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Pura Vida paradise: 10 best national parks in Costa Rica

hanging bridges of Costa Rican rainforest

A serene paradise, sizzling in a tropical fiesta? That’s Costa Rica for you. This country has a LOT to boast about – the unmatched biodiversity, sandy beaches, volcanic craters, world heritage sites, not to mention landscapes that just make you want to stop and stare. And if there’s one way to experience all of that (and loads more), it has to be a visit to the many national parks in Costa Rica. 

No matter what adventure you choose to take on (and there are lots of options), there’s something here to suit everyone. Luckily, Contiki’s Costa Rica National Parks Trip has you covered anytime you decide to step foot into the land of Pura Vida. 

Not sure which one to start with? Find our ten favourite national parks in Costa Rica below. 

1. Poás Volcano National Park 

Who it’s for: Bird-Watchers and Binoculars-owners

Ever wondered what it’s like to walk on the edge of one of the largest volcano craters on Earth? Then head to the Laguna Caliente in the Poás Volcano National Park right now to find out! We’re talking a 900ft drop to the bottom of the crater, where you’ll find a bubbling blue-green lake that you probably don’t want to step into. 

But don’t worry, because there’s a lot more to see in one of the most popular national parks in Costa Rica. The Poás Volcano National Park happens to be the top spot for bird-watching – home to the clay-coloured robin, black guan, resplendent quetzal, and many more varieties of hummingbirds, tanagers, flycatchers and toucans. 

2. Cahuita National Park

Who it’s for: Anyone who loves reefs, forests, and good food!

Wanna see some vibrant coral reefs? Take a dive (or snorkel) into the bright blue waters on one of the beaches in the Cahuita National Park. But if swimming’s not your thing, Cahuita National Park has a ton of hiking trails to offer too, giving you the chance to check out some of the thickest rainforests in the Caribbean. Once you’re done venturing into the wild, you could also lay into a hammock (with a sloth if you’re lucky) and savour the rich Caribbean food.

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3. Irazu Volcano National Park 

Who it’s for: Geology Nerds

Welcome to the tallest – and also one of the few active – volcanoes in Costa Rica. But this scenic crater isn’t just a place of geological wonder – it’s also a protected area that’s home to a lot of species. The volcano features a bright green lake that contrasts with the grey of the landscape. It’s like Mother Nature was trying her hand at painting – and she nailed it.

Don’t be fooled by the fiery volcano though. Temperatures can stoop to freezing levels here – so make sure you have a sweater and a wind-cheater on hand.

Irazu Volcano National Park, Costa Rica

Image source:Alex Ip / unsplash

4. Guayabo National Monument 

Who it’s for: The Hearty Historians

There’s more to Costa Rica than just beaches and forests. The Guayabo National Monument is teeming with stories of an ancient civilization that existed over 1000 years ago.

Get involved in the interpretive trails that help you decode the mysterious Petroglyphs and Artefacts, looking into the culture and traditions of the ancient civilisation. And if history just isn’t your thing, you could always explore the quaint conservation area and admire the wildlife.

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5. Tortuguero National Park

Who it’s for: The Turtle-Lovers

It’s time to give your feet a break from all that hiking. The Tortuguero National Park boasts eleven different habitats in just over 75,000 acres, only accessible by a local-guided boat or canoe. (included in the Costa Rica National Park Trip). But if there’s one reason why visitors flock to Tortuguero, it’s the annual turtle festival.

Yes, there are baby sea turtles, and yes, they’ll be making their way to the sea. Also, don’t forget your raincoat. There’s a good chance you’ll get caught up in the annual 6000 mm of rainfall that this Costa Rica National Park sees every year. 

6. Rincón de la Vieja National Park 

Who it’s for: Honestly, everyone. 

Napping sloths, hot springs, tranquil waterfalls – this Costa Rica National Park is THE natural spa you’re looking for. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars for some bewitching bird-watching. There’s plenty to do if you’re craving an adrenaline boost too. Swing in the air while zip-lining, get wild while water-rafting or take a tour of the serene waterfalls on horseback. No matter what adventure you choose to chase – one thing’s for sure. You’re not gonna get bored at this Costa Rican National Park. 

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7. Corcovado National Park

Who it’s for: The Watchful Wildlife-Lovers

Very tall trees. That’s probably what you’ll see when you step into the Osa Peninsula. Oh, and also jaguars, hammer-head sharks, humpback whales, and toucans. There are over five ranger stations close to the park, giving you easy access to all the wildlife, beaches, and swamps you could ever hope to see. If there’s only one tip we could give, it would be to get a local guide onboard. This highly protected area is bound by strict regulations to preserve its biodiversity.  

8. Carara National Park 

Who it’s for: Hikers & Twitchers

Hear that? That’s the sound of the jungle orchestra – composed of chirping birds, venomous croaking frogs, and the creaks of the rickety bridge suspended in the canopy. Keep an eye out on the crocodiles that parade the Tarcoles River (they’re terrifying, but so captivating). Craving a quick hike up a scenic trail? The Carara National Park is possibly the easiest to access through San Jose. 

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9. Arenal Volcano National Park 

Who it’s for: The Photographers 

Someone in Costa Rica charged their phone this morning with electricity that came from this mighty volcano. Yep, this is the volcano that contributes 12% of the country’s hydroelectric energy. Oh, and don’t forget to bring your camera! There’ll be plenty of scenes you’ll want to photograph, whether it’s the vibrant flowers, turquoise lakes, or the perfectly conical shape of the Arenal volcano. Journey through the national park as the sun sets so you can catch a glimpse of the fiery-red lava flowing through the steep side of the volcano. 

Arenal Volcano National Park in Costa Rica

Image source:Contiki

10. Manuel Antonio National Park

Who it’s for: The Beach Bums

It might be the smallest national park in Costa Rica, but it’s home to some of the prettiest beaches in the whole country. We’re talking soft white sand beaches that you just want to sink your feet into while you sip on Guaro Sour – the national drink of Costa Rica. But if you are feeling adventurous, you could try your hand at parasailing over the aquamarine ocean. 

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Feeling Inspired? Create the Pura Vida for yourself!

Did you just add Costa Rica to your list of must-visit destinations? Yep, we did too. The only thing that can make a trip to the land of fiery volcanoes and endless beaches better? A group of new friends to make memories with of course! 

When you visit Costa Rica with Contiki, you’ll get to explore with local guides and wildlife experts. You’ll also sleep in a stunning beachside lodge too, with epic sunset views! Oh, and don’t worry about the logistics of navigating from rainforest to volcanic hotspot and back again. Contiki takes care of all that and more. 

travellers in Costa Rica

Image source:Contiki

What do our Trip Managers think?

Olivier Ezquivel: There are so many beautiful national parks, but Tortuguero National Park has always been my favourite. Its immense tropical & humid forest, peaceful canals and incredible diversity of flora and fauna, fills my senses and gives me energy during every trip. It’s definitely a paradise in Costa Rica.

Yader Morales: We’ll explore Costa Rica’s incredible plant and animal life. This place definitely leaves behind the craziness of city life and trades it in for the beauty and “Pura Vida” that Costa Rica offers everyone! I cannot wait to share stories about the history of our native people, ecosystems, national parks, wildlife, volcanoes and so much more.

Hugo Lopez: The undescribed sensation of belonging to this land that I feel every time I visit a place like the Guayabo NP is something that also makes me feel closer to the origins of my country and therefore my own origins too. I love to think that the sense of belonging to this land inspired my ancestors when they felt captivated by the majesty of our volcanoes.

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