Javi the Frog with magestic Arenal Volcano
Javi the Frog with magestic Arenal Volcano

With nearly 27 percent of the land devoted to national reserves and a total of 26 nationals parks, there's no denying that Costa Rica has some truly remarkable standouts of nature. Volcanoes, rain forests, waterfalls and a vast diversity of flora and fauna fill these parks - many of my relatives reside in these areas as well! While it was hard to narrow down a list, here are the top 5 national parks of Costa Rica:

1. Manuel Antonio National Park

Though the country's smallest park, Manuel Antonio weighs in as one of the most popular. It sits just southeast of Quepos on the Pacific Coast, and was put on the map in 1519 by the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon, who was searching for the Fountain of Youth. Instead, he came across a bio diverse area so beloved today, that it was ranked one of the world's most beautiful parks by Forbes. It extends through a variety of natural habitats, including primary and secondary rain forest, mangrove swamps and lagoons. You can discover 184 species of birds and more than 109 species of animals - everything from the mantled howler monkey to tree frogs (like me!) to three-toed sloths. Hikers love the trails here, which offer spectacular views - especially the one that winds around Punta Catedral. White sand beaches and beautiful coral reefs make this a popular spot for swimming and scuba diving. Playa Manuel Antonio, the southern facing beach, is a half-mile long with picturesque scenery that meets deep green foliage on one end and a secluded cove on the other. With adventure, leisure, marine and cultural tours, this tropical wonder caters to travelers of all personalities.

Waterfall inside Rincon de la Vieja National Park
Waterfall inside Rincon de la Vieja National Park

2. Arenal Volcano National Park

Located in La Fortuna, this nearly 30,000-acre national park holds Arenal Volcano as its centerpiece. In 1968, the volcano started a 48-year stretch of eruptions that initially decimated nearby towns. In reality, there are two volcanoes in the park: Arenal, which stands 5,357 feet tall and Chato, which has been inactive for almost 3,500 years. Arenal has been erupting on and off for 7,000 years - with some stretches of inactivity lasting 400 years or more. That's an especially long time in frog years! In the park you'll find stunning hiking trails where you can watch a handful of wildlife. Parrots, white-faced monkeys and snakes are all spotted here. Interestingly, Arenal plays a role in Costa Rica's power production. Lake Arenal, which lies at the foot of the Arenal Volcano, supplies 12 percent of the country's hydroelectric energy.

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3. Corcovado National Park

National Geographic called Corcovado "the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity." The park lies within the Osa Peninsula in the southwest, and is a mainstay for animal lovers. Catch a glimpse of a Tamandua anteater, flocks of red and green macaw, plenty of monkeys and jaguars. In fact, the region is one of the last-standing strongholds of jaguars in Central America. Corcovado encompasses 13 major ecosystems, ranging from the lowland rain forest to the highland cloud forest. Since it is one of the most secluded parks in the country, usually only rugged backpackers call this place home - in my time here, I've only seen a few humans. If you would walk down the 23 miles of beaches, you'd likely only run into only a few other people.

4. Tortuguero National Park

Named after the turtles that lay their eggs here, Tortuguero National Park is located along the Caribbean coast northwest of Limon. Green sea (tortuga verde), leatherback (tortuga Baula) and hawksbill turtles (tortuga Carey) nest on the beaches during the arribadas, or mass arrivals. If you talk to a tour guides in the kiosk in Tortuguero village or through your hotel, you can arrange a time to visit the beaches at night, when the main nesting activity takes place. Unfortunately, in the last 20 years, the green sea turtles have neared extinction because poachers would take their eggs. The vast network of lagoons and freshwater creeks behind the beaches host seven different species of river turtles and more than 50 species of freshwater fish. Although it's easy for me to hop here, getting here is a little more difficult for humans. There are few roads, so if you're planning a visit, go with a tour. Camping is not allowed in the park.

5. Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Rincon de la Vieja National Park spans almost 35,000 acres with volcanic wonders and gorgeous tropical forests. To no surprise, the main attraction is Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, the largest volcano in the northwest. Its dormant sister cones Santa Maria and Cerro Von Seebach sits next to it. While the last major eruption of Rincon happened about 3,500 years ago, a number of events have occurred in the mountain's lake-filled crater. Trails reach from the Santa Maria ranger station throughout the park, covering more than 5,00 vertical feet. If you're up for a swim, be sure to check out the sulfuric hot spring one mile down the trail. You can also take a dip in thermal mud pools, waterfall swimming holes and freshwater lakes. The park is located in the Guanacaste province.

Have you visited any of these national treasures? What did you think?

Corcovado National Park Sunset
Corcovado National Park Sunset

Arenal Volcano National Park
Arenal Volcano National Park

Palm Trees aligned on beach in Corcovado Nat. Park
Palm Trees aligned on beach in Corcovado Nat. Park