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Camping in Costa Rica

Camping in Costa Rica

Camping out under a starry sky, in the middle of a misty cloud forest, or beside lapping ocean waves is a great way to travel Costa Rica – especially on a budget. Outside national parks and a few private campsites, camping on beaches or on private property (usually for a small fee) is possible, but always check with locals and agree upon a price before setting up camp. As space is often limited, reservations are recommended at both national parks and private campsites.

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Some hostels in Mal Pais, Montezuma, Playa Samara and Brasilito have popular beachfront campsites with access to either indoor or outdoor facilities. Most camping facilities run $4-$10 per night, and generally include cold-water showers, restrooms, and basic facilities like sinks and BBQ pits. 

Be sure to pack plenty of quick-dry clothing, a flashlight, sun hat, insect repellent, towels and a lightweight sleeping bag. If you plan on camping in the rainforest, try to find a campsite that offers raised platforms in addition to covered areas. The weather can be unpredictable and being off the ground will help keep you dry and comfortable. If your plans include camping in the cloud forest or at high altitudes, take warm blankets as the mercury dips significantly at night. Camping can be a fun and adventurous way to extend your travel budget in Costa Rica, and here are a few of our favorite locales:

Barra Honda National Park

Barra Honda National Park is Costa Rica's only subterranean park, its maze of caverns carved from soft limestone. To date, scientists have investigated each of the park’s 42 caves, but only 19 have been fully explored. If you're not up (or down) for underground adventure, take to the park’s above-ground sights, including sensational views of the Gulf of Nicoya and excellent wildlife watching. Rustic cabins with bunk beds and camping facilities ($2 + $10 entrance fee) are available at the ranger station. Water, toilets and showers are available to campers. Contact: 2686-6760

Ballena National Marine Park

One of your best bets for beachfront camping, Ballena National Marine Park is home to humpback whale breeding grounds, dolphin hotspots, nesting turtles, and large colonies of seabirds. August through October and December to April are the best times to see humpback whales, while May through November is prime nesting season for Olive Ridley and hawksbill turtles. Camping is free (all visitors must pay the $6 park fee) and the setting can’t be beat. Showers and toilets, but no potable water, are available at the Ballena, Colonia, and Pinuelas ranger stations. Campfires are not permitted within the park, but gas or charcoal grills are allowed. Contact: 2796-5392

Braulio Carrillo National Park

Wake up surrounded by lush rain forest, where you’re a short hike from roaring waterfalls, towering volcanoes, and rushing rivers. Braulio Carrillo National Park is just 30 minutes from San Jose but a world away in terms of peace and seclusion. As the country’s second largest national park, it covers a lot of ground – almost 115,000 acres – and campers can choose their night’s accommodations from dense lowland rainforest, chilly cloud forest, and even the slope of an ancient volcano. Camping ($2 + $8 park entrance fee) is highly recommended at the Barva Volcano ranger station, where an early morning start will assure you a timely ascent up the four- to five-hour trail to Barva Volcano’s scenic summit. Potable water and toilets, but no showers, are available. Contact: 2266-1883 / 2266-1892

Corcovado National Park

Corcovado National Park is one of the few places in the world that truly merits the phrase “teeming with wildlife.” The verdant park is home to 13 types of forest along with a huge variety of wildlife. Camping here is for the truly intrepid, as Corcovado's ranger stations are extremely isolated. Reservations are required to camp, especially at the park’s Sirena station, which has dorm-style lodging and a small restaurant ($8 dorm bed + $10 park entrance fee + optional board). Camping options at San Pedrillo, La Leona, and Los Patos ranger stations are rustic ($4 + $10 park entrance fee); potable water, cold showers, and toilets are available to campers at all four stations. Camping is not permitted at Los Planes. Note that the Sirena station is closed every October. Contact: 2735-5036 for reservations.

San Agustin Rainforest Reserve

Located just 22 miles southeast of Turrialba, this 200-acre private wildlife reserve is a nature lover’s paradise. The area’s cool temperatures (60-80º F) and authentic feel is a combination only experienced off Costa Rica’s beaten path. There are no phones or Internet to interrupt your communion with nature. Day hikes fan out to the Pacuare River, nearby hanging bridges, the incredible Leona and Vereh River Waterfalls, and into San Agustin Reserve. Camping fees are collected by donation; gear (tents, fleece sleeping bags, ground pads) can be rented for very reasonable prices. Showers, toilets, and potable water are available to campers.

Santa Rosa National Park

Santa Rosa National Park is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Costa Rica. The 91,926-acre reserve protects Central America’s largest remaining section of tropical dry forest, as well as important habitats for several sea turtle species, including the Olive Ridley. Santa Rosa’s Pacific beaches also provide some of the best surfing in Central America – the world-famous Ollie’s Point and Witch’s Rock are located just offshore. On land, hiking and wildlife watching are popular activities. You can camp ($2 + $10 park entrance fee) in the dry forest or near the park’s famous waves. Santa Maria, Playa Naranjo, Playa Junquillal, and the Santa Rosa ranger stations provide potable water, toilets, showers and grills. Contact: 2666-5051

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