Diria National Park
If you look at a map of Costa Rica, you can’t help but notice a huge peninsula in the northwest that juts into the Pacific Ocean. This is the Nicoya Peninsula, one of the first regions of Costa Rica colonized by the Spanish. This reason combined with the fact that its proximity to the ocean facilitated transport of its valuable mahogany and other hardwoods ensured that most of the peninsula was deforested decades ago. In the lowlands, moist forest predominated while cloud forest grew on the higher mountains. Patches of this original forest managed to survive here and there in inaccessible ravines and on some of the higher mountains. The montane forest is especially important because it protects watersheds in a region with a long, hot, dry season. Diria National Park protects one of these important watersheds and provides a glimpse into the forests of Nicoyas past and hopefully its future.
Location and how to get there
The 5,000 hectares of Diria National Park are found on the Nicoya Peninsula in northwestern Costa Rica between the two main cities of the region; Nicoya and Santa Cruz. To drive there from San Jose, head north on the Pan-American Highway and take the turn-off for Nicoya. Drive past Nicoya to Santa Cruz then head south on the road to Arado and Retallano following the signs to Diria. This national park is 9 kilometers south of Santa Cruz and is a 6 hour drive from San Jose. From Liberia, it takes around 3 hours.
Diria National Park protects moist and cloud forest of some of the higher hills of the Nicoya Peninsula. Although not as diverse as most other Costa Rican national parks, Diria still provides habitat for 140 bird species, Howler Monkeys and White-faced Capuchins, Jaguarundi and other smaller mammals. A few of the many snake species found within the boundaries of Diria are Tropical Rattlesnake, Vine Snakes and Boa Constrictor. Lizards such as Iguanas, Whiptails and Skinks are all very common. Most importantly, it protects some of the last old growth forest on the peninsula. At least 382 plant species have been identified including beautiful examples of tropical hardwoods such as Pochote, Mahogany, Ceibas as well as a variety of endangered plant species.
Attractions of Diria National Park
If you need a change from the beaches and local festivals of Nicoya, Diria National Park makes for a wonderful escape. Hike the two trails that depart from the ranger station to see monkeys, a variety of birds, exquisite butterflies and a beautiful tropical waterfall. Although the scenic rolling hills of Nicoya can be viewed from these trails, the best overlook is at Vista al Mar. Vista al Mar is on the main road just after it exits the southern park boundary and beautifully provides what its name means; sea overlook. The surrounding area is also perfect for mountain biking and horseback rides.
Basic dormitory lodging and camping are possible within Diria National Park and both officially require permits obtained in advance. Better but still fairly basic lodging can also be found at nearby Santa Cruz and Nicoya.