national parks


You've already heard of the significance of Costa Rica's park system. The system of national parks and biological reserves was organized into nine conservation units, for better coordination. Here's a brief outline of the attractions of individual parks and how you can visit. If you're not on a guided tour and are going to see more than Irazu, Poas Braulio Carrillo, and Manuel Antonio, which are heavily used and organized to handle crowds, you need to stop in at Park Service headquarters, Calle 25, Ave. 8/10, San Jose. Tel. 23-6963, and 33-5473.

The Park Service has a useful guide to the parks listing the significance of each and some facilities, though more have been added. It has bus info for reaching the parks. You'll soon note that buses getting closest to the remote parks go to villages that aren't on maps and let you off 10 or 15 km. from the park entrance-not what you may be used to! Maps and wildlife checklists may be bought at the CIDA office in the National Zoo in San Jose. Often the nearest food is sold 20 or more miles from the park. Topographic maps are available at bookstores or the National Geographic Institute near Plaza Viquez, east of the Pacific Railroad station in San Jose.

Costa Rica's national parks need and depend on international support as they've only been established a few years and the country has been unable to build needed facilities or, more important, to buy all the private land within them-in some cases a large proportion of the park. Information on where and how you can help is given in the following link: helping nature in costa rica.

Dimensions of the parks are given in hectares, equal to 2.5 acres.

Parks we haven't discussed in detail include:

  • Tortuguero: This is the green turtle nesting site you've probably seen on TV. July through September is the peak nesting season, with hatching two months later. The park has nature trails as well as river channels you can explore by boat to see many land and sea birds, monkeys, and even the rare manatee. Several tour agencies come here, and Costa Rica Expeditions runs tours to Tortuga Lodge on which you may fly one way, using the air strip. The Jungle Lodge, Ilan Ilan, and Mawamba Lodge also run tours using their own boats. Tours to Barra Colorado pass through the park on the main canal only. Note that government boat from Moin gives priority to locals needing transport, so room isn't always available to tourists.
    Park headquarters at the south end of the village and the Green Turtle Research Station started by Archie Carr, about a mile north, are worth visiting. There are tipical restaurants in the village. You may be able to rent a dugout to do your own exploring or hire a local guide with a boat if you're traveling independently. Beach- walking is fun even by day to see turtle tracks from the night before as well as what washed up.
  • Guayabo National Monument: 19 km. north of Turrialba on gravel road.
  • Braulio Carrillo: On road from San Jose to Guapiles, starting 12 km from San Jose. Wildlife, several forest zones stretching from the eastern lowlands to the top of Barva Volcano. orchids. The eastern slope has rain and clouds much of the year. It's a beautiful ride even by public bus on the way to Limon, but fascinating if you can stop to look or hike some of its trails (check with ranger stations for maps, trail fee, and directions).
  • Coco Island: 360 miles offshore with reputed vast pirate and Inca treasure never found, including life-size solid gold statues of the Twelve Apostles. Some tours available. Otherwise reachable only by chartered boat. Some species of flora & fauna are found only there. There are hundreds of waterfalls on the island. With no facilities ashore, you do have to live on the boat. Fishing is not allowed within 15 miles of the island, but it has the best underwater visibility in Costa Rica.
  • La Amistad: Huge, straddling the upper slopes of the Talamanca Mountains, adjoining a park on Panamanian side. Its establishment more than doubled size of Costa Rican park system. New park, with no facilities or services, and few trails. Ask the Park Service in San Jose for latest info and current road conditions.
  • chirripo 43,700 hectares. It includes Cerro chirripo 12,530 ft., the highest point in Costa Rica, and is famous for its paramo, a high, treeless zone which has frost but no snow. From San Isidro de El General there's a bus at 5 a.m. and 2 p.m. to San Gerardo de Rivas and park headquarters. The hike takes two or more strenuous days, using shelters on the mountain, so you don't have to carry a tent. Ask the Park Service in San Jose for current conditions.
  • Corcovado: 41,789 hectares, occupying most of the Osa Peninsula on Costa Rica's southwest coast. In an area 1/7 the size of Yosemite National Park are 285 species of birds (more than in the U.S. and Canada), 139 species of mammals, and 116 reptiles and amphibians! The park was threatened by placer gold miners in its rivers, but the Costa Rican government removed them and the park was open. You can get to the west side and park headquarters by chartered plane, or to the east side via bus or boat to Puerto Jimenez and several days of hot hiking from there. Tours from nature lodges on the Osa Peninsula land by boat at San Pedrillo and hike in the park with rangers. This, or going with a group by plane is easiest. for more information on a one day tour click here
  • Cano Island: 20 km. northwest of the Osa Peninsula, it has 740 forested acres with few mammal species but many birds, prehistoric burial sites, a ranger station, and coral reefs with a variety of colorful fish. In the rainiest months of September and October, it has one of the world's highest rates of lightning strikes! It was made a national park to save it from developers who wanted to make a gambling resort out of it. Nature lodges on the Osa Peninsula offer day trips.
  • Barra Honda: Caverns 50 to 600 feet deep with beautiful limestone formations you can visit with a ranger guide. Also dry lowland forest and the low volcanic cone, Barra Honda Volcano, near Gulf of Nicoya. Water and hiking trails are the only facilities nearer than town of Nicoya, 14 km- Rios Tropicales, runs adventure tours into some caverns otherwise closed to public. The bus from Nicoya to Santa Ana passes about 1 km from the park.
  • Palo Verde: The park and adjacent wildlife preserve fill the V formed by the Tempisque and Bebedero Rivers at the head of the gulf of Nicoya. During the rainy season most of the park is flooded or swampy, except for limestone ridges in the north. It's the winter or permanent home for hundreds of species of waterfowl, including the rare jabiru stork. Camping is possible at park headquarters. Access is from Bagaces which can be reached by bus from canas, or you can take a cab all the way to the park from canas, If you're not roughing it, you may want to go with a nature tour, or rent a car and stay in canas, driving out to the park. If you use the ranger's bunkroorn by reservation, bring a bug net for sleeping. During dry season birds are concentrated along the rivers, and the easiest way to see and photograph them would be from raft or boat. The park has a nature trail on a dike which gives good early morning views of birds in the surrounding swamp.
  • Rincon de la Vieja: Hike to summit is only advised during dry season due to visibility. One shelter en route. There's also a bunkroom at park headquarters and use of a kitchen by arrangement at headquarters in San Jose. On trails there are several lovely single campsites at lower elevations. Don't camp or even stand longer than you have to on tick-infested lawn in front of park headquarters. Wildlife and volcanic features are spectacular. Bus from Liberia is unreliable in wet season. More comfortable rustic accommodations, horses, and guides are offered by Rincon de la Vieja Mountain Lodge on adjoining hacienda with tours through the park. click for hotels in rincon
  • Santa Rosa: Costa Rica's first park was established to protect the site of Costa Rica's battle with William Walker and his men that preserved the country's independence. It also includes the Playas Naranjo, a 7 mile walk each way to a beautiful beach on which leatherback turtles nest, and Nancite, several miles farther north where huge arribadas of Pacific Ridley turtles nest. The park extends north to Bahia Santa Elena, including former lands of Nicaraguan dictator, Somoza, with beautiful white sand beaches, some an easy walk from roads leading into area, much dry forest wildlife. From the Interamerican Highway north of the park's main entrance, turn left to Cuajiniquil. December through April are best months for camping and road conditions.
  • In 1987 the land between the formerly separated parts was added by President Arias. It includes the airstrip allegedly used by the CIA to supply the contras. Putting that land into a national park seems a typically Costa Rican solution to the problem!
  • Guanacaste: Extends from the existing park eastward to the top of the cordillera, providing room for species, including birds and butterflies, which migrate up and downslope during the year. Campesinos are being trained as rangers, giving them work as the land reverts from cattle pasture to tropical forest. Several research stations usually have rustic accommodations available with advance notice. Call the conservation unit headquarters in Santa Rosa Park for information, Access is easy since the Interamerican Hwy. skirts the park.
  • Carara and Tapanti, parts of which you can visit by permit only or with a guided nature group. Geotur and Costa Rica Expeditions run day trips to Carara, and the latter also has tours to Tapanti. These quiet places with limited trails have much more wildlife than you'll see, but with guides, you can enjoy an exciting experience.

What a lot to explore! The wilderness aspects of these parks and heavy growth in most places can give you a much greater respect for short distances! But there's so much to see and marvel at, even if you just sit quietly in camp and wait to see what walks, crawls or flies past.

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