National Parks of Costa Rica
Visiting the National Parks of Costa Rica
Costa Rica has managed to protect a larger proportion of its land than any other country in the world. In 1970 the Costa Ricans formed a national park system that has won worldwide admiration. Costa Rican law declared inviolate 10.27 percent of a land once compared to Eden; an additional 17 percent is legally set aside as forest reserves, "buffer zones," wildlife refuges, and Indian reserves. Nowadays there are 32 national parks, eight biological reserves, 13 forest reserves, and 51 wildlife refuges.
Some of these Parks you can visit on a daytrip, so no need to spend a night away from your Hotel in Samara. Renting a car you can manage this visit yourself just following the road map, Also you have the choice to join one of the tours groups that operate in Samara. At the reception of the Mirador Resort we are pleased to help you, arrange any tour for you, and provide you with helpful information. Remember all National Park of Costa Rica are closed on Monday, and shut daily at 4 pm, so you should start your visit at least 1 ½ before closing time.
In the following you find a list of the most attractive National Parks which are not too far away from Samara which makes it possible to visit this park on a one day tour.
- Palo Verde National Park
- Rincon de La Vieja National Park
- National Park Volcano Arenal
- Manuel Antonio National Park
- Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
Palo Verde is best known as a bird-watchers' paradise. More than 300 bird species have been recorded, not least great curassows and the only permanent colony of scarlet macaws in the dry tropics. At least a quarter of a million wading birds and waterfowl flock here in fall and winter, when much of the arid alluvial plain swells into a lake. Isla de Pájaros, in the middle of the Río Tempisque, is particularly replete with waterbirds, including white ibis, roseate spoonbills, anhingas, and wood storks, which prefer the isolation, and jabiru storks, the largest storks in the world. Isla de Pájaros is also home to the nation's largest colony of black-crowned night herons. The tidal river rises and falls up to four meters and is navigable for about 36 km. There are 15 different habitats (including several types of swamp and marshland) and a corresponding diversity of fauna. Plump crocodiles wallow on the muddy riverbanks, salivating, no doubt, at the sight of coatis, white-tailed deer, holwer monkeys, whiteface monkeys and other mammals come down to the water to drink.
This park can be reached in less the 2 hours from Samara. We will help you in making a boat reservation that takes you for a 2 – 3 hours guided trip on the Tempisque River and give you instruction where and how to find your guide. Back to top
Rincón de la Vieja (1,895 meters), an active volcano in a period of relative calm, is the largest of five volcanoes that make up the Cordillera de Guanacaste. It is composed of nine separate but contiguous volcanic craters, with dormant Santa María (1,916 meters) the tallest and most easterly. Its crater harbors a forest-rimmed lake popular with quetzals, linnets, and tapirs. The main crater--Von Seebach, sometimes called the Rincón de la Vieja crater--still steams. Icy Lake Los Jilgueros lies between the two craters. The last serious eruption was in 1983. Rincón, however, spewed lava and acid gases on 8 May 1991, causing destructive lahores (ash-mud flows). The slopes still bear reminders of the destructive force of the acid cloud that burnt away much of the vegetation on the southeastern slope.
The lower slopes can be explored along relatively easy trails that begin at the park headquarters. The Sendero Encantago leads through cloud forest full of guaria morada orchids (the national flower) and links with a 12-km trail that continues to Las Pailas (Caldrons), 50 hectares of bubbling mud volcanoes, boiling thermal waters, vapor geysers, and the so-called Hornillas (Ovens) geyser of sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. The mud has minerals and medicinal properties used in cosmetology. Be careful when walking around: it is possible to step through the crust and scald yourself, or worse. This trail continues to the summit.
Between the cloud forest and Las Pailas, a side trail (marked Aguas Thermales) leads to soothing, hot sulfur springs called Los Azufrales (Sulfurs). The thermal waters (42° C) form small pools where you may bathe and take advantage of their curative properties. Use the cold-water stream nearby for a cooling off after a good soak in the thermal springs. Las Hornillas are sulfurous fumaroles on the devastated southern slope of the volcano. Another trail leads to the Hidden Waterfalls, four continuous falls (three of which exceed 70 meters) in the Agria Ravine. You'll find a perfect bathing hole at the base of one of the falls.
To visit this park you drive direction Liberia, at the stop lights before entering Liberia turn left and to a village called Curubande. From here just follow the road via Las Pailas Ranger Station. Here you have to pay the entrance fee and if you wish can hire a guide. If you prefer to make the visit on your own – no problems, all trails and sites are well marked. The drive from Samara takes about 2 hours. Back to top
Volcán Arenal (1,633 meters) is a picture-perfect cone. It's also Costa Rica's most active volcano and a must-see on any tourist's itinerary. Note, however, that it is most often covered in clouds and getting to see an eruption is a matter of luck (the dawn hours are best, before the clouds roll in; seasonally, you stand a reasonable chance in dry season, and less than favorable odds in rainy season). Arenal was sacred to pre-Columbian tribes (it is easy to imagine sacrifices tossed into the inferno), but it slumbered peacefully throughout the colonial era. On 29 July 1968, it was awakened from its long sleep by a fateful earthquake. The massive explosion that resulted wiped out the villages of Tabacón and Pueblo Nuevo, whose entire populations perished. The blast was felt as far away as Boulder, Colorado.
It is regarded as one of the world's most active volcanoes. Its lava flows and eruptions have been constant, and on virtually any day you can see smoking cinder blocks tumbling down the steep slope from the horseshoe-shaped crater that opens to the west--or at night watch a fiery cascade of lava spewing from the 140-meter-deep crater. Some days the volcano blows several times in an hour, spewing house-size rocks, sulfur dioxide and chloride gases, and red-hot lava. The volcano's active vent is on the western side, and the normal easterly wind blows most of the effluvia westward. Explosions and eruptions, however, occur on all sides.
To get there you drive to the Tempisque River, where you cross the Bridge Amistad, follow to the town of Cañas and up to the village of Tilaran. A few miles past Tilaran you can make our first stop on the shore of Lake Arenal. This area reminds many people of Switzerland or Bavaria. Continue passing rainforests, arriving at the bridge of the lake, and your first view of the volcano.
After having experienced the sound and eruption of this volcano you should not miss to visit the La Fortuna Waterfall. This waterfall is located about 6 km from the center of the town La fortuna on an unpaved uphill road. The admission is $7 USD (January 2007) and the hike down to the waterfall is a short, but rigorous one. It should take you 10 minutes to go down and about 20 to get back up. The La Fortuna Waterfall offers some of the most gorgeous scenery in all of Costa Rica. The 70-meter ribbon of water falls into a great swimming hole, surrounded by lush tropical forest, protected by the local conservation project. The water below is a greenish-blue that makes for a pleasing view.
If there is still time you might take the chance to visit one of the hot spring Resorts which offer you different hot springs baths of varying temperatures. There are 3 different hot spring installations Tabacón . Baldí . Eco Termales. These 3 vary in entrance fee, and the quality of the establishments.
You will need at least 4 hours to drive to Arenal and to visit all 3 attractions might take you another 4 hours – so advisible to start very early in the morning your Arenal adventure. Back to top
Also this National Park has a distance of 4 hours driving from Samara. Unlike Arenal where the attractions are more then one, its just the Parque Manuel Antonio and its beautiful beaches that attracts ist visitors.
Tiny it may be, but this 682-hectare national park offers everything tourists flock to Costa Rica to see: stunning beaches, a magnificent setting with islands offshore (bird sanctuaries for marine species), lush rainforest laced with a network of welcoming trails, wildlife galore, and all within walking distance. You are guaranteed close-up encounters with squirrel monkeys, capuchin (white-faced) monkeys, howlers,sloths, coatimundis, and scarlet macaws, . toucans
Despite its small size, Manuel Antonio is one of the country's most popular parks, with as many as 150,000 visitors annually in peak years. A few years ago the huge numbers of visitors threatened to spoil the very things they had come to see. Park Director José Antonio Salazar believes the park can withstand no more than 300 visitors a day. In 1994, the Park Service began limiting the numbers of visitors to 600 per day (800 on Saturday and Sunday), and the park is now closed on Monday. If you wish to do your bit to help preserve Manuel Antonio, consider visiting in the "green" or wet season. Litter and pollution are additional problems. Pack out what you pack in.
Nonetheless, the park is too small to sustain a healthy and viable population of certain animals. If the monkeys do not have access to areas outside the park, the population will decline because they cannot breed. Corridors that allow animals access to areas outside the park have been taken up by hotels, so that the park has, in recent years, become an island. As a result, the titi (squirrel monkey) population is declining. Fortunately, in 2000, a decree was issued to triple the park's size to just under 1800 hectares. Back to top
The park has four lovely beaches, each with its own personality: Espadilla Sur, Manuel Antonio, Escondido, and Playita. The prettiest is Playa Manuel Antonio, a small scimitar of coral-white sand with a small coral reef. It's separated from Playa Espadilla Sur by a tombolo--a natural land bridge formed over eons through the accumulation of sand--tipped by Punta Catedral, an erstwhile island now linked to the mainland. The hike to the top of Punta Catedral (100 meters) along a steep and sometimes muddy trail takes about an hour from Playa Espadilla Sur (also known as the Second Beach). Espadilla Sur and Manuel Antonio offer tidal pools brimming with minnows and crayfish, plus good snorkeling, especially during dry season, when the water is generally clear.
At the far right on Playa Manuel Antonio, you can see ancient turtle traps dug out of the rocks by pre-Columbian Quepoas. Female sea turtles would swim over the rocks to the beach on the high tide. The tidal variation at this point is as much as three meters; the turtles would be caught in the carved-out traps on the return journey as the tide level dropped. The people also used female-turtle decoys made of balsa to attract male turtles over the rocks. Olive ridley and green turtles still occasionally come ashore at Playa Manuel Antonio.
At the entrance you can hire a guide who can show you other interesting zoological and botanical species. Back to top
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a private non-profit reserve administered by the Tropical Science Center, and contains 6 distinct ecological zones. Called a cloud forest rather than a rain forest: because of it's altitude, the clouds go through the forest. The canopy is extremely rich with birds, insects, butterflies, and thousands of plants. Great bird watching,
The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is a state owned non-profit reserve straddling the Continental Divide at an elevation of 1,700 m (5,600 ft.). Cloudier and wetter than the other reserve because of higher elevation. Contains 12 kms of trails (7 m.) and a canopy observation tower. The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve features great views of the Arenal Volcano and the Lake Arenal and similar habitat and wildlife to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, but a lot less visitors.
In the 2 Cloud Forest are found more than 100 species of mammals including 5 species of cats, over 400 species of birds including 30 kinds of hummingbirds, tens of thousands of insect species (over 5000 species of moths) and 2,500 species of plants (420 kinds of orchids). The area is acclaimed as one of the most outstanding wildlife refuges in the New World Tropics. The Plendent Quetzal is usually seen in the March/April nesting season.
To join a guided Tour in the Monteverde or Sanata Elena Cloud Forest, the visitor is advised to arrive 1 day before starting this tour, because you have to be ready early at 7 am to join your group at the entrance of the Reserve. These tours take about 3 – 4 hours and are limited to a number of persons. All arrangements for the tour can be done in the reception of your hotel in Santa Elena or Monteverde.
On your arrival or leaving day want to do other things in Monteverde/Santa Elena: Hummingbird Gallery – Gallery Colibri. Next to the Monteverde Reserve entrance. Feeders outside attract dozens of hummingbirds representing about 7 species. Serpentario Monteverde – Snakes and stuff.
Driving time from Samara aprox. 4 hours. Back to top