30 August 2004

National parks of Costa Rica

This small country lays between Nicaragua and Panama in Central America. With the size of only 1.2 times the Netherlands it is a small country. But what makes this country so special? Costa Rica is well known about its national parks and wildlife.
With 26 national parks and reserves I can imagine it would be difficult to choose which one you want to visit.

On my backpacking trip to Costa Rica I visited 4 national parks. In this blog I tell you about what to see and expect.

National park Tortuguero

National park Tortuguero is settled at the Caribbean coast and has some long stretch beaches. The only way to get here is with a boat or a plane.

The boat is leaving from Moin or La Pavona, until there you have to travel by bus or car. The boat will take about 1 hour and goes trough the lush, green nature. Here you already can spot animals like monkeys or birds.

The main reason to go to this national park is to see sea turtles laying their eggs in season. This would be from July till October.
For me this was the main reason to come to this national park. As soon as I arrived, I booked a tour. The tour was fully Spanish, but some people translated.
To be honestly, it was really touristy. There was only one turtle laying their eggs. You could watch with a group of 10 people and I think there where about 70 people! So you can imagine how it would look like.

Switching turns we could watch for a minute or so. I was lucky to see the turtle laying a few eggs, it is going really fast. And she was flipping with her fins to close the hole.
The guides where really professional. You could not make pictures, so you would not disturb the turtle. And we only could start watching turn by turn after she was in trance, laying the eggs.
It was magical to see, but too much other people on the show!

Another tour I booked, was the morning boat tour. Here you go on a small paddle boat and just go around the rivers to spot animals.
If there wasn’t rain pouring down, I might have seen more animals. Still, I managed to see colored frogs, birds and a small crocodile.

Because of the rain and the guide wanted to practice English, he took me to a small walking tour at the entrance of the park. Here we saw monkeys, parrots and a lot of lizards. Even though the couldn’t speak English properly, it was fun and enjoyable.

Manuel Antonio National park

Manuel Antonio is a small national park located at the Pacific coast. You can reach this park easily from San Jose with the bus in about 3.5 hours.
This park is famous about his easy walking trails in the lush and tropical forest. As a plus bonus there are many white sand beaches to relax during your trip.
I really found this park relaxed, but a bit crowded. I walked 2 hikes which where easy to follow, but didn’t spot animals.
Maybe for that I should have taken a guide. I did see a lot of huge lizards and a few monkeys.
The beaches where really beautiful and nice to relax.
I think this park would be great when you travel with kids!

For the divers among us. This area has a lot of coral reefs, so you might want to stick your head under water!

Monteverde and Santa Elena national reserve

The cloud forest Monteverde is a different type of park. This forest has always a thick fog hanging around its tree tops. Even though it is to raining a lot, there still will be 4 times more fall out than the Netherlands. The green mountains have a lot of moist and the air feels thick.
The dense forest has a lot of diverse vegetation. But I didn’t see animals here.
The clouds do have some mystic scenery and I loved to walk around here. The trails where well maintained and fairly easy to walk. You only have to mind the slippery tracks.
If you want you can feel like a monkey, walking the tree top bridges. Here you can have eye contact with the animals living in the tree tops. Beside some birds, I didn’t spot animals. But the bridges where fun to walk, with a different perspective of the forest.

From Santa Elena you can reach this reserve with a minivan. They are leaving at set times, so make sure you are on time.
In Santa Elena there are some other things to do. I booked a coffee tour to a coffee farm. But somehow I missed the spot to meet the guide, and missed the tour.
There are some small sights like a butterfly farm and a reptile zoo. Both where fun to visit, especially with kids.

Cahuita National park

The village Cahuita is next to the same named National park Cahuita. From the village it is a short walk. It is all settled at the Caribbean coast and via Puerto Viejo it is only a short bus ride to the border of Panama.

The village Cahuita itself I didn’t found to interesting. But I absolutely loved the National Park! It is only 10 square kilometers, but here I manage to spot some animals. Every morning I just walked the 2 hours track from the entrance. The trail goes all the time close to the coast. Along this trail you can imagine you can find really tropical beaches with waving palm trees and a beautiful blue sea.
Some mornings a guide would join me in, I paid him a small tip. He pointed out a lot of sloths, which are really cute animals to see!
Also, every morning I could hear and see howler monkeys and white faced monkeys.
Many people spotted different species of snakes, but fortunately I didn’t spot one.

If you have enough of the lush vegetation, you can go snorkeling just offshore. Here you can find a lot of fish and some nice corals. I tried a snorkeling trip, but due to the raining season in August, I found the weather murkily and I would do this again in this season.
But I only can imagine if you are there in the right season, this could be a good spot for snorkeling.


My best tip is to go to different National parks. Just pick the ones which appeals to you the most. In the end I found Cahuita the most tranquil with its nice beaches to relax and still a lot to see. I think the relaxed Caribbean vibe did help on this and one day you find me back here!

The pictures are taken with a film roll camera. Therefore, the quality is lousy!