by Herb DeMars
Published on February 9, 2022 by Nick Dauk
Costa Rica’s natural beauty is astounding, and its national parks fantastically showcase this diverse landscape. You’ll find magnificent vistas and stunning backdrops across the country – making it a challenge to decide which national parks in Guanacaste Costa Rica to visit.
The towns along Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast are great base camps for launching adventures throughout the country. Hiking, volcano viewing, wildlife tracking and more are all within a quick drive of the shoreline. If you’re renting a vacation home in Playas del Coco or Flamingo, consider making easy day trips to these five national parks in Guanacaste Costa Rica – no overnight stay needed.
Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park
Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park is a must-visit for anyone staying in or near Guanacaste. This amazing park is home to volcanic geothermal sites, primeval forests and seasonal waterfalls, offering extensive diversity across over 34,000 acres. The Blue Lagoon, or La Cangreja, is a popular waterfall known for its dazzling hues. Just as picturesque, though far more relaxing, are the Rio Negro Hot Springs, where a quick dip is always a pleasure.
Distance from Coco: About an hour and 15 minutes.
Distance from Flamingo: About an hour and 45 minutes.
Things to do in Rincón de la Vieja National Park: If the mighty cone is not active, then viewing the fumaroles, mud pots and sulfur lakes on a hiking tour of the Rincón Volcano is a must.
Rincón de la Vieja is famous for its thermal features, including bubbling mud pots and geysers.
Barra Honda National Park
Barra Honda National Park’s claim to fame is housing the most complex cave system discovered in Costa Rica. Dozens of limestone caverns feature amazing stalactites and stalagmites, though only one is open for visitors. A helmet and harness are required to descend the 56-foot ladder to the bottom – a daring experience that you’ll never forget.
There’s a great cave to explore at Barra Honda – after you descend the 56-foot ladder.
Above the caverns rests a tropical dry forest with an interesting mix of plant and animal life. Deer, racoons, agoutis and more join gumbo-limbo trees, savannah oaks and many other species of fauna and flora.
Agoutis are among the creatures you can see at Barra Honda National Park.
Distance from Coco: About 90 minutes.
Distance from Flamingo: About 90 minutes.
Things to do in Barra Honda National Park: If visiting during the rainy season when the threat of flooding closes the caves, Barra Honda’s hiking trails prove that the park is just as mesmerizing above ground.
Santa Rosa National Park
Costa Rica’s national parks offer far more than picturesque backdrops, and Santa Rosa National Park is an excellent example. On March 20, 1856, a small group of Costa Rican soldiers defeated an invading group of foreign mercenaries at the Hacienda Santa Rosa in a matter of minutes. The historic mansion is now the site of a fascinating history museum which features memorabilia and photographs commemorating the conflict.
The Casona at Santa Rosa National Park is the site of a historic battle.
Santa Rosa National Park has a variety of ecosystems to explore, including marshlands, savannas and woodlands. Hiking trails lead through forests to waterfalls and down to the shoreline, where you may see surfers carving waves.
Distance from Coco: About an hour and 20 minutes.
Distance from Flamingo: About an hour and 45 minutes.
Things to do in Santa Rosa National Park: No matter when you venture from your vacation home to Santa Rosa National Park, scuba diving and bat viewing at the Murcielagos Islands are two great ways to immerse yourself in the natural history of the park.
The Murcielagos Islands off Santa Rosa National Park are a top scuba spot.
Las Baulas Marine National Park
Las Baulas Marine National Park is one of the most relaxing ways to combine an afternoon at the beach with a trip to one of Costa Rica’s gorgeous national parks. Headquartered at Playa Grande, but stretching from Cabo Velas to Playa Langosta, Las Baulas is where the ocean meets mangrove swamps and serene estuaries. Surf’s up on these shores, so be sure to bring your board.
Las Baulas is home to Playa Grande, a prime surf spot north of Tamarindo.
Though wave riding is popular, Las Baulas Marine National Park is best known for its namesake wildlife: leatherback sea turtles. This vulnerable species has used the shoreline to lay its eggs for millennia. Waterfowl, ocelots, anteaters and other wildlife aren’t uncommon sights, either, creating an incredible wildlife viewing experience for animal lovers.
Watching leatherback turtles lay their eggs in the sand is a prime attraction of Las Baulas Marine National Park.
Distance from Coco: About an hour.
Distance from Flamingo: About 30 minutes.
Things to do in Las Baulas Marine National Park: If you’re planning on spying sea turtle nests elsewhere on the Nicoya Peninsula, use your trip to Las Baulas to kayak or canoe through the waterways to discover the lovely fauna and flora within.
Palo Verde National Park
Palo Verde National Park is an amazing sight that treats you to two diverse ecosystems. It is home to one of the only remaining Neotropical deciduous dry forests, and the lack of water causes the tree bark to turn a stunning shade of green. Though the dry forest is unique, it’s not the only landscape that makes up Palo Verde National Park.
Located on the banks of the Tempisque River, the park experiences heavy storms during the rainy season that flood the river to create mangrove swamps, wetlands, lakes and lagoons. Nearly 300 different species of birds roosting in the trees makes Palo Verde National Park a paradise for birdwatching.
Bird species abound at Palo Verde National Park.
Distance from Coco: About an hour and a half.
Distance from Flamingo: About two hours.
Things to do in Palo Verde National Park: Visiting during the rainy season? Don’t miss a Palo Verde boat tour. Howler monkeys, bats, white-faced capuchins and crocodiles may make an appearance as you float down the river.
Palo Verde National Park, famous for its birdwatching, is most accessible by boat.
Day trips to national parks near Coco and Flamingo are easy, stress-free, and well worth your time. Launch your trip from one of Special Places’ best vacation rentals so you can maximize your time experiencing Costa Rica’s natural beauty.