Barra Honda National Park
For 70 million years, water from torrential rains has filtered through the limestone beneath the Barra Honda Hills to create an underground labyrinth of caves, tunnels, and grottos. They range in depth from a few to several hundred feet and are in excellent condition because their vertical entrances discouraged modern exploration until the 1960s. Pre-Columbian people were aware of the caverns more than 2,000 years ago, bats have probably lived there since they first evolved, and now you can see the stalactites, stalagmites and other subterranean formations found and protected in one Costa Ricas most unique National Parks; Barra Honda.
Location and how to get there
Barra Honda National Park is found west of Palo Verde National Park, on the other side of the Tempisque River in northwestern Costa Rica. A national park a bit off the beaten track, you will escape the crowds by visiting Costa Ricas only subterranean national park. From San Jose, drive north along the Pan-American Highway towards Puntarenas and Liberia, turning left onto route 18 towards Nicoya. Just after San Joaquin, follow the highway to the left, then follow the signs for the “peace bridge” to cross the Tempisque. After crossing the river, continue 10 kilometers and turn right towards Barra Honda and Santa Ana, following the signs to the park.
What this National Park might lack in biodiversity compared to other national parks, it makes up for with several species of blind salamanders, fish and other organisms restricted to its isolated caves. The caverns are also very important for bat populations in and around the park. The 2,300 hectares above ground protect dry forest and scrub that harbor at least two monkey species, rare plants and over 100 bird species including fancy White-throated Magpie-Jays, Orange-fronted Parakeets and a small population of Scarlet Macaws shared with Palo Verde National Park.
The principle attraction at Barra Honda National Park is of course the caverns. The deepest known is the Santa Ana Cave; believed to be about 300 meters deep but as yet only spelunked to 180 meters. This and other caverns such as the Terciopelo Cave, have exquisite rock formations. Visiting the caves though, is no simple endeavor. Permission must be obtained in advance from the National Parks Office and proper equipment and guide are necessary.
Trails lead 400 meters to the top of Barra Honda Hill for spectacular views of the surrounding plains, interesting rock formations known as Las Cascadas and the Tempisque River. They pass through dry tropical forest and scrub with White-faced Capuchins, Iguanas and other wildlife. The hot, dry climate of Barra Honda National Park should not be underestimated; 2 German tourists died of dehydration in 1993 when they left the trail network and became lost.
Basic lodging and camping is possible at the ranger station. Basic lodging is also possible near the entrance to the park and in Nicoya (a 45 minute drive to the west).
More upscale lodging can be found at Ensenada Ecolodge; about 40 minutes drive to the east of Barra Honda National Park.