Santa Rrosa National Park


Location: N of Liberia between the Inter-American Highway and Pacific.

Size: 122,352 acres (49,515 ha) of land, 193,000 acres (78,000 ha) of marine habitat.

Hours: Enter anytime, but booth at main entrance open 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Information/Reservations: Telephone hotline 192 telephonelfax (506) 695-5598, (506) 695-5577;

In times past, Indians have walked this land; hunters, woodcutters, cowboys, and soldiers, too. Footprints today belong mainly to researchers, park rangers, and nature lovers. What had been virgin tropical dry forest, cleared pastures, and a battlefield now is Santa Rosa National Park, a piece of property where history is still being written.

Santa Rosa's historical significance was the primary reason it was protected by the government, first as a national monument and then a national park. Soon, however, the ecological importance of its flora and fauna and of the habitats that exist in this dry Pacific region was recognized. It is the ecological battle that's making history now, an effort not only to protect but also to restore some of these habitats. Research at Santa Rosa sheds light on plant and animal interrelationships and how forests regenerate themselves.

The main historical drawing card is the site of the Battle of Santa Rosa (March 20, 1856), which pitted a well-trained, well-armed invading army against a ragtag band of Costa Rican peasants who had become soldiers overnight. The patriots won, routing adventurer William Walker's forces in 14 minutes. The battle took place around La Casona, the house at Hacienda Santa Rosa. Visitors today can walk through the big house and see historical displays, stand on the wide wooden veranda and look toward the 300- yearold stone corrals, or step into the kitchen and see where cheese was preserved by hanging over the woodstove.

A stately guanacaste, Costa Rica's national tree, stands nearby. Its wood is good for construction; its ear-shaped fruit, which gives the tree its English name of ear fruit, has been used to wash clothes and is food for horses, cows, and small forest mammals.

At the entrance booth 4 miles (7 km) from the Ranch House (casona), park maps are for sale; the ranger can help you decide what to see in the time you have. Climb the short trail behind La Casona to see a monument to battles and heroes and a panoramic view of volcanoes and Guanacaste countryside. Take the short, well-marked nature trail called Indio Desnudo, identifiable by its reddish-brown trees. Keep your eyes open: I was within spitting distance of a handsome 5-foot (1.5-m) boa constrictor before I noticed it draped over a tree root by the path.Some trees are labeled. Look also for Indian petroglyphs 111 Quebruda Duende on the delightful, well-maintained trail. Sendero Los patos and the trail to the Playa Naranjo Mirador offer other hiking options.

Two of Santa Rosa's beaches are famous as sea-turtle nesting sites: Naranjo, about 8 miles (12 km) from park headquarters, and Nancite, 11 miles (17 km) away. Though three species come ashore to lay eggs, it's the hundreds of thousands of Pacific or olive ridley turtles on small Nancite Beach that get the most attention. From July to December, mass nestings; (arribadas) occur periodically, while single turtles come ashore every night. The other two species are green and leatherback turtles. Camping is permitted at both beaches, but since Nancite is a study area a permit from the research center is required.

The Murcielago section of Santa Rosa is farther north. Ask about conditions of the unpaved road and rivers that must be forded to reach the ranger station. Murcielago ("bat" in English) belonged to Anastasio Somoza when he was president of Nicaragua. Talk to station staff for stories from those days. Go to the coast at Playa Blanca (11 miles, 17 km) or at Santa Elena or El Hachal Bays, or take the trail to Pozo del General, which has water yearround and is important for animals in the dry season.

Santa Rosa National Park has capuchin, howler, and spider monkeys, deer, armadillos, coyotes, coatis, raccoons, and cats-1 15 species of mammals, about half of them bats. Studies have identified more than 3,000 species of moths and butterflies among more than 30,000 insect species. Magpie jays and parrots make lots of noise, while some of the 253 species of birds get attention with their coloring: look for orange-fronted parakeets, elegant trogons, and crested caracaras.

The park has a pronounced dry season from November to May. Rainfall is about 63 inches (1,600 mm). Average temperature is 79'F (26'C).

Bolanos Island in Salinas Bay west of La Cruz is also part of this park. Rising 266 feet (81 in) from the Pacific, this rocky mound protects seabirds. Magnificent frigate birds and American oystercatchers nest here, and this is one of the country's four nesting sites for brown pelicans. No visitor facilities exist, but watching through binoculars at a tactful distance is not against the rules. The island is 3 miles (5 km) from Puerto Soley.

Camping is possible near the administrative center at Santa Rosa, at Naranjo and Nancite beaches, and at Pozo del General. Beds are sometimes available at the Tropical Dry Forest Research Center in Santa Rosa's administrative area, though priority goes to researchers and students for its dormstyle rooms and shared baths. Soft drinks and snacks are available at the cafeteria; meals only with advance notice.

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Getting There

By bus: From San Jose, take the Panas Blancas or La Cruz bus to main park entrance, leaving a 4-mile (7-km) walk to La Casona and headquarters. Or take buses from Liberia that go north.

By car: Main entrance 22 miles (35 km) north of Liberia; Murci6lago entrance 6 miles farther (10 km) via Cuajiniquil. Other: Tourist agencies, hotels, and private nature reserves offer day trips. Taxis available in Liberia.

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