Visiting one of these national parks is one of the coolest things any family can do in Costa Rica.
There are three excellent national parks within easy driving distance of our vacation rentals in Dominical and Uvita, all of which offer an assortment of fun-filled activities and wildlife tours.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Forty-five minutes north of Dominical sits one of the crown jewels of this charming country, Manuel Antonio National Park. The area was discovered by Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon in 1519 and today, nearly 500 years later, Manuel Antonio features a little bit of everything: offshore island tours, secluded coves, playful waves, snow cones and lounge chairs on the sand, beach bars, high-end restaurants, shopping, spas, dolphin watching, toucans, vultures, sloths with 8-inch claws and howler monkeys hanging in the trees. Like we said, a little bit of everything.
To visit the Manuel Antonio national parks or beach, simply drive north to Quepos and follow the signs into Manuel Antonio. It’s a two-lane road in and out of Manuel Antonio, and there are secured, pay parking lots at the end of the road by the beach. It should only cost a few dollars leave your vehicle. There are several companies that offer guided tours of the national park grounds. Anticipate paying at least $60 for adults and $30 for children. It’s best to book tickets in advance, especially during the high season (December through April). Individual, non-guided tickets can also be purchased at a reduced cost. Tours operate Tuesday through Sunday. The national park is closed Mondays.
Hacienda Baru National Wildlife Refuge
Another great adventure option located only a few kilometers north of Dominical is Hacienda Baru National Wildlife Refuge. Spanning more than 800 acres along the southwestern coast, Hacienda Baru is a bird-lover’s dream as more than 300 bird species have been observed on the reserve.
There are several affordable tour options at Hacienda Baru, including self-guided exploration ($8), as well as guided mangrove ($30), rainforest ($35), twilight ($35) and bird watching ($45) hikes. The reserve also features a zip line tour, eco tram and tree climbing for its thrill-seeking guests. And when you’re there, be sure to say hello to Jack Ewing, the man most responsible for making the Hacienda Baru what it is today. Ewing has lived on the land since the 1970s, and he has a story or two to tell. His books, “Monkeys Are Made of Chocolate” and “Where Tapirs And Jaguars Once Roamed” spin incredible anecdotes of human/animal/plant interaction in a jungle by the sea.
Marino Ballena National Park
Last but certainly not least is Marino Ballena National Park in Uvita, about 15 minutes south of Dominical. Ballena, a Spanish term for “whale,” is a hotbed of ocean activity. From October through March humpback whales migrate north through these waters. The area is also home to exotic marine iguanas, sea turtles, and coral reef. The most popular attraction at Marino Ballena is the Whale’s Tail, a large, kilometer-long sandbar that can be accessed on foot at low tide. The beaches around the Whale’s Tail are massive and empty, and the water is typically calm. Be sure to pack a lunch, and bring some shade if you plan on spending all day out there. Also, it costs about $10 per person to enter Marino Ballena National Park.
There are other incredible Costa Rican national parks even further south. One popular spot is Corcovado, located on the tip of the Osa Peninsula, approximately a three-hour drive from Uvita. Corcovado features lush, deep jungle that backs up to the ocean. It’s a favorite of fishermen, eco-tourists and surfers.