National Park

Most famous for ...

Best for ...

How to get there ...

Manuel Antonio National Park
4,825 land acres

Coastal rainforests, beaches; the smallest but most visited national park in Costa Rica

Kayaking and snorkeling, family beaches, sandy coastal hiking path, luxury resorts

3-hour transfer from SJO, then stay in Quepos or Manuel Antonio.

Poás Volcano National Park

16,077 acres

The iconic blue lagoon in a crater, proximity to SJO, 2nd most visited park

Lagoon and crater sightseeing, birdwatching, wheelchair access

1 hour from SJO. Many tour operators run daily trips to Poás, often combined with stops at other nearby sites.

Tortuguero National Park

65,861 land acres

Sea turtle nesting sites, remote location, strict visitor regulations

Sea turtle hatching events (seasonal), birdwatching, aquatic trails by boat

Accessible only by boat and plane. Most visitors use package tours, including transport from SJO.

Cahuita National Park

2,723 land acres

Caribbean white sand beaches, sea turtle nesting

Snorkeling, kayaking and water sports, sandy hiking trails, wildlife spotting

4-5 hours drive from SJO or a local flight to Limón. Take a public bus, private shuttle, or rental car another 29 miles.

Arenal Volcano National Park

29,692 acres

Iconic cone-shaped volcano, “Adventure Capital of Costa Rica”

Wildlife spotting, adrenaline fixes, family fun, luxury lodges with hot springs

2-3 hour drive from SJO. Stay in La Fortuna, Nuevo Arenal or Tilarán. Most visits are by private tour. No public buses.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

10,193 acres

Misty cloud forest highlands, coffee plantations

Wildlife spotting, hiking, canopy tours, adventure activities

3-4 hour drive from SJO. Fly into either San José or Liberia, and stay in Santa Elena, Cerro Plano or Monteverde.

Corcovado National Park

105,168 land acres

Biodiversity, Osa Peninsula, remote and secluded

Challenging hikes, horseback riding, eco-luxury lodges

5-7 hour drive from SJO. No roads into the park, fly or hike-in only, 1-15 hours on foot.

Tenorio Volcano National Park

31,805 acres

Río Celeste and waterfalls, a bright blue lagoon, and hot springs

Birdwatching, day trips to famous waterfalls, hike to hot springs

3.5 hour drive from SJO. Day trips, often labeled “Río Celeste”, are common from La Fortuna/Arenal.

Guanacaste National Park

84,000 acres

Two volcanoes, hiking trails, research stations, biodiversity, nearby beach resorts

Challenging hiking on low-traffic trails, family beaches, luxury resorts

1 hour drive from LIR (Liberia airport in the north) and 2 hours from Playa del Coco. No public buses to the park.

Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park

34,993 acres

Volcanic landscapes (steaming fumaroles, boiling mud cauldrons, springs)

Moderate hikes along two established trail loops, challenging hike to a volcano’s apex

4 hour drive from SJO. Fly into Liberia, stay in Liberia or Rincón de la Vieja. Park is a 1 hour drive from Liberia.

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