Park
This park protects Playa Grande, one of the most important places of the world for the nesting of the leatherback, which is the largest turtle of the world and grows to 2.5 meters long and weighs more than 700 kg. With its dark tone, the leatherback is the only turtle that has a very tough skin, leather-like appearance, instead of a shell. It is very easy to identify by their large front flippers. It is nomadic and its favorite food is the poisonous jellyfish.
Its spawning period is from November to April. They dig a large nest of one meter deep which they cover after laying their eggs.
Olive ridley sea turtle also spawn in Playa Grande. Another interesting place in Las Baulas Marine Park are the mangroves in Tamarindo, with 440 hectares, where large amounts of clay and mud have been deposited. In this beautiful mangrove we can find 6 mangrove species native to the Pacific Coast: two species of salty mangrove, Laguncularia racemosa, red mangrove, piñuela and botoncillo mangrove.
- Access: There are two routes: the first is Santa Cruz-Belén-Matapalo-Temples-Playa Grande, with a distance of 52 km. The second route is, Liberia-Guardia-Filadelfia-Matapalo-Temples-Playa Grande, which is 70 km.
- Rate: ¢1,000 for locals and $6 for foreigners. The fee is charged only during the spawning season, running from October 20 to 15 February.
- Hours: Free access except during spawning season, when access is restricted from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am. To enter you need to make your reservation at 653-0470.
Ostional Wildlife Refuge
Worlwide famous worldwide for its arrivals, Ostional Wildlife Refuge is considered the most important nesting site for the Kemp's ridley sea turtle. From July to November, thousands of them gather at 1 kilometer of beach to lay around a million eggs in arrivals lasting from 3-7 days.
Often, the nests are poached by raccoons, coatis and white-faced monkeys; moreover, the hatched turtles are coveted delicacy for gulls, frigates and crabs. Although egg poaching is illegal, the locals have the right to collect and sell the eggs of first arrival in the following 24 hours after spawning as nests would be destroyed in any case by the following turtles coming. The flora of the refuge consists of trees and plants that grow in sandy soils, such as pipe sticks, royal palm and piñuelas. Animal life is abundant.
- Access: Follow the route from Nicoya to Nosara; however during the rainy season it is necessary to call the Ostional Development Association, telephone 682-0428 to order transfer from Nosara as the rivers rise and there is no bridge.
- Rate: ¢700 for locals and $7 for foreigners.
- Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. During the turtle arrivals visitors can only enter with a guide.
- Season: The arrivals during the rainy season, from June to December, are the largest and reach their peak in August and September. The arrivals in summer run from January to May and they are smaller.
- Facilities: Cabins with bathrooms, restaurant and some small restaurants, drinking water, restrooms, telephone and bilingual guides.
Junquillal bay wildlife refuge
Located in the Gulf of Santa Elena, in the canton of La Cruz, comprising 505 hectares of forest patches, plains, beaches and mangroves.
Junquillal is an excellent refuge for seabirds such as brown pelicans and sea frigates. Furthermore, its beaches receive spawning of Kemp's ridley, Hawksbill, Green and Leatherback sea turtles.
The clear waters of the wide and beautiful beach that stretches over two kilometers, moderate wind and plenty of sunshine, are optimal for enjoying the sun and recreational boat rides.
In addition, there are trails to observe seabirds, contemplate the mountains of Guanacaste and to appreciate the scenic beauty of the small bay. One path leads to the swamp, from where you can see the Orosi volcano.
- Access: On the Interamerican Highway, travel 45 kilometers to the intersection of Cuajiniquil. From the crossing to the village of Cuajiniquil, there is a distance of 9 kilometers.
- Hours: From 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. everyday.
- Rate: ¢600 for locals and $4 for foreigners, $2 p/p for camping.
- Facilities: Campsites with grills, drinking water, toilets and bathrooms, Horizontes Experimental Station.
Isla Bolaños Wildlife Refuge
The Bolaños Island is a rocky mountain of 25 hectares and 81 meters high, located on Salinas Bay, 1.1 km. from Punta Zacate, and 3.5 km. away from Nicaragua. Its rugged terrain consists of sedimentary rock layers dating from 40 million years ago.
This small island is heavily windswept with annual temperatures of 27° C with a rainfall lower than average -less than 1,500 mm-, concentrated from May to November.
Rain is insufficient to meet the needs of the site so the vegetation is sparse and consists of difficult to penetrate bushes, which prevent the growth of other species.
Isla Bolaños is especially important for the conservation of seabirds. This site is one of the few places where there are colonies of brown pelicans and is the only known breeding site for the magnificent frigate birds. For this reason it was declared a wildlife refuge on February 13, 1981. There are small beaches around the island, on the eastern side are white sand beaches with occasional shells and crustaceans scattered on the floor.
- Access: Follow the Interamerican Highway up to La Cruz and then follow the road to Bahia Salinas.
- You can rent small boats.
Los Pumas Private Shelter
This private sanctuary, an initiative of a Swiss couple, Lilly and Werner Hagnauer, it is the largest in Latin America for wild cats. It is also the only one with six species of native wild cats of Costa Rica: ocelot, ocelots, jaguarondi, margays, two beautiful jaguar and pumas.
Located in Cañas, it has become a haven for animals confiscated or found injured by government authorities.
Here they are cared for; some of them are returned to their habitat, others are kept in the shelter because they could die outside of it. The cats live there in large enclosures with some of the conditions that need: shade, sun exposure, vegetation and water.
- Access: Follow the main route to Liberia, from Cañas drive 4 .5 km, first entrance on the right.
- Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
- Rate: Voluntary contribution.
- Facilities: You can watch 50 animal species in danger of extinction, labeled trails, picnic area, restrooms, a classroom for environmental education, souvenirs, information office, and guided tours. TEL 669-6096