There are currently an incredible 28 National Parks in Costa Rica, as well as a total of 126 “protected” areas of various forms (national parks, protected areas, refuges, monuments, and reserves). With 25% of its land falling under some kind of protection, Costa Rica has has a larger proportion of its protected land than any other country in the world. If you’ve visited Costa Rica, there is no denying that it is naturally spectacular; in fact, two of its parks have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Widespread recognition of what a gem the country was in 1970s led to a movement by both the people and the government to protect their resources and counter the shrinking of their natural environment. Today, Costa Rica is known around the world as a lush, green, thriving, and environmentally healthy country, is a model for other countries to follow regarding environmental policies, and is a major attraction to tourists who love to spend time out-of-doors. Most of these protected areas are easily accessed by the public, which makes them a huge draw for tourism both on a national and international level.
Marino Ballena National Park (also known as “Whale Marine National Park”), is located on the southern Pacific side of Costa Rica, at the footsteps of Uvita – Bahia Ballena. This national park was established in 1989, and its area of protection is primarily marine. While having only 110 land hectares, it also has 5,385 ocean hectares, and it forms 1% of Costa Rica’s marine protected areas. Marino Ballena National Park is in the province of Puntarenas, though is officially part of the Area of Conservation for the Osa Peninsula. The purpose of such a park is to protect the plants, animals, and the ecosystems in which they both live to ensure that they flourish.
Why is it called Marino Ballena/Whale Bay National Park?
There are two reasons why the park is called “Marino Ballena” National Park. First of all, the area that became Marino Ballena is both a breeding and feeding ground for a variety of different whales. The most common visitors to the park are the humpback whales from both the northern and southern hemispheres, who migrate to the warm and rich waters of Marino Ballena to give birth to their young. One group visits between the months of July and October, and the other between December and March, giving the area a solid 8 months of whale-watching season. It has been a strong Costa Rican initiative to protect these waters to ensure the safety and successful reproduction of these animals. The second reason for the park’s name is because of the Punta Uvita Tombolo, or more commonly known as “the whale tail” — a sandbar that extends 1km into the Pacific ocean that, from the air, looks exactly like a whale’s tail when the tide is out.
What is it like/what can you do there?
Marino Ballena National Park is located in a gorgeous and still relatively untouched part of Costa Rica, so visitors can expect to have a very relaxing and unrefined Costa Rican experience. Here’s a small taste of what you will find in this park: long stretches of beautiful beach, rocky shorelines and cliffs, uninhabited islands, mangrove ecosystems, and rock and coral reefs. You are also likely to see a variety of different animals in their natural habitats. There are a variety of activities to participate in within the park, including swimming, surfing, Stand-Up Paddle boarding, snorkeling, boat tours/whale watching, and simply relaxing on the park’s beautiful and pristine beach!
Corcovado National Park, established on October 24, 1975, is located in the southern-most corner of Costa Rica on the Pacific side (the Osa Peninsula). The park comprises 54,039 terrestrial hectares and 2,400 marine hectares. Until 1978, there was little access by land to the Osa Peninsula and the population in the region was scarce. Since that time, the Corcovado National Park has been destined exclusively for conservation, scientific investigation, environmental education, and eco-tourism. National Geographic magazine has deemed Corcovado National Park as “the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity”.
Corcovado, the Amazon of Costa Rica
Corcovado Park exists within one of the rainiest regions in the country, with records of up to 5,500 mm of rainfall per year on the highest peaks. Famous for being the “Amazon of Costa Rica”, the Corcovado National Park is the largest stronghold of primary forest on a Pacific coastline, and is famous for holding 5% of the biodiversity on this side of the planet. Corcovado is considered by many the most important park in Costa Rica’s extensive national parks system. The park is very popular with tropical ecologist, eco-tourists, and generally outdoorsy people alike who all share a love the abundance of plant and wildlife. This park offers 5 ranger stations which handle several services such as tent campsites, food, helicopter services in emergencies and general information.
What Can You Do There
This park is ideal for those who love the great outdoors, are interested in seeing the natural flora and fauna of the region, and want to get away from it all and kick back in the jungle and/or on pristine untouched beaches. There are several hiking trails throughout the park, many of which that can take several hours to travel and that taking visitors to the most deserted and pristine rainforest wilderness with spectacular displays of nature. The area holds thousands of species of flora and fauna, many unique to the area and others which have disappeared from other regions or are in danger of extinction.
Caño Island is an island and Biological Reserve located about 17 km west of Drake Bay in Corcovado National Park. It is easily accessed via boat from Bahia Ballena — about a one hour and 15-minute boat ride. This reserve is everything you could expect from a gorgeous and near-deserted island in the Pacific ocean: it’s pristine, colorful, and full of life. Caño Island was designated as a Biological Reserve in 1978 to preserve its important marine ecosystem, indigenous cultural history, and natural beauty. It is widely believed that the island was used as a cemetery in pre-Columbian times as pottery, carved stone artifacts, and the region’s infamous stone spheres have been found there in excavations.
Caño Island is an island and Biological Reserve located about 17 km west of Drake Bay. It is easily accessed via boat from Bahia Ballena — about a 75-minute boat ride. This reserve is everything you could expect from a gorgeous and near-deserted island in the Pacific ocean: it’s pristine, colorful, and full of life. Caño Island was designated as a Biological Reserve in 1978 to preserve its important marine ecosystem, indigenous cultural history, and natural beauty. It is widely believed that the island was used as a cemetery in pre-Columbian times as pottery, carved stone artifacts, and the region’s infamous stone spheres have been found there in excavations.
What Can You Do There
Caño Island is known as one of Costa Rica’s best snorkeling and diving places due to its vibrant coral reef and resulting ecosystem. If you snorkel or dive here, you are likely to see many animals including tangs, jacks and needlefish, boring sponges, diadem sea urchins, sea cucumbers, crustaceans, parrot fish, puffers, damselfish, large schools of barracudas, tunas, and moray eels. This reserve is most commonly the destination of a day boat trip from Bahia Ballena, lodges in Drake Bay, Dominical, and Manuel Antonio. On the trip over you are very likely to see Manta rays, dolphins, Olive Ridley sea turtles, white-tipped reef sharks, silky sharks, bull sharks and occasionally even whales sharks and humpback whales.
The Terraba Sierpe Mangroves, located just 45 minutes south (by car) of Bahia Ballena is a 30,000+ hectare wetland Forest Reserve that has vast biological importance to the entire Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. It was given the Forest Reserve designation in 1977 and was registered as a Wetlands International RAMSAR site in 1995, and this site is managed by the Ministry for the Environment, Energy, and Oceans (MINAEM). The Terraba Sierpe region is known as a prime birding location, and features many tours to view its incredible biodiversity and fantastic natural beauty. The Reserve consists of a woodland ecosystem of swamps, mangrove forests, palm swamp forests, sandy beaches, rivers, and lagoons, and like all wetland regions, it plays an important role in being a base for the rest of the life that surrounds it.
What You Can Do There
There are several boat tours that go to the Terraba Sierpe Mangroves, primarily those leaving from the Costa Ballena area or coming up from the Osa Peninsula. Tours through this wetland will focus on seeing the sights, flora, and fauna of this biologically important area. There are also kayaking tours if you would like to have a more peaceful and lower-impact trek through this area.