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Saturday, August 13, 2022

A Brief History of Costa Rica’s National Park System

Costa Rica’s National Park System was created in 1970 with efforts to protect and conserve what is considered to be one of the country’s ultimate treasures, its extensive biodiversity. From dense rainforests, wetlands, and magnificent volcanoes to its waters full of marine life and coral reefs the country strives for the preservation of its natural wonders.

Costa Rica is considered to be one of the most biodiverse places on the planet hosting 5% of the world’s biodiversity. This is truly remarkable as the country only makes up .03% of the world’s entire landmass.

Biologists, conservationists, and advocates recognized that measures needed to be put in place before all was deforested and its unique wildlife and native species became extinct. That Costa Rica couldn’t afford to lose one of the great things that made the country stand out from the others.  

Through the years a movement toward conservation began in the country with the help of international residents Nicolas Wessberg and Karen Mogensen. The pioneers of the movement continued on the pursuit and through the years conservationists rallied to bring awareness of the immeasurable benefits that protecting the areas would bring.

However, it didn’t come without its challenges as often the exploitation of natural resources is at the forefront of other’s agendas from hunting, gold panning, and deforestation. Alvaro Ugalde, recognized as the father of the national parks in Costa Rica played a significant role in what stands protected today alongside Mario Boza. Together they are seen as the key influential figures creating the foundation of the national parks.

One of Alvaro Ugalde leading passions was with Rincón de la Vieja. He campaigned against the Costa Rican Electricity Institute’s (ICE) plan for the exploitation of geothermal energy and instead supporting the idea of the conversion of the watersheds. Advocating for Corcovado National Park was at the forefront of his focus with concerns of gold panners and impending developers, threatening the biological integrity of the park, a place known to be one of the most diverse places in the world.

With passion, they persevered to prove that it was in their best interest to put forth conservation efforts leading to sustainable income for the economy. He dedicated his time to educating people about why preservation was so important for the land, country, and the impact on future generations. That exploiting the natural resource of Costa Rica’s remarkable beauty would only be detrimental in the long run and to the extensive wildlife species surviving within.

In the end, the decision to continue to protect and preserve the diverse ecosystems as opposed to exhausting its natural resources proved to be beyond beneficial to Costa Rica. Considered to be the birthplace of eco-tourism the country has become world-renowned for its harmony with nature and as a leader in conservation. Over 1 million visitors traveled to Costa Rica in 2021 according to Tourism Board (ICT) data attracting people from all over the world to marvel at its outstanding biodiversity.

In 1970, it was Volcan Poas National Park that became Costa Rica’s first national park and led the way for more of its ecological zones to become established as national parks. Alongside Poas in 1970 by executive decree was Cahuita in protecting its coral reef and Tortuguero safeguarding the endangered nesting sea turtles and manatee’s marine habitat.

In 1994, the National System of Conservation Areas known as SINAC was established, a department of Costa Rica’s Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE), and governs the National Parks System.

The national parks span the entire country encompassing a diversity of ecosystems with approximately 28% of the country under preservation as a national park or reserve. The national parks play a very important role in reducing poaching and the potential loss of species, saving the forests from deforestation, maintaining wildlife and plant corridors, and educating visitors.

Founded in 1972 it is hard to believe that Manuel Antonio National Park is the country’s smallest national park with its world-famous beaches but surprisingly enough it is only 7.66 square miles. On the far end of the country, you will find the largest of the national parks, Corcovado National Park holding 2.5 % of the world’s biodiversity.

There is not one that stands out as the best national park in Costa Rica, it all depends on who you speak to, they are all biologically diverse treasures in their own right. For those that want one which is off the beaten path then Tortuguero National Park may be the one for you having to adventure there by boat or plane. Or perhaps you want to spend time on Costa Rica’s golden coast and have sights of one of the country’s most active volcanoes at Rincón de la Vieja National Park or the ominous caves in Barra Honda National Park.

When planning to explore one of Costa Rica’s national parks it is important to visit their site first as not all operate the same. Most now are operating seven days a week from 8 am until 4 pm, with the last entrance at 3 pm. However, hours do change according to the rainy season in some locations and different sectors within the park can have differing hours.

When referencing their sites, you can also find out if you can purchase your entry at the park or if online is required such as Volcan Poas National Park.

Entrance fees will also differ whether you are a national or a foreigner. Prices for foreigners can vary from as low as $5 to $15 per person. Below is a list of the current National Parks in Costa Rica with their hours of operation and admission prices provided by the ICT. Do note that this is subject to change.

Cartago

Guayabo National Monument

Hours of operation:

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $5

Río Macho Forest Reserve

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡800 Foreigners: $5

Barbilla National Park

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $5

Volcán Irazú National Park (Sector Cráteres)

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $15

Irazú Volcano National Park (Sector Prusia)

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $15

Volcán Turrialba National Park

Closed to the public due to volcanic eruptions.

Tapantí-Macizo Cerro de la Muerte National Park

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡800 Foreigners: $10

Limón

Hitoy Cerere Biological Reserve

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $5

Limón/Panama Border

La Amistad National Park

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡800 Foreigners: $10

Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

  • Seven days a week. Free admission.

Tortuguero National Park – Sector Cuatro Esquinas

  • Seven days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $15

Tortuguero National Park – Sector Jalova

  • Seven days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $15

Cahuita National Park – Sector Puerto Vargas

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., closed on the first Monday of the month
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $5

Cahuita National Park – Sector Playa Blanca

  • Seven days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Voluntary fee

Puntarenas

Carara National Park

  • Seven days a week. 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. during the dry season (December to April) and 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. during the rainy season (May to November).
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $10

Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve

  • Wednesday-Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1600 Foreigners: $12

Golfito Wildlife Reserve

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡800 Foreigners: $10

Manuel Antonio National Park

  • Open seven days a week during high period (December to April).
  • Closed Mondays during the low period (July to November). Open from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1600 Foreigners: $16

Corcovado National Park – Sector Leona

  • Seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1600 Foreigners: $15

Corcovado National Park – Sector San Pedrillo

  • Seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1600 Foreigners: $15

Corcovado National Park – Sector Los Patos

  • Seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1600 Foreigners: $15

Corcovado National Park – Sector Sirena

  • Seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Closed during the entire month of October due to heavy rains and for maintenance.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1600 Foreigners: $15

Marino Ballena National Park – Sector Piñuelas

  • Seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $6

Marino Ballena National Park – Sector Ballena

  • Seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $6

Marino Ballena National Park – Sector Colonia

  • Seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $6

Marino Ballena National Park – Sector Uvita

  • Seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $6

Piedras Blancas National Park – Sector El Bonito

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡800 Foreigners: $10

Isla del Coco National Park

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans $25 per day Foreigners: $50 per day

San José

La Cangreja National Park

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $10

Los Quetzales National Park

  • Seven days a week from 7:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $10

Braulio Carrillo National Park – Sector Quebrada González

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $12

Braulio Carrillo National Park – Sector Volcán Barva

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $12

Chirripó National Park

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡4000 Foreigners: $18 (by bank deposit).

Guanacaste

Guanacaste National Park

  • All visits must be coordinated with the Santa Rosa Sector
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1100 Foreigners: $15

Rincón de la Vieja National Park – Sector Pailas

  • Tuesday to Sunday from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $15

Rincón de la Vieja National Park – Sector Santa María

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $15

Santa Rosa National Park

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1100 Foreigners: $15

Ostional Wildlife Refuge

  • Seven days a week from 6:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m., except during sea turtle nesting season, when the park is open from 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1600 Foreigners: $12

Bahía Junquillal Wildlife Refuge

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1500 Foreigners: $13

Las Baulas de Guanacaste Marine National Park

  • Seven days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1600 Foreigners: $12

Barra Honda National Park

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The caves can be entered between 8:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $12

Diriá National Park

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $5

Palo Verde National Park

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $12

Alajuela

Grecia Forest Reserve (Sector Bosque del Niño)

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡600 Foreigners: $5

Alajuela/ Guanacaste

Volcán Tenorio National Park

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., exit remains open to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡800 Foreigners: $12

Juan Castro Blanco National Park

  • *The park is not currently admitting tourists.

Volcán Arenal National Park

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $15

Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡800 Foreigners: $5

Volcán Poás National Park

  • Seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Costa Ricans: ₡1000 Foreigners: $15

Important notes:

*Admission for resident children aged 2-12: ₡500.

*Admission for non-resident children aged 2-12: $5.

*Admission for primary and secondary school students on previously organized field trips: ₡500.

*Admission for non-residents is charged in US dollars, or the equivalent in colones at the time of purchase.

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