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Home > Articles > Central America > Costa Rica > Costa Rica National Parks

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Costa Rica National Parks
Barra Honda: Costa Rica's only subterranean park, the complex has four main limestone caverns and a multitude of lesser ones that have been carved out of a 60 million year old marine reef.

Braulio Carrillo: Lying in the rugged central volcanic range and northern slope the park includes five distinct habitats. There are 6000 species of plants, including outstanding ferns and orchids. More than 300 species of birds have been observed here, especially the resplendent quetzal.

Cahuita National Park: The park protects one of the tree living coral reefs on the Caribbean coast. Within its boundaries are coastal forests, lovely white sand beaches and the underwater area of the park. More than 30 species of coral have been identified.

Chirripo/La Amistad: These two parks constitute the largest variety of biological wealth, and also make up the largest single tract of virgin tropical forest. The park includes the only area of paramo in Central America and has glacially formed lakes. Mt. Chirripo is the highest peak in the country at 12,636 feet. The wildlife is very diverse. The quetzal makes its home here and one can find up to 60% of the fauna in the country within the park's boundaries.

Cocos Islanos: The largest uninhabited island outside of the arctic. Michael Crichton used Cocos as his model for the site in "Jurassic Park". It sits in the Pacific like a small Galapagos and has 3 endemic species of birds. The slopes of this rainy (275 inches per year) volcanic island are covered with 200 waterfalls.

Corcovabo: The last significant block of virgin rain forest in all of Central America, Corcovado is one of the rainiest parts of Costa Rica (216 inches yearly). Boasting many species of mammals, amphibians and reptiles, the park shelters a number of endangered species such as the puma, tapir, crocodile and the jaguar. With more than 500 species of trees in the park, up to 100 can be found in an area as small as 2 acres.

Irazu Volcano: At 11,260 feet, Irazu is the country's highest volcano. The crater is accessible by road, and the seemingly lunar landscape allows a view of both oceans on a clear day. There is relatively little fauna in the park, other than several local bird species. The summit is formed by five craters, all currently dormant. Because of the altitude, the summit is frequently cloud shrouded and quite cool.

Manuel antonio: ... provides stretches of glistening white beaches whose sands slope gently to the Pacific. An important refuge for migratory birds, the park encloses a varied set of habitats, primary and secondary forests, mangroves, and marine life. Dolphins and whales are sometimes seen on their migratory journeys. Another enjoyable character is the endangered squirrel monkey - colonies of which live in the trees above the trails that crisscross the park.

Palo Verde: This river park constitutes the principal component of the Tempisque Lowlands, a migratory and resident waterfowl refuge along the Tempisque River. During most of the year the major lake is inhabited by upwards of 50,000 waterfowl and forest birds. The habitats in the area include lowland mangroves, low limestone hills, savanna brush lands and deciduous forest. There are two species of monkeys and several species of felines.

Palo Volcano: Easily accessible by the highway, it is one of the most frequented national parks. The bottom of the crater, alleged to be the largest active caldera in the world (1 mile wide and 980 deep), is in constant activity with fumaroles and geysers. The mountain itself has been built up as a composite volcano and is 8884 feet high. The park ecosystem includes the only dwarf cloud forest in the country.

Rincon de la Vieja: This park contains an active volcano of the composite type, with nine identified sites of volcanic activity on the summit. In the Las Pailas area there are mud pots and small geysers. The climb to the 6,286-foot summit takes two days with a ranger guide. The flora and fauna are from the humid tropical life zone with several species of monkeys and more than 200 species of birds within the park.

Santa Rosa: This park is the site of the Battle of Santa Rosa of 1856. The old great house and stone corrals make up one of the most important historic sites in the country. The park shelters habitats consisting of dry, tropical and humid premontane forest. The park has abundant flora and fauna. It is the refuge for the endangered olive Ridley sea turtle. There are more than 750 species of plants.

Tortuguero: This park constitutes the single most important nesting area for the green sea turtle in the western Caribbean. This humid, tropical climate (160 inches of rain per year) is rich in habitats and provides shelter to a number of endangered land and marine species. The park is crossed by a series of natural and man-made canals that are home to manatees, crocodiles, and the gar fish, considered to be a living fossil.

Tapanti: The park consists of an area with very broken topography, some of which has not yet been explored due to the dense undergrowth. A large number of rivers rise in this protected area. The flora is typical of primary evergreen forests. More than 200 species of birds are known to reside in the forest and 45 species of mammals including the larger cats.

Arenal: This is an important replenishment area. Its waters drain into Arenal Lake Reservoir and are used for hydroelectric power as well as irrigation and fish farming. It has a varied flora. Typical fauna are the paca, Bairds tapir, white nosed coati, sloth, jaguar, deer, birds such as parrots parakeets, resplendent quetzals, and some snakes like the parrot snake, fer-de-lance and boa.

Guanacaste: This park covers very diverse forest areas, rain forest, tropical wet forest, cloud forest and tropical dry forest. Over 300 bird species have been identified here, as well as 5000 species of butterflies and moths, and 3000 species of epiphytes.

Juan Castro Blanco: Extremely varied vegetation describes this park in Alajuela Province. More than 50% of its area is mixed primary forest. Fauna and bird life are also extremely varied with quetzals, curassows, red brocket deer, and monkeys.

Ballena National Marine Park: This park protects major environments such as sandy beaches, rocky shorelines, islands, and a coral reef that is a major breeding ground for countless marine species. This coral reef is one of the area's most important natural attractions - enabling a wide range of species to inhabit it. Identified to date are five species of coral, plus several varieties of seaweeds. The area also supports several species of reptiles, mammals and birds.

Guayabo: Protecting a site where human settlement goes back to 500 BC, this monument is the most important archaeological site in the country. There are aqueducts, streets paved with stone, house foundations, circular, oval, and square mounds, and petroglyphs. The flora and fauna are premontane and many epiphytes can be seen in the arboreal canopies. There are upwards of 80 species of orchid in the area encompassing the monument. The fauna includes the rainbow-billed toucan, agouti, and anteater.

Cabo Blanco: Located at the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, this marine bird sanctuary includes Cabo Blanco Island, a promontory with vertical walls stained white by the centuries of guano that has built up. One hundred nineteen tree species have been identified. The fauna consists mainly of howler monkeys, kinkajous, anteaters and collared peccaries.

Cano Island: This natural and archaeological reserve is located about nine miles offshore from Corcovado National Park. Containing a pre-Columbian burial ground, it is also a site where numerous stone spheres, worked by the early inhabitants, are found. Fauna is scarce with only a few species of birds and reptiles evident. The island is surrounded by five platforms of low coral reefs.

Carara: The reserve protects humid tropical forest lowland. A wealth of flora and fauna grace the plains and hills of this park. In the river meander and marshes there are diverse species of reptiles and amphibians. In the forest area monkeys, armadillos, peccaries, pacas and small felines may be found. The bird life is varied and includes such exquisite specimens as the pink crane and anhinga. An Indian burial ground has been found on the nearly slopes.

Guayabo, Negritos and Los Pajards Islands: These islands lie within the Gulf of Nicoya and are important marine waterfowl nesting sites. The brown pelican, frigatebird, laughing gull, and brown booby are found here. Guayabo is also a wintering spot for the peregrine falcon. The flora is limited to deciduous forest.

Lomas de Barbudal: It is affectionately known as the "insect park" due to the richness of insect species that includes 250 species of bees and 60 of moths. The forest is semi-deciduous and is inhabited by many species of insectivorous birds. The most outstanding are the keep-billed toucan, the wild native turkey, and the scarlet macaw. Many howler monkeys inhabit the forest.
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Author of this article is Gene Gill. For more information visit his website: Gene Gill Miniatures.
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