BALLENA (WHALE) MARINE NATIONAL PARK- 5 minutes The Ballena Marine National Park was created in February 1990 to protect the shoreline of Costa Ballena plus 4,500 hectares of water surrounding Island Ballena. The park extends south for 15 km from Uvita to Punta Piñuela, and about 15 km out to sea. The park harbors within its relatively small area important mangroves and the largest coral reef on the Pacific coast of Central America.
Green marine iguanas live on algae in the saltwater pools. Olive Ridley and Hawksbill Turtles come ashore May-November to lay their eggs, and the bay is the southernmost mating site for the Humpback Whale, Dec.-April. Snorkeling is good close to shore and during low tides you can also reach the island at the tip of Punta Uvita to discover corals, sponges, and sea anemones.
CANO ISLAND PRESERVE – 45 minutes This is a full day trip since this island is 15 kilometers off-shore and you must arrive by motorboat. It offers hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving. Pre-Columbians that inhabited the mainland used the island as a burial site and left many archeological remains, including mysterious spheres for you to rediscover.
CHIRRIPÓ NATIONAL PARK – 50 minutes Chirripo's Peak is the highest mountain in the country, soaring to a height of 3,821 meters. The parks hosts the most biologically diverse area in Costa Rica and comprises the largest unspoiled forest in the country. An astonishing number of habitats produced by the differences in altitude, soil, climate and topography-can be found, including paramos, marshlands, oak forests, madrono forests, fern groves and mixed forests. One of Chirripo's most important geomorphologic discoveries is that of various glacial forms which have been preserved almost intact. There are small U-shaped glacial valleys, moraine deposits, lakes and cirques, shaped by the action and movement of the ice masses. Taken together, the parks are estimated to be home to more than 60% of all the vertebrates and invertebrates in Costa Rica.
CORCOVADO NATIONAL PARK - 45 minutes starting point Parque Nacional Corcovado--the Amazon of Costa Rica--is the largest stronghold of primary forest on a Pacific coastline. Its 41,788 hectares encompass eight habitats, from mangrove swamp and jolillo palm grove to montane forest. The park protects more than 400 species of birds (20 are endemic), 116 of amphibians and reptiles, and 139 of mammals--representing 10 percent of the mammals in the Americas--on only 0.000101777 percent of the landmass. Its healthy population of scarlet macaws (about 1,200 birds) is the largest concentration in Central America. You can expect to see large flocks of macaws in flight or feeding on almond trees by the shoreline.
MANUEL ANTONIO NATIONAL PARK - 35 minutes North (road not paved) Tiny it may be, but this 682-hectare national park epitomizes everything tourists flock to Costa Rica to see: stunning beaches, a magnificent setting with islands offshore. You are guaranteed close-up encounters with monkeys, sloths, coatimundis, and scarlet macaws. The park has four lovely beaches, each with its own personality: Espadilla Sur, Manuel Antonio, Escondido, and Playita. The prettiest is Playa Manuel Antonio, a small scimitar of coral-white sand with a small coral reef. It's separated from Playa Espadilla and between bouts of beaching you can explore the park's network of wide trails, which lead into a swatch of humid tropical forest. Manuel Antonio's treetop carnival is marvelous and best experienced by following the Perezoso Trail, named after the lovable sloths, which favor the secondary growth along the trail (perezoso means "lazy").
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