Palo Verde National Park
Though not technically on the peninsula, Palo Verde National Park borders it on the northern end. The region’s ecosystems of forests and estuaries make this 46,000-acre park a haven for birders on Costa Rica tours who come here to hike the trails, observing migrating species. The Organization for Tropical Studies researches the forests, wetlands and waterfowl in the area. Wildlife and wetland reserves as well as Barra Honda National Park are nearby. The park is located in Guanacaste Province, bordered on the southwest by the Rio Tempisque.
Las Boulas Marine National Park
Visitors to Costa Rica travel to Guanacaste Province’s Playa Tamarindo to surf the waves. A few miles away, they come simply to sit and watch, hoping for a glimpse of the leatherback turtles, nesting at Playa Grande in Las Boulas Marine National Park. The park is comprised of water mostly, 54,000 acres of it, plus 938 acres of land, encompassing two estuaries that protect the mangroves of the Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge. The area was designated a national park in 1991 to help save the critically endangered leatherback turtles from which the park derives its name.
Diria National Park
Located in the middle of the Nicoya Peninsula, 13,400-acre Diria National Park became a national forest refuge in 1991 before receiving the added protection of being designated a national park in 2004. Visitors on Costa Rica tours, especially the birders, enjoy the hiking trails through its tropical forests filled with wildlife, including over 100 bird species.
Barra Honda National Park
East of Diria National Park is Barra Honda National Park, one of Costa Rica’s smallest. It contains over forty extraordinary limestone caverns that plunge as deep as 780 feet from the surface. With guides, visitors on Costa Rica tours may hike through the park and descend into some of the caves with proper equipment. The 5,675-acre park was established in 1974 and is located nine miles south of Palo Verde National Park.
Cocos Island National Park
Cocos Island National Park is an exotic place, an uninhabited volcanic island of just nine square miles, covered by tropical rainforest (and some cloud forest at higher elevations), ringed by coral reefs and a few islets. It is located some 300 plus miles southwest of the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Where pirates and whalers once visited, the island is today the province of many endemic species and visitors on Costa Rica tours who come mostly between March and May to hike its scenic rainforest trails. Established in 1978, the park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and a RAMSAR wetland in 1998. A non-profit organization, Friends of the Cocos Island (www.cocosisland.org), raise funds to aid the park and its species. The park is popular with nesting seabirds and with divers seeking to observe big species such as sharks (especially hammerheads), rays and dolphins. The three species of marine turtles that inhabit the area, hawksbills, greens and olive ridleys, are more apt to be seen in the offshore waters than on the beaches. And no, it appears there is no pirate treasure buried on the island unless the thousands of treasure hunters who have looked just missed it.