Bolaños Island National Wildlife Refuge, Guanacaste

Adult Brown Pelicans resting on rocks, Isla Bolanos Wildlife Refuge
Adult Brown Pelicans resting on rocks, Isla Bolaños Wildlife Refuge

As Costa Rica's smallest wildlife preserve, Bolaños Island National Wildlife Refuge is home to some of the country's most diverse flora and fauna. Bolaños Island is located in the province of Guanacaste off of the coast of Puerto Soley and the island spans only 25 hectares. The national wildlife refuge was created in 1981 to protect the mass population of seabirds, including one of the few known nesting sites for Brown Pelicans, American Oystercatcher and Magnificent Frigatebirds. This quiet and serene island sits along the Pacific Coast in Salinas Bay, very close to the border of Nicaragua.

Terrain and flora

Dry forest vegetation and low-forest shrubs span the island, and much of the terrain is quite rugged, making it a difficult place to visit if you're planning to venture onto the land itself. Layers and layers of estimated 40 million-year old sedimentary rock make up the oval-shaped island. But it's not all rough here. Upon reaching the island, visitors will find white sand beaches that are populated by various species of crab that can be seen during low tide. The crystal clear blue waters and abundant marine life lend to the desirability of this park. Common flora seen here includes paira, frangipani, crown fig and alfaje. Crown fig and frangipani trees attract hundreds of birds when they are in full bloom and fruiting. Once all of the fruit are gone, birds will begin to use twigs and sticks to create nests at the top of the trees.

Species in the refuge

Depending on what month you are visiting here, you may see different aviary species that migrate and reside on the rocky isle. Brown Pelicans are most commonly found here between January and February during nesting season, while Magnificent Frigatebirds can be seen for a longer period of time, between November and June. Other species one might see while visiting here include lizards, snails, clams and marine creatures off the coast.

Things to remember

Although this Bolaños Island National Wildlife Refuge is known as one of the driest in Costa Rica, visitors are only allowed between April and November. In fact, the island only receives about 1.5 meters of rain each year. During the off season, visitors are prohibited from entering the park due to fragile species that use the area for breeding. When visiting is allowed, many people remain on boats that circle the island because in order to enter the park, you must receive permission from the park service in San Jose or Santa Rosa. There are no facilities located within the park.

Getting to Bolaños Island Wildlife Refuge

Since it is an island, the park is only accessible by boat, and it is about 3 kilometers from Puerto Soley. From San Jose, Puerto Soley can be reached by car or bus. Visitors who arrive by way of Liberia International Airport can also easily reach this national refuge. Once you are in Puerto Soley the best way to see this wildlife refuge is with a guided boat tour so you do not disturb the wildlife.

Guanacaste Escape Adventure Tour
7 Days / 6 Nights
Starting at $779 per person
Costa Rica Beach & National Park Tour
14 Days / 13 Nights
Starting at $2,091 per person

Where to Stay near Bolaños Island National Wildlife Refuge

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Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica
Starting at $287 / night per person - All Inclusive
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Villas Welcome to Heaven
Starting at $100 / night
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Casa Chameleon Hotel at Las Catalinas
Starting at $375 / night
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Hotel Luna Llena
Starting at $130 / night
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Best Western Tamarindo Vista Villas
Starting at $66 / night
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Blue River Resort & Hot Springs
Starting at $105 / night
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Capitán Suizo Beachfront Boutique Hotel
Starting at $250 / night

Things to Do near Bolaños Island National Wildlife Refuge

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Del Mar Surf Camp - Nosara
Starting at $65 / person
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Coyote Sportfishing Tamarindo
Starting at $475 / Day
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Palo Verde Jungle Boat Tour with Lunch
Starting at $120 / person