Santa Rosa National Park
Costa Rica in general is a very rainy place. All of that falling water gives Costa Rica its lush rain forests and makes the country a treasure trove of biodiversity. Not all of Costa Rica is wet though; the northwestern region known as Guanacaste is quite dry for half the year. Santa Rosa National Park occupies 50,000 hectares of this seasonally dry habitat. With scrubby forests and brown grass that resemble African savannahs, this large park is hot, windy and filled with wildlife. Declared the first National Park in 1972, it also houses a site of historical, national importance; La Casona.
Location and how to get there
Santa Rosa National Park is in the extreme northwest of Costa Rica, near the Nicaraguan border. It is 260 kilometers from San Jose; a 5 hour drive along the Pan-American Highway. A sign and flags mark the entrance to Santa Rosa on the west side of this main road about 20 minutes north of Liberia. If you don’t want to make that long drive, Liberia has an international airport.
Santa Rosa National Park protects a large area of dry forest (a type of habitat altered in much of Middle America) and several other habitats including grasslands, mangroves and beaches that are major nesting grounds for sea turtles; the Olive Ridley in particular. Around 260 species of birds, 115 species of mammals and dozens of reptiles have been recorded in the park. Big cats such as Puma and Jaguar occur here as do healthy populations of bird species rare elsewhere such as Great Curassow, Yellow-naped Parrot and King Vulture.
Its isolation and large area make Santa Rosa an excellent place to view wildlife. Three species of monkeys, peccaries, coatis and other mammals are all common and easier to see in the more open dry forest than dense rain forest. During the dry season (December to April) animals are especially easy to see (even Tapir and Jaguar are possible) when they congregate at water holes.
Nesting sea turtles
The best time to witness the mass nesting of thousands of Olive Ridley Turtles is during September and October at Nancite Beach. This incredible inundation of sea turtles can happen on any given night during this time period so you just have to get lucky. A permit is required to visit (limit to 30 per day and easily available at the ranger station). Nancite and other beaches are reached by very rough roads within the park. Signs show the way as well as letting you know if they are open (they are often closed in the wet season and sometimes in the dry season as well).
Costa Rican History
The other principle attraction is the La Casona ranch house. These buildings are of historical importance for Costa Rica and Central America because they mark the site of the battle that drove William Walker and his invading forces out of Costa Rica in 1856.
Hotels near Santa Rosa National Park
No lodging is available in the park although camping is allowed. Several hotels of all sorts can be found at nearby Liberia. There are also several hotels at Panama, Coco, Ocotal and Hermosa beaches (a one hour drive).